Reimagining Development - CEPA
08 May 2015

To celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of the Mews Street Evictions

By Mansi Kumarasiri, Prashanthi Jayasekara, Vijay Nagaraj

On the 8th May 2010, twenty houses on Mews Street, Slave Island that had been home to 33 families were demolished and rightfully so. If you still have a house it is likely that you missed all the action. But do not despair, you can catch the highlights right here—it’s just like the IPL, smash and grab:

Watch video: Mews Street demolitions

Following is an easy to grasp 10-Step multimedia guide that summarizes the best practices and valuable lessons that we learnt in the last five years while demolishing other people’s houses before they could say “yahapalanaya”.      

Step O:  Always use Singapore and Shanghai as models: It is the best way of saying that democracy never delivers world-class cities.

Step 1: Declare urban blight: Deny poor working class communities adequate services and label them ‘underserved settlements'.

Step 2: Now re-label them slums: You are also one step away from winning over the concerned middle classes and the elites including most of the judges, newspaper editors, civil servants and all those who are rightfully apprehensive of the threat slums pose to their otherwise untroubled existence and the beauty of the cityscape.  

Now it is time to start looking for well-meaning donors who can help. Those World Bank folk are really sweet and besides their money comes dolled up in ‘social and environmental safeguards’—but have no fear, it is just make-up.

Step 3: Also term them ‘illegal’: Keep telling them they have no rights until they believe it themselves. This also really helps move communities from being underserved to undeserving. Note: Courts love this one too, makes their job easier.

Step 4: Hide them in high-rises: Show them a world-class dream, give them hope; the promise of life in a condo—a refreshing change from squatting oriental style to shitting seated, western style.

Step 5: Use Might, but Cunningly: Have the police or better still the military at hand. A healthy dose of fear persuades people to sign applications claiming that they want new houses as they are living in terrible conditions and are willing to meet all terms and conditions, which are unspecified, naturally.

Resistance?

Step 6: Watch video on how to negotiate potential resistance.

Watch video: military officer negotiating with the community

If resistance continues, go to Step 9.

Step 7: Debt creates docility: The road to middleclass serenity in the Middle-Income Wonder of Asia is paved with equated monthly mortgage payments—so give them a new house but also make them pay but do offer the poor a choice, just so that you come out looking great: 20 years @ 3,960 or 30 years @ 2,650 works well.

Step 8: Disintegration breeds social cohesion: Mix’em up! Enhance coping capacities by a) not resettling communities together and b) ensuring neighbours or related families are not given houses next to each other.

Step 9: Forget about those you have forcibly moved. As for those who continue to clamour, like the Mews Street community, just ignore them: that should teach them and the rest.

Step 10: Set-up a Review Committee:  This one is optional but really helps deal with any bad press, pesky NGOs or more importantly a change in government. Never commit to anything more than a Committee.