Ashok Chaudhary (35) of Chilla Village takes up construction work on contract. He loves to rattle off names of his ancestors who have lived in this Gujjar-dominated village of East Delhi since the 18th century. He proudly mentions the names of famous personalities like Sukhdev, the revolutionary, and Arjun Rampal, the actor, who hail from the Gujjar community.
Only time he is stumped is when he has to talk about the roads and civic amenities of the village.
“May be 25 years ago, the roads were made, but nobody really remembers it,” he said.
Chilla, a village lying amid the swank high-rises, health clubs, shopping malls and tarred roads of East Delhi seems a little lost and shows barely any sign of development.
A rectangular-shaped garbage dump greets visitors at the entrance of the village in Mayur Vihar Phase-I. The 12-feet wide approach road is an undulating mass of bricks and filth with potholes gaping at motorists and pedestrians.
Roughly 50 metre ahead, the pathway gives way to a maze of serpentine and narrow lanes. Inside, the elderly in the village can be seen puffing on to their wooden hookah with reed-thin pipes right next to the uncovered drains with flies swarming over them.
“Not an inch of the road was tarred in Chilla even though we were repeatedly assured by electoral candidates that things would change if they came to power. During monsoon, one does not know what he is stepping into,” said Chaudhary.
Kilometers away, the other Gujjar-dominated settlements, like New Ashok Nagar and Kotla Village, are in equally bad shape.
Jitendra Kumar (36), who heads the local residents' welfare association, complained that there are “frequent accidents due to the horrible roads”. Kumar said he was tired of doing the rounds of the government office and requesting politicians for attention. “Candidates visit our areas only before elections with their promises. They don’t come back to fulfill them,” he said.
Broken roads and uncovered drains are not the only woes of these quaint villages, which fall in the East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency.
Chaudhary said while their ancestors were “the original settlers of east Delhi and had once owned most of the land that now house middle-class colonies”, they now lag behind the rest of the city by “at least 15 years” in terms of access to quality education, water and other basic amenities.
“Big private, English-medium schools deny admission to our children because the parents are not graduates or cannot speak English,” he said.
He said he wanted to get his niece Himanshi admitted into one of these schools, but could not and is still looking for a good school that will accept her.
Talking about the water crisis in the area, he said: “We get water for just 2 hours every day,” said Manoj Kumar who runs a dairy unit.
The area also needs a baraatkhana (marriage hall) and a dispensary.
Residents like Kumar are living on hope. “A candidate has promised a road and more if he gets chosen. Let's see,” said Kumar.