Two days ago we filmed a protest play performed by the Budhan Theatre in front of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad. The play was called Mujhe Mat Maro Saab, or “Don’t beat me sir!” The story behind the protest is not too different from the situation in Maninagar (which I wrote about in my last post): They are formerly nomadic peoples whose homes were destroyed to make way for new development as Ahmedabad expands to become a “mega-city.” In this case, two children died from exposure to the elements after loosing their home.
This kind of protest play is a new thing for Budhan Theatre. Even though they do “street theater,” they generally perform in front of receptive communities and in pre-arranged venues. This was different, and while the performance itself was a great success, the results have been horrifying:
on the next day of the performance the temporary shelters of these people was destroyed by the local authorities.
The shelters that Roxy speaks of are far more meager than what we saw in Maninagar, where they had something I might call “temporary shelters”. These people are basically sleeping out in the open, and the destruction of their shelters amounted to their blankets being thrown into the street and their cooking implements being taken from them. When we visited today they were packing up their possessions and getting ready to move — who knows where.
These people were displaced to make way for an expansion to IIM’s campus. The old IIM campus is one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world, designed by the famous architect Louis Khan. It is also one of the most selective business school in the world!
While the timing of the attack on the community may seem to have been provoked by the play, it also may have been coming for some time. The week before a prominent article in the English language paper described how IIM students were teaching members of this displaced community (with no discussion of how they had been displaced). The chief minister will also have to pass through that street on his way to attend the annual kite festival next week.
It is unfortunate that the only people speaking out about the forced displacement of formerly nomadic peoples who had lived in this city for generations are the volunteers of the Budhan Theatre, themselves residents of an urban ghetto. There seems to be no other voice here speaking out against the violence being done to pave the way for Ahmedabad to become a mega-city, full of shopping malls, supermarkets, multiplex cinemas, fancy restaurants, and high rise buildings.
The people on the street outside IIM and the residents of Maninagar have a right to their own land according to Indian law, but without documentation to prove that they lived on land that until quite recently was completely wild, there seems to be little that can be done. If you do want to do something, please write to IIM and let them know how you feel!