By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi, Sep 7 (EFE). The Indian capital is glittering with beaming streetlights and vibrant hoardings put up on freshly paved roads and zebra-striped sidewalks to welcome the world’s elite for this weekend’s G20 summit.
However, beneath this newfound splendor, which came at a cost of $120 million to the government, lies the harsh reality of India – its impoverished and marginalized population, who find themselves pushed further into obscurity.
The poor among the estimated 35 million inhabitants (as per the German data platform Statista) of the mega-city – seen to be wielding global influence – have literally been rendered invisible during the event.
The transformation has resulted in many of New Delhi’s shantytown residents losing their meager means of livelihood, such as street hawking, selling tea, cigarettes, or tobacco products from makeshift roadside shops, or collecting the city’s garbage.
In many parts of the capital, authorities have erected large green curtains, plastic sheets, and flex boards to conceal Delhi’s slums. They have also asked those living in the shadow of elevated roads to vacate the premises for security reasons.
Babu Lal, a scrap dealer, feels he has been walled inside a curfewed city after a green curtain was put up around the Coolie Camp slum in south Delhi, on the travel route of G20 leaders, where he lives and runs his business.
“This is all for the G20. Foreign guests are coming, and it is good they don’t see the city’s poverty and filth. But it would have been better had the government, instead of hiding us and feeling ashamed of us, done something to better our lives,” Lal told EFE at the shantytown.
Naeem, who only gave his first name, echoed the sentiment, saying the slum dwellers have been asked not to venture out and stop doing their business during the G20 days.
“We are losing work days, and each day means a lot for the poor,” Naeem told EFE, explaining theirs is just a hand-to-mouth existence. “But I tell my buddies that it is worth the national pride. This too shall pass.”
Similarly, Rekha and Pushpa would usually be making their living by selling car mops, handkerchiefs, and socks near a traffic light at a south Delhi intersection during the day and eating and sleeping under an elevated road with their mother nursing a lactating son.
“We have nowhere to go. We have been asked to leave until the G20 gets over,” Rekha, barely in her teens, told EFE.
Despite emerging as one of the fastest-growing major economies in the world, India’s track-record in reducing poverty has not been encouraging, particularly in the post-pandemic era.
According to the World Bank, over 40 percent of the 1.4 billion people in India still live in moderate poverty – earning just $3.65 per person per day.
Some 16.4 percent of the Indian population is “multidimensionally poor,” which means they are deprived in health, education, and standard of living, according to the Bank’s 2022 figures.
The G20 preparations have added to the plight of the tens of thousands of street vendors and slum dwellers in Delhi.
A group of activists, Concerned Citizens of India, has recorded “distressing events” that raise “questions about the lack of basic compassion by the government” in its plan to beautify the city and hide the poor.
The activists, including known rights defender Harsh Mander, released a report in July highlighting that “an alarming number of approximately 250,000 to 300,000 individuals have been forcibly displaced from their homes” on the outskirts of Delhi in preparations for the G20 summit.
“As a G20 delegate coming to India, I would expect to witness a society where the poor have access to their rights and entitlements, rather than witnessing their suffering in hidden corners,” Mander told reporters while releasing the report.
India currently holds the rotational presidency of the bloc, which consists of world’s 20 wealthiest nations and the European Union.