Kaveri Rajaraman, who graduated from Harvard University in 2009 with a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology, was arrested In Bangalore, India on Saturday, Jan 19, 2013. She was picked up for resisting the demolition by the municipal corporation of tin-sheds in a housing area for the Economically Weaker Section in Bangalore city.
In 1984 the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP -The Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation) built 1512 houses in Viveknagar, Bangalore and distributed them to Economically Weaker Section families in 1996. These residential units were not provided basic facilities like water or toilets. The buildings started cracking 5 years after being handed over and collapsed after 7 years of allotment. Three persons including a child died in the building collapse and several were injured.
A committee setup by BBMP suggested that 21 of the 42 structures be demolished and the rest repaired. But BBMP forced all people to vacate the buildings and demolished all the structures. Meanwhile, people (both the original allotees and many who were tenants of the original allottees) were forced to live in tin sheds for many years in the same area. Most of the people who lived in these sheds were from the economically and socially marginalized communities and worked odd-jobs in the city.
Recently, the BBMP has signed a MoU with a private company, Maverick Holding and Investment Pvt. Ltd, to build 1640 houses for the original allottees in about seven acres of the 15 acres of the original area. The company plans to construct mall in the remaining area. An association representing those living in the sheds saw this as an attempt at land-grab and also as an example of the municipal corporation in cahoots with private business interests.
It is for the initiation of this new plan and clearing the area for the construction to begin that the municipal corporation came down on those living in tin-shed. As mentioned earlier, this was done with little warning, and according to news reports in Indian newspapers, the municipal officials supervising the demolition did not even have papers for the eviction.
Kaveri Rajaraman, who is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, shared quarters with the slum-dwellers, inhabiting their social space and sharing in their day-today experiences. She offered resistance to the sudden demolition activity and was arrested on charges such as obstructing a government official from discharging his duties and assaulting a government official. 20 other EWS residents (all women and some carrying infants and toddlers too – a total of 23 adults and 4 toddlers) courted arrest along with her. All 23 have been sentenced to 3 days of judicial custody.
While in the Boston-area, Kaveri was closely connected with the activist community, participating in many local struggles (like labor issues at Harvard) and also with several Latin American diasporic movements such as Colombia Vive.
Several local activists are rallying in support for her. Encuentro 5, a space for progressive movement building in Boston, has issued an appeal to its network to stand in support of Kaveri and the cause she is supporting. More information on how to support her can be found here – http://www.facebook.com/groups/encuentro5/.
Photos by Karthik Ranganathan.