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Notes from a Beautiful City: The Hidden Citizens of Delhi During Commonwealth Games

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The end of the Commonwealth Games is just the beginning of a probe into political corruption and financial mismanagement.

Black Ticket Films and Open Space has produced Notes from a Beautiful City, exploring untold stories as seen through the eyes of its invisible citizens.

Fireworks on display at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium -PTI

India declared its Commonwealth Games (CWG) a success and managed to come to an end with little fiasco. Athletes were greeted with proper housing and sanitation at the village. The closing ceremony was marked with traditional Indian arts, fireworks and laser show. India won a total of 38 golds and became the 4th country host for CWG to have passed the century mark of winning 101 medals overall.

Yet just before the Games, there were concerns over conditions of the athletes’ village and safety issues whereby two Taiwanese were injured by terrorists at Jama Masjid. A footbridge near the Commonwealth stadium gave way while a roof collapsed at Jawaharlal Nehru complex, prompting netizens to joke that it was caused by the “Chairman of the Commonwealth Games who tried to hang himself”.

Distinguished athletes from UK and Canada withdrew from the Games citing fear over safety and security issues. The initial budget for the Games was US$364.5 million but it was estimated to have escalated to $6.8 bn according to Business Today, making it the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever. As the Winter Session of Parliament commences on 9 November, the political corruption and budget mismanagement is expected to be raised by the Opposition.

“It’s a sense of ‘que sera, sera,’ pre-destination, you’re born upper or lower caste,” said Ravinder Kaur, a sociologist at the Indian Institute of Technology, in an interview with Los Angeles Times. With the “chalta hai” attitude, which loosely translates as “whatever”, the consequences is set to affect India beyond the Games. In a nation defined by caste system, nepotism is common and often a job is passed to someone who is hardly suitable for it.

One of India’s leading newspapers, India Today, exposed that the organisers “spent $80 on one roll of toilet paper, $125 on a first-aid kit and $61 on a soap dispenser which retails in India for only $2.” The chairman of CWG organising committee, Suresh Kalmadi, came under fire for hiring little known UK company AM Cars and Vans without any contract, and email exchanged were alleged to be forged.

Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, MP and Chairman of the OC CWG Delhi 2010 delivers his speech during the Closing Ceremony- PTI

While Anand Sharma, India’s minister for commerce and industry, told The Christian Science Monitor that this CWG “will have a multiplier effect on [the] Indian economy. It will help India further attract foreign direct investment”, Matt Robinson, an economist based in Australia for Moody’s Analytics, voiced in The Christian Science Monitor that “The negative publicity could deter foreign investment and give multinational businesses considering expanding in India reason to think twice.”

Though  India has one of the fastest growing economy with a GDP growth of 8.8%, a 2007 report by the state-run National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector reported that 77% of Indians, or 836 million people, sustained on less than 20 rupees daily, with most working in “informal labour sector with no job or social security, living in abject poverty. According to the World Health Organisation, “49 per cent of the world’s underweight children, 34 per cent of the world’s stunted children and 46 per cent of the world’s wasted children, live in India.”

A child labourer directly outside Indira Gandhi Stadium. He was helping his family pave the entryway that cars will drive on to enter the stadium - By Siddharth Kara

In an interview with CNN international, Harvard fellow and trafficking expert Siddharth Kara shared evidences of child labour at the construction of the stadium and Chief Minister Sheila Dixit’s responded that “if she was aware of the allegations of child labor in the first place, she would have acted”. “I tried to let people know back in mid-July and I tried to contact the ministry of labor several times about my findings but had no response,” said Kara.

According to The Jakarta Globe, Delhi has taken measures to remove beggars, slum neighbourhoods and the homeless, in which thousands of homes were demolished and migrants were displaced. “They know that we’re laborers and we’re dirty, and they don’t want anyone to see us from the road,” said Chaitran Rahu, one of the migrant labours.

Black Ticket Films and Open Space has produced a documentary Notes from a Beautiful City which explores the many stories that remained untold as seen through the eyes of its invisible citizens. Being hosted in India’s capital city of Delhi, the Commonwealth Games 2010 has found the most expensive and grandest venue in its history. While Delhi was being dressed up for this 12-day extravaganza, there were millions who were being quietly evicted and hidden behind the glitter of this mega-event.

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