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G20 Summit Sparks Bulldozing in India

One of the most disturbing stories I have ever read ties in with last week's G20 Summit in New Delhi.

Wealthy world leaders from top global economies met in India to talk all things money. President Biden was there, the UK's Prime Minister Rishi Sanuk, and France's President Emmanuel Macron attended, among other dignitaries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the event.

Preparations for the Summit began weeks before the meeting. Hundreds of thousands of fragrant flowers along with artwork were posted around New Delhi to make the city aesthetically appealing and smell good. Streets were given facelifts with fresh paint. Photos of PM Modi were placed in strategic areas partnered with the G20 logo. It was all done in the name of welcoming dignitaries. But there was a dark side to the festivities.

Bulldozers revved up near summit headquarters to plow down fragile houses of slum residents, displacing thousands of people onto the street. Did the government offer an alternative plan to house the so-called "unauthorized encroachers?" Not according to the accounts I could find on the matter.

India currently has the second largest population in the world, close to 1.4 billion people and narrowly edged out by China. Although the country has made impressive economic strides, many citizens still live in abject poverty. Estimates for 2023 range from 6 to 15 percent of the general population living below the poverty line, which the United Nations Development program lists as $2.15 per day.

The government justified bulldozing activities by claiming it was just routine cleaning of unsanitary living spaces. However, NBC News reported about a raid last month on South Delhi's Subhash Camp, 10 miles away from the Summit.

One resident, Amit, said he was sleeping in his modest home with his nine children when the family was awakened late at night in a raid. Their home, along with 125 others in their community, was leveled. The 34-year-old ragman, who gathers up trash to sell for recycling, told the news outlet, “They didn’t even let us grab our belongings and started beating us before we could even finish." Such treatment is shameful and a breach of human and civil rights. Residents had no choice but to hover under trees or sleep outside under a bridge. 

Displaced people from the slum said that many residents were getting ill from being unsheltered with mosquitoes buzzing around them. And they said their children could not concentrate on schoolwork. Other slums around the city also endured bulldozers intruding unexpectedly. Those massive machines undoubtedly became a metaphor of relentless power to impoverished segments who felt wholly powerless. 

Amit added, “This means we are now just dirty and pests for the same politicians who came and begged for our votes during the election. These visiting delegates only want to see clean Delhi streets." Hiding a 'problem' will never solve it. 

Relocations extended to some lower-earning city workers as well. The Concerned Citizens Collective, a civil rights group, reported that nearly 300,000 street food vendors, shoe polishers, and cigarette sellers were told to leave their normal worksites before the Summit started. 

In addition to the 'human clean-up,' stray dogs and rhesus monkeys were rounded up before officials came in for the Summit. Ambika Shukla, a trustee of the nongovernmental organization People for Animals, observed "They have not made any arrangements for them. These dogs are traumatized, confused, and some of them are even injured." But New Delhi city officials said reports of cruelty were exaggerated and the animals were not mistreated. 

It is not without irony that the slogan of the conference was 'one family.' In an ideal world, family should not come in and bulldoze other family members' homes to the ground, leaving them unsheltered in a hot and potentially dangerous situation.

I do not mean to imply that every dignitary who learned about the events preceding their arrival would condone such treatment. But if they don’t condone it, they must speak out against it. 

Nations have to find a way to lift residents out of such circumstances in a humane way that will not involve employing bulldozers for last minute demolitions and relocations. Erasing the poor will never solve poverty.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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