Connect to share and comment

The asses of New Delhi

With a year to go before hosting the Commonwealth Games, Delhi targets the poor. Its donkeys, too.

Donkeys like these in Old Delhi may soon be looking for a new home, if the local government gets its way. (Jason Overdorf/GlobalPost)

NEW DELHI, India — At the impromptu stables near Jawarhalal Nehru Marg, on the outskirts of Old Delhi — the Indian capital's 400-year-old core — a group of  men in salwar kameez and skullcaps are seated cross-legged in the straw playing cards. A line of stubby-legged ponies and donkeys stretches along the stone wall. The animals ruminate placidly as cars, trucks and auto-rickshaws, horns blaring, race past on the adjacent road.

There are as many as 150 donkeys here and Delhi’s builders still find  them useful for ferrying bricks and concrete from demolished building sites. But if New Delhi's plans come to fruition this month, another piece of the city's medieval heritage will disappear, and another group of poor people will be booted out of their homes and jobs.

“The government said they are going to come and take away the donkeys and force us out,” said Mohammad Shakir, a fierce-eyed man in a white kurta whose ancestors have been carters for more than 100 years. “It's not right. We live here. All our families are here. Our forefathers stayed, lived and died here. Our livelihood is here, and our kids go to school around here.”

According to Mohammad Salim, whose father is the leader of the donkey and horse owners, the government has already done a survey of the area and told locals that they must remove all the donkeys and clean up the  area.

“Where will they take us and our livelihood and throw us?” Salim demands. “What if it's across the Yamuna River? Our work is here. They moved us all here about 25 years ago, because the government said let all the dirt be in one place. Now they are kicking us in the stomach.”

The donkeys’ owners aren't alone.

Delhi is awash with bukwas – Hindi for nonsense — about the Indian capital's supposed emergence as a “world class city” before the opening ceremony of the 19th annual Commonwealth Games, to be held here beginning from Oct. 3 next year.

Much of the talk centers on whether the city will be ready for the games. But the big question is not whether Delhi will make the deadline, but to what disastrous and wasteful ends it will resort between now and then.

Already, many of the plans strike observers as impractical, poorly thought out, unfair or simply impossible. To start with, in a country where the average person earns less than $1,000 a year, the state will spend upwards of $15 billion to prepare Delhi for the second-tier sports event.

And while much of those funds will go to needed improvements to roads and other infrastructure, critics say the various initiatives suggest the government's plans will make life better for the city's wealthy without doing much good for its long-suffering poor.