Ravidas Camp residents want to move out of 'Nirbhaya' stigma

Ravidas Camp residents want to move out of Ravidas Camp residents want to move out of ‘Nirbhaya’ stigma

Pushed into global notoriety seven years ago, the residents of Ravidas Camp, known to many as the home of four men convicted in the December 16...

New Delhi: Pushed into global notoriety seven years ago, the residents of Ravidas Camp, known to many as the home of four men convicted in the December 16 gangrape case, want nothing more than to move out of the shadows of that dark past.

With its narrow lanes and dingy tenements packed tightly together, the slum cluster in south Delhi's R K Puram area could be like any other shouting out for urgent governmental intervention. But the residents of Ravidas Camp carry an extra cross – their address.

The 600 voters, mostly auto-rickshaw drivers, street vendors and domestic workers, want better sewage facilities and cleaner community toilets. But they are also making a fervent appeal to change the name of the colony, which falls in the South Delhi constituency.

Ravidas Camp's association with the Nirbhaya case has diminished any possibility of them bettering their lives, said the residents, some who can't disclose where they live for fear of losing their jobs. "Elections come and go but for us life remains the same. Everybody treats us as untouchables and nobody talks of development of this area," said Kamla Devi, who has been staying at the camp for over a decade and works as a contractual sanitation worker.

It's almost as if nothing has been the same for the other residents since. "There is a cleanliness campaign across the country but here the sewers are always open with mosquitoes breeding in them. It doesn't attract the attention of any politician because for everybody we are untouchables now," said Kavita.

The camp's resident welfare association, headed by Bihari Lal, approached the district administration with a request for a name change two years ago. But nothing has happened so far. "The case became part of our history. Those responsible for the heinous crime are behind bars and should be punished, but why punish the entire society? Why should everybody in the camp face the humiliation of residing here?" Lal asked.

The slum has few community toilets, which are always clogged and dirty, according to the residents. "We use community toilets because the slum is too cluttered and there is no scope of attached toilets in all the houses... The number of community toilets is also less, and they are always clogged and dirty. The entire country is getting toilets but not Ravidas Camp," said Bhanumati.

She said she works as a domestic help in R K Puram, which has mostly government houses. "But they do not know that I come from Ravidas Camp. No one will let us work in their houses if they know we live here," she added.

Young residents of the camp believe their demands are not too much. "We are not demanding a college or a school in our camp. We are just demanding very basic things. There are massive campaigns running for toilets and cleanliness, but we remain neglected.

"And why does a name change for the camp such a big issue?" asked 21-year-old Praveen Jhakar who works at a garment factory. He added that nobody tried to shield the culprits when police came to nab them. "We have all been cooperative with the police. But to live with this stigma is very difficult," he added.

- Gunjan Sharma

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