Kashi Vishwanath Corridor: Discussion with Dr. Dipak Malik, Rajendra Tiwari, Dr. Mohammed Arif
(The author would like to remain anonymous, fearing deportation by the Indian state.)
I have been visiting Varanasi for the past 30 years. During this year’s visit, a dear Indian friend of mine and lover of Varanasi asked me to take a tour around the Vishwanath temple and to share what I thought of the corridor and the destruction inflicted/caused by the central government of India.
I had heard that Mr. Modi had ordered the destruction of hundreds of homes near the temple, but I never thought I’d find such a desolate scenario.
If I’m not mistaken, more than 300 homes have been brought down and, along with them, many temples. In this way, the state has not only destroyed the architectural heritage in that area, but also the typical urbanism established there for many years, and the livelihoods of hundreds of families. Let us imagine the network of relationships consolidated through years of intimate coexistence – habits, knowledge of paths, neighborhoods and affective relationships devastated by government bulldozers. And that is not to mention the businesses that were literally shut down overnight.
In response to an express request made by Kautilya Society, Justice Ashok Bhushan of the Allahabad High Court made a judgment on 27 July 2012 that categorically ordered the Varanasi Development Authority and the district administration of Varanasi to: “ensure that no construction is made 200 metres area from the highest flood level at both the banks of river Ganga” and that “appropriate notice and boards are placed at the banks of the river Ganga in this regard for the notice of public in general” (http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/banks-of-the-river-ganga-in-varanasi-might-still-survive-the-onslaught-of-illegal-constructions/). The text of the judgment states that “the Varanasi Development Authority shall ensure that no further constructions within 200 metres from the highest flood level at banks of river Ganga at Varanasi is made” (http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Kautilya-Society_PIL_Allahabad-High-Court-Order_-27July12.pdf).
I even know that other States, such as Uttarakhand, have approved similar laws.
So how can a democratic government disobey its own laws?
During my visits in Varanasi, I have come across many people and networks who share my love for the city. In order to understand this situation from the perspective of some of my Banarasi friends, I facilitated a small meeting with three of my friends and asked for their opinion on the matter.
Let me introduce them:
Dr. Mohammed Arif: Principal of Shri D. R. Women College in Varanasi which is affiliated to the VBS University. He is also associated with several civil society organizations and is a campaigner for a secular, inclusive India.
Rajendra Tiwari: Former mahant of the Vishwanath temple and a member of the family of priests who brought the Vishwanath temple into existence. He represents the 17th generation of the exclusive priests of Vishwanath temple. He also has a claim over the title of the temple, a case yet to be decided in the Supreme Court. He has been protesting against the Corridor for the last 18 months.
Dr. Dipak Malik: Economist and historian, has been teaching industrial relations, labour history and Indian economy at the Benares Hindu University. He was Guest Lecturer at the University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, York University and the University of Toronto in Canada. He has been a Columnist for Hindustan, Prabhat Khabar and Aaj, the major national Hindi newspapers in the country. Currently he is writing a weekly column in the ‘Patriot’.
What follows is the interview I had with them.
These are the personal opinions of my interviewees.
One fact that emerges from the interview is the arrogance shown, at least at this juncture, by the Central Government. Usually, before taking action of this magnitude, a government that claims to be democratic consults with the parties that might be affected by the project. And I do not mean only the institutional bodies, but also the civil society, the various secular and religious associations. A debate commences – a debate which, if democratically managed, should lead to decisions shared by all. But it seems that this democratic process has not taken place
I would also like to include this conversation that my Indian friend had with four Banarasis (fictive names) at Chowk Thandai Shop:
Pandey: Hum diye apna ghar 50 lakh mein. I sold my house (near Vishwanath temple) for 50 lakhs to the government.
Trivedi: Kirayedaaro se chutti alag. Freedom from illegal tenants in addition.
Mishra: Kaha liye ho ghar? Where did you buy the house now?
Pandey: Kal Bhairav ke lage. Right next to Kal Bhairav.
Trivedi: Sune hai wahan bhi marking ho gayl ho. I heard that the state is planning to destroy that area too.
Pandey: Ab ke 1 crore. This time I will sell for 1 crore.
Mishra: Yah guru. Nicely done.