Whenever there is an occasion of joy and fun for the rich, the poor are forced to suffer and face the music. As 10 matches of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup will be played in Calcutta’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, popularly known as the Salt Lake Stadium, the poor slum dwellers of the vicinity face the wrath of the local authorities who are hell-bent to evict them from their shanties to ensure not a single trace of poverty and of course, the poor aren’t visible in Salt Lake anymore, where the elite, upper-caste Hindu Bengalis and Non Bengalis of Kolkata live, so that the foreigners, who will come to cheer for their teams, can only see the poor-less sub-city; as if the poor and poverty never existed in the city, especially in this elitist hub.
This is not a new thing that the state machinery is demolishing slums or evicting the poor to pave the way for a sporting event hosted by the government. The Indian government and the Delhi government did it during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Brazilian government did it during the World Cup Football tournament of 2014 and now the West Bengal government, which is led by the self-styled champion of the slum dwellers and the poor, Mamata Banerjee, is following the examples set by others on how to throw away the poor from their houses to make way for the rich to have fun. This crime, yes, we reiterate-crime, is not one for which Mamata Banerjee or her government will feel ashamed, rather they will simply deny that it ever happened.
Nearly 10,000 slum dwellers, who have been living in the Eastern part of the metro city since decades, by the side of a stinking canal that breed millions of mosquitoes, were evicted overnight by the Bidhan Nagar Municipal Corporation, which is now led by the Trinamool Congress. The hawkers and pavement dwellers, most of whom are labourers working in the vicinity or pulling a rickshaw in and around Salt Lake to make a living, are now forced to live a far more insecure life than what they did all these years. The residents of Salt Lake, the elite upper-caste Hindu Bengalis and Non-Bengalis are visibly happy with the decision of the BMC and their collective happiness will help Sabyasachi Dutta, the local Trinamool goon-turn-mayor, to garner more votes in the future without resorting to gun-toting booth capturing election tactics of the Trinamool Congress. This wide class antagonism is what promises to make the poor a strong force to reckon with in the near future as they have united to oppose and resist the attacks on their right to live their lives and earn their livelihood by the state government and the BMC.
Large-scale protest rallies are being organised against the FIFA and the state government in Calcutta to oppose this inhuman action of the West Bengal government and its municipal wings like the BMC and the KMC in the name of beautification of the city, organised at the cost of the agony of the poor. The major opposition parties like the CPI(M), the Congress and the BJP remained aloof from the supporting the poor people on this issue because all of these parties played a similar role against the poor wherever they have been in power. The reluctance of the major parliamentary parties to lead any protest movement against the inhuman drive of the BMC to evict footpath dwellers, slum dwellers and hawkers from Salt Lake has provided the progressive and democratic forces an opportunity to fill the vacuum and to build up large-scale militant struggle against the fascist onslaught on lives and livelihood of the poor people.
The resistance to the FIFA event and its subsequent beautification drive at the cost of the poor people’s agony is also closely connected with the movement to claim the right over football by the poor masses. Football, which used to be the poor man’s game, the working class’ game, is now usurped by the rich and their corporations that plunder the world. By transforming football into an elite game with billions of dollars involved, the rich are snatching away the favourite game of the global poor, who keep the ball rolling in the narrow alleys, river banks, fields and roads, year after year. The poor who developed the game and made it popular worldwide, never harmed the interest of other poor people by causing any damage for the sake of the game, but the rich men’s organisation like FIFA, which unofficially supports racism, follows fascist ideology and strongly stands against socialist ideology, is hell-bent to destroy the poor, snatch their livelihood and leave them astray for the sake of organising the game, be it in Brazil or Calcutta.
Though the FIFA guidelines for Human Rights call for no eviction of poor people for organising its events, it will be ridiculous to believe that the multi-billion dollar football enterprise is not aware of the amount of violence that has been unleashed by the state-machinery on the poor slum dwellers, footpath dwellers and street hawkers of Salt Lake to evict them. It’s unlikely that FIFA was not a part of the decision-making process that called for the demolition of slums and eviction of the shanty dwellers from Salt Lake, which is now portrayed as the paradise of the rich in Calcutta. A number of excesses committed by the BMC officials must have been on the watch of FIFA, but the organisation remained a mute spectator, gulping its own principles and guidelines unashamedly, just like it did in Brazil, to pave the way for a successful hosting of its event by India.
India never qualifies for the FIFA World Cup and it got a chance to participate as a host country in the first round where it was knocked out. It shows the pathetic state the Indian football is existing at the moment and how extreme dependence on corporate endorsements and financial support has affected negatively on most of the sports except cricket. Rather than working on improving the scenario prevailing in Indian football, which is in a fragile state despite India being blessed with the best talents in the world, the government is more keen to promote the sporting events that earn it a bit of revenue and then helps them market the cities to the global corporate giants. If only an iota of this enthusiasm was shown for the state of football in India and the players were supported and coached with more sincerity to make the Indian football team a formidable force in the world, the gloomy picture of the Indian football would have changed forever.
The BMC is promising to discuss the issue of resettlement of the slum dwellers, the footpath dwellers and hawkers after the World Cup tournament is over and until then, it’s non-committal about the condition of the poor people it has thrown out of Salt Lake by force. In response to all movements waged by the affected people, the BMC is promising a future solution, which, as per the track record of subsequent governments in India, often turns out to be a hoax, when the events are over. The poor and the downtrodden people who live on the footpaths of Salt Lake, who live in the shanties with no basic amenities are not doing so out of any pleasure but due to their immense poverty. Once thrown out of these shanties they have no other place to go as their livelihood is closely connected with Salt Lake and its vicinity. It becomes the duty of the government and its different bodies to provide support to these vulnerable people, help them rehabilitate and ensure that their livelihood isn’t affected and it’s not the job of the government to ensure entertainment for the rich foreigners at the cost of the poor of the country.
As the signals are emitting, the struggle of the poor people against the eviction for organising FIFA Under 17 World Cup Football in Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan will not die down soon, but with each passing day the movement will intensify and bring forth more people under its banner. As the movement will grow into large-scale one, it will be able to draw the attention of the people around the world over the issue of eviction in Salt Lake, like the poor people of Brazil did. Their collective struggle will certainly force the Trinamool Congress and the BMC ruled by it to accept the demands of the evicted people. The battle to claim back their rights to life and livelihood will also make the poor reclaim their right on football and keep away the rich and the elite from usurping the sport that has always celebrated the spirit of the working people. FIFA and West Bengal government must be defeated to save the poor people and their game, football.
Neeladri Mukherjee is a former high school teacher and a Rabindra Sangeet lover. An M.A. in Political Science (not entire), Neeladri is a close observer of West Bengal politics, South Asian affairs and the trade union movement.