Chandigarh’s Sector 52: A dark underbelly
Sitting on the margins and home to the marginalised, Sector 52 attracts attention for all the wrong reasons, while Sector 53 is still finding its feet amid a sprawling garden and a market selling furniture
The beautiful conifer garden with its rows of shrubs and arty structures is the pride of Sector 52. Spread over 28 green acres, and an eye-catching landscape of small hillocks and neat pathways with pops of pink introduced by kota stone, it’s a sight for sore eyes in the extreme south of Chandigarh.
Opened to public two years ago after an outflow of a whopping 6.5 crore, it was also an oblique way of integrating this ill-kempt sector into the main city, but it’s remained just that—an oasis in the midst of chaos. This garden sits uncomfortably in what’s known as the dark underbelly of Chandigarh. Marvel fans would call it the city’s Harlem. Residents call it a product of neglect. Made up of colonies and slums, the streaks of poverty and crime running through its veins make it a misfit in City Beautiful.
OF SEEDY HOTELS
Once known for supplying fresh milk to the city, Kajheri village, a major part of the sector, has turned into an urban sprawl dotted with over 40 hotels and guesthouses. The owners are a law unto themselves as they carry out construction with utter disregard of the building bylaws. A walking distance from the Sector 43 bus stand, these hotels are a magnet for people looking for cheap accommodation. The locals, however, allege these guest houses are a hub of prostitution and betting.
Geeta, a 60-year-old dry fruit vendor who moved here from Gujarat almost 50 years ago, recounts, “I was married off at eight. Now my daughter has two daughters.” Clad in a saree, its threads coming loose at the edges, creases form in the corners of her eyes as she smiles, .“Back then, the paths to Chandigarh, Mohali and Kharar did not cross.”
Regulation Colony, Transit Colony, LIG Flats, and EWS Flats dot this sidelined sector. The Transit Colony has quite a notorious reputation. “Last year, a murder took place here. It’s commonplace to see anti-social elements wielding swords, pistols, and machetes in this area,” says Gopal Shukla, husband of area councillor Chandrabati Shukla.
Shukla says drugs pose a problem in the sector. “We have met the SSP and DGP several times for the past few years regarding this problem. Drugs such as heroin, marijuana and tablets are openly sold here. Anti-social elements here have no fear of the police.”
However, where there is crime, there is someone to fight it as well. This sector has its own group of social media vigilantes. Rakesh (name changed), a sweeper in the Tribune Colony, says he documents each and every incident on his phone. “Come here in the evenings or just search Chandigarh 52 on YouTube to see the videos,” he says.
Panna Chaudhary, mother of Lolita and Madhavi, lives in the slum part of Sector 52. That bitterness born out of poverty resonates in her voice as she says, “The government has allotted us land in a graveyard. Until we move out of this hell, our troubles will not cease.”
Incidents of loot, snatching, burglary, et al are daily occurrences, says Panna. “Two days ago, a cycle thief tripped a cop and fled. Go to the police station and check out the crime records. Chandigarh may be safe, Sector 52 is not.”
I don’t allow my daughters to mingle with the neighbourhood boys. They are bad news,” the protective mother adds.
Lolita, her elder one, goes to a government ‘smart school.’ The 13-year-old speaks with the maturity of an adult. She has taught her mother to write her name. “I want to be a science teacher when I grow up. My teacher inspires me. The school conducts all sorts of activities for us, but we don’t participate,’ she says.
COPS UNDER FIRE
Panna says the situation has improved with increased police patrolling in the area of late. However, Inderjit, 25, who has been living here for the past 20 years and makes his living by selling tobacco products, alleges the police are to blame for allowing crime to flourish here.
His friend, who claimed to be a videographer and requested anonymity, says, “I got into a scuffle with an inspector when he caught me shooting a video of him on my phone while he was interacting with a proclaimed offender at Kajheri village.”
However, a video uploaded on YouTube by a Hindi news channel, has the same inspector showing a bandaged hand and accusing the videographer of attacking him with a knife.
Inspector Om Prakash says, “We were patrolling Kajheri to nab an accused in a snatching case, who was seen in that locality when we saw a youngster, accused in multiple cases of murder, loot and dacoity. We tried to overpower him but he attacked me with a knife. A scuffle ensued and we managed to arrest him.”
The cop says that while he was kept at a hotel, his mother and sisters along with a gang of 30 goons charged at the police party with sticks and stones. They were taken to a safe house to bring the situation under control. Ironically, many youngsters in the locality continue to swear by the proclaimed offender, who has recently joined a political party, calling him their messiah.
NO JOBS HERE
Inderjit, who claims to earn 250 a day, blames the crime on rampant joblessness. “If you go job-hunting, you are not offered more than 8,000. The factory bosses exploit their workers. We don’t land good jobs because we don’t get a chance to study.”
Gopal Shukla blames the UT education department’s policy making it mandatory for children to enroll themselves in a school situated within 1 km from home. “Over 5,000 children live here and there is only one school in Sector 53.
“The condition of this school in Kajheri is more fragile than a makeshift tent. “It can collapse any time,” says Shukla.
Though the councillor claims to have installed railings and swings in around 18 parks for ₹17 lakh, a visit to the greens tells a different story. The first park in the middle of the sector wears a deserted look. A lone horse stands in the middle of a patchy green land with brown mounds of earth. There are no swings in sight.
Shukla justifies the deserted parks with other ills that ail the sector. “The water here stinks. Will a family whose children suffer from diarrhoea care about an open gym?”
SECTOR 53 ON THE MOVE
Though the neighbouring Sector 53 is largely synonymous with the furniture market, it found its place on the tourism map of Chandigarh in December 2015 with the inauguration of the expansive Garden of Springs. The huge garden with its undulating pathways, pretty gates, artistic bridges and gazebos attracts morning and evening walkers from both Chandigarh and Mohali.
With the Chandigarh administration getting environmental clearance to built 492 flats under a Chandigarh Housing Board scheme, the sector will soon see hectic construction activity.
Rajiv Singla, the CHB chief engineer, says, “The Ministry of Environment has finally given environmental clearance to the project. We will roll out it out soon.”
The project will come up on 8.98 acres at a cost of 200 crore. This will be a modern construction with solar power generation facility, CCTVs and elevators.
CHAIR A BUSINESS - FURNITURE MARKET
“My sons watch over the business. Consider me a kind of security guard.” Satish Kumar Bhandari, 85, the pradhan of the furniture market in Sector 53, laughs as he fondly dwells on his family business. The pradhan owns five shops under the name of ‘Avtar furniture’ in the famous market. The sweet smell of paint and varnish hang in the corridor that has over 114 shops.
Bhandari set up the first one here over 30 years ago on what was a piece of agricultural land. “I used to pay a rent of 300 when I first opened my shop, followed by four others. I gave my sons a choice between doing a job and looking after the family business. They chose latter because I needed extra hands to manage five shops,” he says. The largest Avtar store is across the street. “There we have imported sofa-cum-beds, costing lakhs. We buy the plywood from Yamunanagar,” Bhandari adds.
HOUSE WARMING: From chairs and tables to beds, you get them all in this furniture market, which does brisk business all round the year .
Here furniture is built and stored in shops that are made of tin sheds. Inflammable material like plastic, cloth, thinner, polish, plywood and mattresses freely intermingle. Over the years, several fires have gutted shops in this market, which provides livelihood to over 1500 labourers. Bhandari’s son Rajeev Kumar says, “We do not let our customers light a smoke near the shop. But most of these fires light up the night when there is nobody to douse the flames. This is a risk we live with.”
While some shops deal in all types of furniture, others specialise. For instance, A-one furniture shop specialises in crockery racks, TV trolleys, almirahs and dressing tables, while Jaswant furniture works deals in steel and wooden furniture. “Business picks up from November to December when newlyweds come shopping. Then the competition is crazy,” Harsh, a salesperson of Fauji furniture says. Of the different types of wood, rubberwood is the ‘environmentally friendly’ wood, as it makes use of plantation trees that have already served a useful function. At 25,000-30,000, a rubberwood bed is costlier than the standard plywood one that costs 6000.
This month has not been a particularly productive one, but no one is worried. And the rows of furniture sit unbothered just like their managers.
First Published: Sep 12, 2018 10:54:49