‘Slumdog Millionaire’ child actor’s slum home destroyed by government

This story is pretty much too depressing to report on, but here we go. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, the young boy who starred in Slumdog Millionaire as the young Dev Patel, has just had his family “home” destroyed by the Indian government. The home consisted of a miniscule shack in the slums of Mumbai, and it was one of dozens of homes demolished by the government.

As Mumbai builds up and becomes a more economically progressive city, the local and national government is taking back a lot of land that many slum dwellers are, in effect, squatting on. The slum dwellers don’t own the land, and it hasn’t been given to them by the government, they simply lived on the land for so many years because no one really wanted to develop it commercially. That’s not the case anymore, as urban sprawl expands Mumbai’s city lines. I’m not saying it’s right or that I understand, I’m just saying this is what has happened.

Perhaps the worst part of the systematic destruction of the slums is that the slum dwellers are often given little to no notice. Such was the case for Azhar’s family. The Associated Press/Huffington Post is reporting that police officers began removing the slum dwellers from their shanties while little Azhar was still asleep. His family was simply told to pick up and leave, and his home was destroyed within hours:

MUMBAI, India — City workers bulldozed the home of a “Slumdog Millionaire” child star Thursday as part of the demolition of dozens of shanties in a Mumbai slum.

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail was asleep when a police officer woke him up and told him to leave his family’s home, he said. Shortly after that, the shack and about 30 more were destroyed.

“A police officer took a bamboo stick to hit me, and I was frightened,” said 10-year-old Azhar.

Authorities say his family will be given a new home elsewhere.

Eight Oscars and $326 million in box office receipts have so far done little to improve the lives of the film’s two impoverished child stars, Azhar and Rubina Ali – who were plucked from the slum to star in the blockbuster.

They have been showered with gifts and brief bursts of fame, but their day-to-day lives are little changed. Thursday morning, city workers flanked by policemen arrived as part of a slum demolition drive – common in India’s chaotic cities, where officials struggle to keep crowding under control.

“They didn’t give prior notice. We didn’t even get a chance to take out our belongings,” said Shameem Ismail, Azhar’s mother, who has lived in the shanty town for more than 15 years. She has no legal right to the land.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said, sitting on a bed she had dragged from the wreckage. Next to her was a plastic bag stuffed with belongings.

U.D. Mistry, an official with the city’s Bombay Municipal Corporation, said the razing was part of a “pre-monsoon demolition drive. He said only illegally built shanties – not homes that were legally owned – were bulldozed.

“They were removed. That is the principle,” he said, adding he was not aware that the child star lived in that slum.

“Slumdog” filmmakers say they’ve done their best to help the young stars. They set up a trust, called Jai Ho, after the hit song from the film, to ensure the children get proper homes, a good education and a nest egg when they finish high school. They also donated $747,500 to a charity to help slum kids in Mumbai.

Producer Christian Colson has described the trust as substantial, but won’t tell anyone how much it contains – not even the parents – for fear of making the children vulnerable to exploitation.

[From Huffington Post]

Hopefully Azhar and his family will get to move into their new home sometime soon. If not, there’s not going to be a point in having these Jai Ho trusts set up for their education, because Azhar’s family will either be in the wind or dead.

In 2007, National Geographic did an extensive issue on the changing face of India, and they included a really great article about the issues surrounding the Mumbai slums. The destruction of the slums isn’t something that has just happened this year, the Indian government (under Prime Minister Singh) has been “removing” slum dwellers and slums for years. What the NatGeo article points out is that the slum residents are a political bloc – many of them vote, and they are a demographic worth winning.

Photo credit: BARM/Fame Pictures

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25 Responses to “‘Slumdog Millionaire’ child actor’s slum home destroyed by government”

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  1. bros says:

    this is all danny boyle’s fault right? waiting for all the posters to start yabbering about how the director and producers ought to have saved this entire slum…

    this ought to put an end to that debate and put the focus right back where it belonged this whole time: India, its government, policies towards muslims, poverty, and caste.

  2. SixxKitty says:

    “Eight Oscars and $326 million in box office receipts have so far done little to improve the lives of the film’s two impoverished child stars”

  3. Camey says:

    Disgusting how India has a trillion dollar economy yet this is how it deals with its slums. At least many of those that lived and live in slums have political power in that they are enfranchised. It’s sad to see yet another example of the poorest in society getting screwed over for progress that only the richer will see the benefit of.

  4. Shay says:

    Not saying that the films creators are to blame at all. I do believe though that they owe these kids more than they’ve already given. We give hand outs all the time to children in less extreme situations. These kids did a job and maybe they need more than what they’ve been given at the moment.

  5. Annie says:

    As far as saving the slums? No, but man, this story just gets sadder and sadder.

    And you know, it is the Indian government’s fault. It’s corrupt and self-serving.

    However, I’m beginning to think that they should just take the two of them out of there and bring them to America.

    You can’t fix an entire government, but they can at least improve the quality of life for these children.

    Yea, they’ll be mad/sad about being uprooted, but at least they’ll be alive with a roof over their heads.

  6. Iggles says:

    Geez. This is so crappy. They should immigrant to another country. It doesn’t solve all problems, but at least the kids would have a better chance..

  7. anjasmomma says:

    That is terrible. Why didn’t these kids get paid?

  8. I Choose Me says:

    “However, I’m beginning to think that they should just take the two of them out of there and bring them to America.”

    You make it sound so simple. Do you honestly think the parents will consent to this? Just hand their kids over? If they take the kids they’ll have to take the parents too.

  9. ChristinaT says:

    i’m just going to repeat what sixxkitty said… “Eight Oscars and $326 million in box office receipts have so far done little to improve the lives of the film’s two impoverished child stars”

    i’m so ashamed of the people who were in charge of this movie 🙁

  10. orion70 says:

    I would hope anyone would be up in arms over ANY child in this situation, not just ones who happen to be famous.

  11. Annie says:

    You make it sound so simple.

    And I know it’s not.

    I just wish that it were, for the sake of those kids. It’s naive and obviously not the best route, but man, it breaks your heart.

    EDIT: Orion70. Unfortunately, there are kids in far worse conditions than the slum kids and they haven’t gotten any attention for years and years now. That doesn’t make it right and so hopefully this plight will branch out and spread light onto the others. But I doubt it.

  12. Hieronymus Grexx says:

    It’s a good thing they made that movie, isn’t it? Their life has improved by leaps and bounds.

  13. mags says:

    I just want to point out the good thing that has come of this…we are talking about it. Last year, hell anytime before this movie came out, no one would have heard, nor cared, about the razing of Mumbai slums.
    All the “shoulda, coulda, woulda”s regarding the child stars won’t fix the larger problem, or save the millions of other children living in the slums. This is India’s problem to fix.
    However, worldwide attention has been brought to the situation and maybe it will force the Indian Government to start making changes. but maybe i’m just a hopeless optimist.

  14. adfa says:

    I am boycotting all Danny Boyle does films and anything made by the company that produced slumdog until the debasement of its child lead actors is rectified.

    Bros, its not boyle’s “fault” but he and his company terribly exploited these kids and need to pay them what they deserve.

  15. Yae says:

    really not fair BROS that a comment about muslims gets a shot, but let me mention a jew and I’ll get censored. This is about making sure these kids are uprooted while a few Hollywood gangsters get more $$. Everyone gets paid off, except the kids. The more pain these kids are in the more their estate managers make!

  16. becca says:

    And Boyle is viciously denying exploitation charges.

    This is when I hate Hollywood SO MUCH.

  17. Tee says:

    For the record, he played young Salim [Dev Patel’s character’s brother].

  18. sissoucat says:

    Well, if they take the kids to the US, they also take the parents with them, seems obvious.

  19. DeE says:

    There probably is blame to go all around…..but what popped into my mind when I heard about their invites to the Oscars or whatever and the trip to Disney Land was that the money should be used to house them and their family better and into bills and college trust fund. That would have been the best gift.

  20. Alecto says:

    “Slumdog” filmmakers say they’ve done their best to help the young stars. They set up a trust, called Jai Ho, after the hit song from the film, to ensure the children get proper homes, a good education and a nest egg when they finish high school. ”

    *How come they still live in the slums?*

  21. orion70 says:

    @Annie, that would be great, however I imagine that if the producers swooped in and taken these children and their families and set them up in the US or something, many people would immediately forget about the existance of slum living in India.

  22. ChristyO says:

    The movie was wonderful, and We shouldn’t be attacking Danny Boyle, I think we will all be more Polite, when we are on the phone with people out of our own Country…… Danny Boyle, brought notice to whats going on… You Didn’t know, You Didn’t do anything, So Get Real People!!!! (Idiots)

  23. Alecto says:

    But Danny Boyle made ALOT of people (including himself) rich off of these children that probably won’t live to see their “generous” trust fund. (Idiot)

  24. Cherie says:

    Aside from the dire living conditions of these two special kids, people should also take into consideration how being involved in the movie would have long-lasting effects on their psyche or personality. Just imagine being a young impoverished kid suddenly dragged out of the slums that was their world, thrust into the ritz-glitz of Hollywood, being the center of everyone’s attention, jettisoning off to Disneyland in nice clothes, then being abruptly slammed back into the slums with no real hope of ever getting out. THEN BEING THROWN OUT OF YOUR HOME TO TOP IT OFF?!!!! That would feel like someone threw a bucket of ice-cold water at you while you were having the dream of all dreams.

    The Indian government or Hollywood could later start fulfilling their promised help to these children but the damage has already been done to their young minds. The change to their lives should have been a continuous process, not a roller-coaster ride of deprivation and glamour.

  25. this is really very nice and attractive movie and example of slum child’s which type they are living their life
    i will try to watch this film this sunday