Walking through the narrow lanes of Munirka village, two things are very clear. The first is that one can possibly find anything in this market — from needles to electronic goods. Second, that it is next to impossible to navigate one’s way out of these cramped bylanes without the help of an insider. Old-timers said the area, which was once known for its open fields and green pastures, is now restricted due to unchecked constructions. From carpenters to hardware stores to eateries to coaching centres, the options, indeed, are endless in a land where a sparse number of shops could be found some 30 years ago.
A village for tokas clan
As the legend goes, Munirka derives its name from its 15th-century mansabdar (Mughal-era administrator) Munir Khan,who, under debt, had to give away his land to Chaudhary Ruddh Singh Tokas in 1446. The area is said to be one of the largest villages of the Tokas clan in Delhi. The Rathis are said to have migrated here over 200 years ago. The area was a Jat dominated area initially, with a smaller percentage of Harijans, Brahmins, Prajapatis and Muslims.
Khajan Singh, an international-level swimmer and local celebrity describes his childhood in the village as scenic and calm. “A stream used to flow between Vasant Vihar and Munirka which would flow into a pond near Baba Gangnath temple where I learnt to swim. But the source of these water bodies was blocked due to the development of colonies.” He also describes a sense of unity and brotherhood among residents. “At times, people wouldn’t even bother to lock their homes,” he said.
A modern settlement
In stark contrast to this description are the three residential spaces that constitute Munirka. The first and the largest is Munirka DDA flats with over 1,500 apartments. Proposed in 1970, the locality is said to have been one of most well-organised and modern colonies of its time. “Jaganmohan, the then vice chairman of DDA, would often bring foreign dignitaries visiting the Capital here to show off this modern colony,” said JN Prasad, an old resident.
The locality was launched under the high purchase scheme of Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The allotment of flats began in 1974. Residents describe the initial phases of their stay here to have been the most peaceful, with open lands and a green environment. “The surrounding areas of Vasant Kunj, Vasant Vihar and RK Puram were still open fields, much of which was covered by the Aravalli range. We would play cricket in the fields every evening,” said Sanjay Bhatnagar, a resident since 1975.
In the 1980s two smaller residential spaces, with 200 flats each, were introduced under the self-financing scheme of DDA. Most of the flats were allotted to army personnel and civil servants. The first, Munirka Enclave, was constructed in 1982. “Munirka Enclave didn’t have many facilities; however, the RWA’s consistent efforts have turned into a comfortable place to live” said Dr Vishwa Vibhuti, a retired civil servant who is a resident here for the last 25 years. The society consists of a well-maintained community hall for holding socio-cultural events. The RWA has also introduced various environment-friendly activities including rainwater harvesting, vermicomposting and leaf composting. They have also made arrangements with a nearby hotel which will provide treated waste water for the parks in the society.
The other residential space, Munirka Vihar, was introduced in 1984. It is described as a green, peaceful society with ample parks. “The land belonged to the forefathers of the inhabitants of our village,” said Nand Lal Tokas, who has lived in Munirka village since his birth in 1952.
A concrete mess
Munirka village, a settlement that once comprised the entire area spanning Vasant Kunj, Vasant Vihar, RK Puram, has today been restricted to a small part. The villagers were asked to give up their lands in return for compensation by the government.
Kamla Tanvar, who was married at the age of eight, describes her initial years in the village as tough with no proper roads and several trips to the village well to fetch water. Initially engaged in farming, residents are now mostly dependent on rents for their livelihood. “Building rooms and collecting rent is the new kind of farming here,” she said.
The settlement is a preferred spot for those looking for cheap accommodation close to prime locations in the city. The population has expanded to a great extent with more than 30 hostels, accommodating outstation students from nearby universities as well as migrants from across the world. Other than a large number of shops selling pretty much everything, Munirka is also a hub of coaching institutes in south Delhi. One can find an amalgamation of cultures residing here with the rent for a one room set starting at a mere Rs 3,000 rupees per month. “Since there is no space to expand horizontally, we are expanding upwards” said Vinod Tokas 38.
Quite often, the distance between two balconies is only a few inches. Getting a car inside the area might be a distant dream, but even two wheelers cannot survive these lanes without putting up a fight. Tokas said almost every building has a minimum of five floors with over 40-50 tenants. He said all these buildings have been made due to an unnecessary encroachment of the passageways and roads of the village.
“The overhead wires in a tangled mess almost seem like a metaphor for the chaos below and yet, somehow, this urban village manages to retain its charm,” he said.