Histories from Bholakpur: Of Settlements, Survival, Slums (Part 2)
Post by Indivar Jonnalagadda. Continued from Part 1.
3: India’s Partition and Police Action in Hyderabad
Already, these histories of Bholakpur have moved away from an absolute sense of place towards a more relative idea of space. The various connections of the leather industry and the web of migration feeding its labour requirements extend out of Bholakpur and involve other places in its history. The group of leather traders in Bholakpur had formed an association or anjuman that undertook “social services”. The anjuman is an extremely interesting association. It seems like a simple traders’ association which is commonly found around the world, but the anjuman is also firmly embedded in religious social structures. It runs as a kind of trust that helps with the upkeep of the masjid and also runs charitable schools inside Bholakpur.
“ You see, this Anjuman is not only of Bholakpur. It started off as a friend circle of leather traders. They have moved to all parts of the country – Solapur, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. There was a kind of network. So there were quite a few connections between Solapur and Bholakpur.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]
Bholakpur by the 1940s was an established and vital centre in the leather industry. The late 1940s was a time of chaos, with the violent events of the partition of British India and the integration of the Nizam’s state into independent India following the Police Action. However, Bholakpur was extremely resilient through these times. Not only did it persist through the chaos, it actually absorbed and subdued alot of the damage and emerged stronger than before.
“ Prior to partition, more of the leather work happened in today’s Pakistan area. Bholakpur was second to them. Post-partition, some people from Pakistan came to the Nizam state and to Bholakpur leading to further expansion of the industry.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]
“ During Police Action alot of people had fled to Bholakpur. My father had gone to Solapur, while one of his cousins had come to Bholakpur. I would say 60% of the people in Bholakpur today have descended from those who came during Police action. The Anjuman set up by the leather traders offered some support and protection so people from all over the erstwhile state had come here.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]
“ The second time population was diverted to Bholakpur was in 1949 [sic] – the year the Nizam’s rule came to an end. Vallabhai Patel ordered police action and people from parts of the Nizam state like Solapur, Osmanabad and Zaheerabad, came here. (they were attacked by non-muslims there – wells were filled with muslim bodies) Hyderabad was already a very populated city so the people ended up settling down again surrounding the mosque – also, from the mosque to tank bund is Waqf property.” [Interview, 8th August 2013]
Bholakpur’s resilience had several factors. The solidarity of the community in the area made it a safe haven for distressed migrants. The outreach of Bholakpur through existing migration networks made it known as a safe place. The Badi Masjid was able to provide shelter to incoming migrants. The existence of the leather industry and the community-led anjuman were able to also provide livelihood to these incoming people. Bholakpur acted as a very effective safety net in a time of great distress.
“ You see the Badi Masjid has arches around it, providing shade. People would come and just live there for a while. After accumulating some money they would eventually rent a place. But there are several people who have done this.” [Interview, 3rd September 2014]
As the flag of independent India came to loom over Bholakpur the place – spatially, it had witnessed a process of multiplexing whereby it had already internalized innumerable relations. These were material relations of trade with other centres and relations of migration and remittances with the distressed rural hinterland. There were also intangible relations; the idea of India, becoming a minority community speaking a minority language and seeing a new developmental state.
4: What Became of the Nizam’s Land Reform
In the last decade of the Nizam’s regime in Hyderabad a land ceiling act was passed under which some land in Bholakpur was also acquired.
“ Tajir Nagar came up sometime in the mid 1950s. The land here was acquired by the Nizam’s government under a land ceiling act it had passed. All this land was in the vicinity of the Badi Masjid. The person in-charge of the acquisition sold off some the land that was acquired. A few relatively wealthy families bought land here. My family was among those who bought this land. When the Indian government took over Hyderabad, they sold off all the remaining land. They didn’t have the money to develop it. Alot of the people, like my family, who had bought land in the Nizam period built leather and wood godowns. Wood was a major trade in Bholakpur for a long time. Alot of the people who came into these trades later bought some of the other properties here. It came to be called Tajir Nagar, Tajir is businessman.” [Interview, 30th August 2014]
While the land reform did not achieve any “progressive” ends, it was a tipping point for a process of turning over agricultural land to residential and commercial purposes. Jagirs of powerful landlords which must have had some protection from the Nizam state were being converted into public lands and real estate. This accelerated process would change the face of Bholakpur over the next 3 decades.
5: Jhungoor Galli
The huge influx of people into Bholakpur during police action had swelled the population settled around the Badi Masjid to a critical mass. Beginning in the early 1950s, the hutments around the masjid were gradually improved from a kutcha to a semi-pucca construction by the hut-dwellers.
“ [Mohammed Nagar as we know it today emerged] around 1950. It was land adjacent to Badi Masjid, there were some houses there, about 45. It was called Jhungoor (cockroach) galli until 3 decades ago because of all the oveflowing nallas. The people in Mohammed nagar have no pattas, nor titles. It was the land of Omar Saheb. About 25-30 years ago he filed a case against our occupation of the land. We won the case.” [Interview, 28th August 2014]
The structures were initially katcha, i.e. made of mud. The residents were extremely sceptical of the new material that was being pushed in the market; cement. There were strong stigmas associated with cement. Some believed it looked ominously like ash and others were doubtful due to a pervasive rumour that the production of cement involves the use of powder ground out of human bones. However, the discursive privileging of pucca houses over mud houses had the better of these rumours and eventually cement and other modern materials had made their way into Bholakpur by the 1950s and 60s.
6: Gateways and Half-way Homes
Jhungoor galli, some of the other gallis around the masjid and the masjid itself, continued to be important gateways into Bholakpur. These were the areas where workers lived and the information provided by them brought other families from rural areas into Bholakpur. Thus, these were the areas where people found shelter. In the 1950s and 60s, residential areas were few in Bholakpur. They were mostly clustered around the masjid, where the Muslims lived. There were huts around the tanneries, where SC workers were given land to live on. The huts on agricultural land were mostly built by Hindu agricultural labourers. The two religious groups were already somewhat spatially segregated in terms of their dwellings and as a result of their occupational differentiation. Only in the old Centre basthi one found a mixed population.
Pathan basti, Tajir nagar and Mandi galli were the places where some of the better endowed Muslim families lived. These were business families who had a house and godowns for raw leather. These areas, however, also played an extremely crucial role in the history of housing in Bholakpur.
“ Tajir Nagar was considered a part of Mandi Galli at the time[1960s]. There were kutcha roads. There were only a handful of houses. Aqsa hotel was around back then too. Down the road from Aqsa towards the [present day] anjuman building, there was an open ground, where about 40 huts had been put up, it was called Warangal basthi. These were SC workers from the tanneries who had come from Warangal. The rest of this area was fields.
(Where did the Muslims live?)
Take the example of my own house. It had a large godown attached to it. The godown had a large open room before the actual storage area. Alot of my relatives would come and live there. At the time the residing relative would undergo training in the trade. After a point, if possible, they would start their own offshoot and when they could afford it, buy a house somewhere in Bholakpur, or else they would rent a place and continue as workers. This was happening across Bholakpur where people had godowns. At any point in time that I can think back to, there were atleast 15 people in my house.” [Interview, 26th August 2014]
This intersection of industry and community was able to provide two things that the government was incapable of providing; shelter and job security. Because these opportunities to live and work from the mandis were secured through familial and communal ties, workers were protected from the inclemencies of privately contracted works and daily struggles for wage labour. The mandi afforded them a sufficiently decent life. It had water supply and sufficient space. Often workers need not even have worked in the mandi, they could be pulling carts, or cycle carts, etc. and returning to the mandi to sleep. As a halfway home it allowed for some flexibility to strategize life in Bholakpur. Because, the migrants were certain they had a secure place to sleep and keep their things, they could expend their energy on earning their daily bread and gradually picking up the skills to move up in the trade hierarchy.
7: Roti, Kapda aur Makaan
By the early 1970s, politics in India was structured firmly around the Congress party and its internal hierarchies and ideological sub-divisions. This Congress system was challenged then by a few powerful opposition parties. Strongest among them was the Communist Party of India which had already undergone a major schism at that point. However, the Naxalbari movement of the late 1960s had fostered a belief among peasants, workers, students and intellectuals alike that a communist revolution was possible, or even imminent.
In this light, the Congress party was compelled to react to the spreading Communist sentiment with aggressive pro-poor or progressive propaganda and agendas.
“ The year of Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary . Parliament decided to celebrate it throughout India. It was under the rule of Indira gandhi and [took the form of] her campaign of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Under that slogan, EWS pattas were given across India. In 1972, under P.V.Naraismha Rao’s Chief-ministership, Kasubrahmananda Reddy, Koneru Ranga Rao, and Nandi Alaiyah moved an application to the GoI for WS pattas in Andhra Pradesh. The government of AP purchased land through the Social Welfare Department at 1.75 rupees/sq. Yard” [Interview, 5th August 2014]
“ This land [Indira nagar, Bholakpur] was privately owned, but workers from the leather work had built huts here. Later, the hut-dwellers made a demand to the government to give houses. With T.Anjaiah’s support, Lingamayya, Samayya, M. Lakshminarayana, A.P.Moulayya and B. Mutyalu made the demand. We received 330 pattas for people from SC groups. For the first time in India, the central government gave 80 square yards of land to SCs. In 1977 pattas were issued. The land was agricultural land, the government had bought it from one Roshin Pasha and gave it to us. Following this, Indra Nagar was a major stronghold for the Congress party. It was called kanchi kota. There was no entry for other parties than congress.” [Interview, 31st August 2014]
An imprint of the old Congress system is still evident in Bholakpur. Busts of Indira Gandhi, T. Anjaiah, Jagjivan Ram can be found. There are a handful of veteran Congress leaders who still command great respect. Throughout the 1970s, the government had completely turned over the agricultural jagir land into residential land for the poor. Ranga Nagar in the north-west of Bholakpur emerged at the same time and under the same conditions as Indra Nagar. Another major tract of land, was handed over to the government, which were sold to poor residents who were also granted loans.
“ This land [Siddiq nagar] was fields and forests belonging to Siddiq miya and Farooq miya. The land was handed over to the GHMC and plotting was done and the plots were sold. 50-51 families got loans from the government through Punjab National Bank for 4000-4500 rupees. In 78-80 we took further loans and added slab roofs. In 1971 itself we got the land registered in our names, this was never patta land. People hung around this MLA called N. Narasimha Reddy and got everything done. They got water, power, etc. We used to use a public tap. Then we made an application and a map of pipelines was drawn up.” [Interview, 25th August 2014]
This massive overhaul of the landscape in Bholakpur also had an impact on the settlements that were already there.
“ In 1971 – when the Pakistan partition took place – the plot division in Bholakpur took place. There was so much activity and the old jhopdis were being demolished so people called it Bangladesh. Soon Pathan Basti, on the border of this new settlement, also came to be considered as a part of Bangladesh.” [Interview, 7th August 2014]
Bholakpur and its bastis were no longer just settlements of the poor. The characterization of “slum” was pervading its entire expanse along with its peculiar governmentalities. The government had set about mobilizing its technologies through plotting, mapping, drawing up plans for water supply, etc. It was around this time that Bholakpur had its first local Corporator. This Corporator was able to lobby for alot of benefits to be provided in Bholakpur. Thus, while earlier people from all over Bholakpur would congregate at Centre basthi or Bhlakpur Water House, they were now going to receive direct water supply.
The Congress party also played an important part in securing land for the poor agricultural labourers in Bholakpur. This was achieved through the support of T. Anjaiah, a senior leader of the Congress party who belonged to nearby Musheerabad. There were atleast two clear instances of this: Sanjeevaiah Nagar and Mahatma Nagar. Possibly others, but the people do not clearly admit it.
“ We’ve been here [today’s Sanjeevaiah nagar] since 1950. There were fields here then, the land belonged to Anred Narasimha. My grandfather and others were workers here. My father came from the village and settled here too. Our village was in Medak. My father had 4 brothers, out of which 2 came here. 2 remained in the village, we had some land there. In the 1970s the landlord sold the land to the state bank of Hyderabad to build their employee quarters. We implored the landlord to give some land to us, atleast the 1 acre of the cowshed where we lived, but he didn’t listen. Then during emergency, in 1977 we occupied the land. We could do it because T. Anjaiah was backing us. In 78 we enrolled in the municipality.” [Interview, 28th August 2014]
“ Notification [of Mahatma nagar] took place in 1980-81. It took place due to influence of political leaders.” [Interview, 23rd August 2014]
This golden period, however, underwent a steady decline. There were a handful of causes for this. Firstly, a regime-change in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu Desam Party had, for the first time, deposed the Congress party from power in the state. As a result, many of the benefits and on-going schemes in the Congress strong-hold of Bholakpur were withdrawn. The other reasons, were closer to home and further out of the control of the government. In fact, they pre-figure a future of general helplessness of the government towards the slum it produced.
8: Autonomy of the Slum
The allocation of pattas to EWS households in Bholakpur was envisioned as a comprehensive strategy. The MCH provided loans through its Urban Community Development wing to these households in order to ensure their dwellings were tenable or pucca and the government would also provide services like water. Employment was available in Bholakpur in the leather tanneries and other businesses. However, the sources of insecurity crept in unsuspectingly through the system of loan disbursement. What the government did not foresee or account for, was the inadequacy of the loan to construct a house in one go and at the same time the fact that the loan was still large enough to put enormous pressure on the debtor household. As a result, many households defaulted on the loan. Several of them did something else that has had a major impact on Bholakpur. They sold-out and left Bholakpur. A grey (or black) market had emerged, out of necessity, in Bholakpur and the households occupying the EWS settlements were rapidly changing. This exodus of SC EWS households and the market it created were capitalized by the steadily in-flowing Muslim community. Thus, the internal differentiation in Bholakpur had acquired a dynamic of its own.
This is one facet of the autonomy of slums that concerns its morphology and internal processes. But there is another facet, which is perhaps more proscribed and problematic. It has to do with the then-newly-emerging discourse of participation. The UCD program in Hyderabad was receiving heavy funding from first, the UNICEF and later, ODA. This funding implied some restructuring in urban governance. As a result, welfare associations and development committees were set up in every locality of Bholakpur. These committees and associations would play a major role as an interface between Bholakpur and the extending governmental web. City government, state government, local NGO or international NGO, even political parties and the press would encounter Bholakpur through the mediation of these associations and committees. But alongside these developmental or governmental organizations. Another kind of association came to be very infulential, the caste association. Every kula has its own sangam. Which deals exclusively with matters internal to the community, ranging from debt to domestic disputes. Governance in the slum is decentralized de facto, and is influenced by a variety of inter-locked institutions among which the state is but one.
9: Vertical Slums
Beginning in the 1980s, the built environment in Bholakpur underwent a vectoral change. It grew vertically.
Its population continued to be swelled by incoming migrants. The leather industry suffered a severe blow in the late 1980s due to the American Gulf war and devaluation of Iraqi currency. Bholakpur had strong trade links with this region and the crisis there froze several businesses in Bholakpur, some traders committed suicide, while others had huge foreign exchange reserves which were rendered worthless. Around this time, Bholakpur also witnessed a diversification in business. Several businessmen began to move towards scrap trade in plastics, paper and metal. These activities were steadier than leather and continued to attract labour and business. They could also be carried out on a much smaller scale. Thus, accumulation became possible at a smaller scale. This accumulation enabled steady incremental building of houses, it also allowed for households to send a member or two to the Gulf or America or Australia to work. Remittances from these family members abroad also contributed to the gradual accumulation that could be invested in construction. Thus, areas like Pathan Basti, Centre basti and mandi galli began to expand vertically.
Another cause for the vertical growth was governmental. The Indra nagar and Ranga nagar model of sites & services housing provision, which eventually slipped out of control and legibility for the government, had been abandoned in favour of tenement housing, i.e. apartment-blocks.
“ Mahatma Nagar has been here for a long time. There used to be huts here. In 1978, the population was mostly labourers. We had some major problems. We’d fill water and take it to our huts. We had no pipes or gutters. All the used water, bath water, sewage and drainage had to be carried manually and thrown on the road. It was horrible. In 1984 we were given pattas. This land is about 1 acre and we were 142 families. We felt the land was not enough to provide proper housing to us all. One needs atleast 25 sq yards to live decently. So we approached the Housing Board. They created a layout of G+2 constructions with flats. They made an estimation and said each family would get 50 sq yards. We held a public meeting and agreed to the layout. The construction finally began in 1997. But the question was how do we build? They gave a 30000 rupee loan to each family. We got a private contractor and had the construction done. There was some shortage of funds for which people took personal loans or borrowed money by pawning their valuables.” [Interview, 23rd August 2014]
The other case of vertical construction by government is Sanjeevaiah nagar, but that only took place in the mid 2000s under the JNNURM.
Through the 80s and 90s, Indra nagar and Ranga nagar also began to grow vertically. This can be interpreted as both accumulative and coping strategies for the residing households. Some of them sold roof-building-rights, some built an upper floor and rented out the lower floor to a scrap trader as a godown, some rented out one of the floors. All these strategies were being employed by the households and slowly but incrementally, the built environment in Bholakpur proliferated. This process is still underway. One can now see upto 3 floor tall structures in Indra nagar, and 3 floors or more is the norm in older bastis. Is this an indication that the slum is “actually affluent”? That would be a hasty conclusion. There are some households that are quite wealthy and possess multiple plots of land in Bholakpur, but the built environment is packed to the rafters and continues to face pressure from migrants. There are a huge number of tenants that occupy tiny spaces across Bholakpur and most houses shelter large families including some extended family members who have migrated.
Talk of Bholakpur’s future cannot be dissociated from the infamous Water contamination incident of 2009. 15 people died and hundreds were hospitalized due to an e-colitis conflagration that swept Bholakpur. The agent responsible, e coli, had entered the drinking water supply through contact with sewage, that was the reasonable explanation. But the media and governmental reaction had propagated an altogether different diagnosis. The scrap trade in Bholakpur and the leather tanneries. Bholakpur as a centre of waste recycling and processing in the centre of the city is an aberration. It was completely ignored that the leather tanneries had already been shut down in 2004. Quick steps were taken to move the remaining industries. The traders even agreed, but the transfer was not seen through. Thus, scrap trade persists and grows in Bholakpur to date.
The pressure on trade persists though. Bholakpur is surrounded on three sides by localities that are undergoing rapid gentrification. On the 4th side there is the neighbouring Kavadiguda which is somewhat similar to Bholakpur and the vacant DBR mills complex. If the DBR mills complex is handed over to private developers, the pressure will be mounted from a 4th front as well.
What has prevented Bholakpur from gentrifying in the first place? A few answers intuitively present themselves. Firstly, it is a Muslim island in an otherwise Hindu-dominated area. Secondly, the presence of the scrap trade in Bholakpur which is controlled by the Muslim community means that capital is circulated within the community, thus the dynamic of transformation is internal, so-to-speak. Thirdly, the existence of scrap workshops that spill out onto narrow streets in the midst of a dense residential area offer few avenues for the gentrification frontier to make in-roads.
So far we have been speculating. Let’s, however, look at the real pressures of gentrification. Firstly, a strong resentment towards the leather and scrap trade in Bholakpur. Any problem that arises in Bholakpur is purported to be caused by these trades according to its detractors, who are many. Secondly, the “Hindu bastis” in Bholakpur have made opposition to the trades a deeply political issue, even invoking factors of identity. Thirdly, there are 3 wide roads that enter Bholakpur and eventually narrow down, but these are the roads that are already somewhat gentrified, with middle-class apartment blocks and shops. Along one of these roads, Bakaram Street No. 1 there is a government order for road widening. A notice has been served to the workshops alongside these roads that some of their property will be acquired. Finally, there are residents in Bholakpur themselves. In areas like Bholakpur house, who are eager to shirk off the tag of Bholakpur. They declare themselves as self-reliant middle class tax-paying citizens and are fighting a case against the scrap trades filed with the Lokayukta of the state.
These snapshots have identified community and business as the loci of the histories of settlement and survival in Bholakpur. Today, the businesses are threatened with dislocation and the community is deeply fragmented.
In Indian cities today, gentrification seems to be the inevitable direction of change. But Bholakpur, which has resisted this pressure atleast thus far, could be an invaluable case-study for alternative imaginations of the futures and for an understanding of the actual mechanisms of gentrification in Indian cities. Both of which we lack and must strive towards. These preliminary snapshots of Bholakpur, then, are only a preface to future work towards these alternative imaginations and nuanced understanding of urban processes.