Mathura, Illegal Squatters, History and Humanity

    [DISCLAIMER: This article is just a different perspective on the recent clashes between squatters and authorities in Mathura, India. It does not envisage to justify the violence and illegal squatting. All such anti-social elements deserve to be condemned and punished strictly as per law.]

    When I see all the hue and cry in the media over Illegal Squatters of a particular sect attacking the law authorities who tried to evict them, with automatic weapons I can’t help but chuckle a bit. It’s a classic case of one being made to taste his/her own medicine and cringing because the taste is utterly bitter. Don’t think I’m a sociopath or anti-social element who’s trying to protect these hooligans, I just happened to ponder over a bit of the illustrious history of our ancestors and suddenly my sense of disgust and shock drastically reduced. What else have been humans throughout their brief period of existence on earth, if not exceptionally skilled squatters?

    Graph 1: World Population through the ages

    Let’s start by taking a brief look at the history of life in general and humanity in specific on this planet. Human life is hypothesised to have arisen between 1.5 to 2.5 lakh years ago. Seems quite a long time, doesn’t it? Not if you consider the fact that Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago and life in some form or the other has existed since 3 to 3.5 billion years. If the entire period of existence of the earth is taken to be a 24 hour day, human life has existed only for a minute and a few seconds out of it. A day is 86, 400 seconds and a minute 60, go figure! Now let’s look at another trend, that of human population over the ages (see Graph 1). As is clear, for thousands of years human population remained fairly low.

    Graph 2: Comparison of growth of human population and extinction of species

    It touched a billion in 1804, 2 billion in 1927, 4 billion in 1974 and is estimated to reach 8 billion by 2024 (current estimated world population is around 7 billion). Before I explain why such an astronomical growth rate in recent times could be achieved only through extensive ‘squatting’, lets look at another graph (Graph 2). This one shows the rate of extinction of species and that of growth of human population. It should be clear how the rising human population has spelt doom for everyone else on this planet.

    Who exactly is a squatter? Wikipedia defines one as: ‘Squatters often claim rights over the spaces they have squatted by virtue of occupation, rather than ownership; in this sense, squatting is similar to (and potentially a necessary condition of) adverse possession, by which a possessor of real property without title may eventually gain legal title to the real property. Squatting is the action of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land–or a building, usually residential–that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use.’ In the same article I also happened to glance upon the comments of one Colin Ward (who I later found was one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the century gone by): ‘Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the world, and we are all descended from squatters. This is as true of the Queen [of the United Kingdom] with her 176,000 acres (710 km2) as it is of the 54 percent of householders in Britain who are owner-occupiers. They are all the ultimate recipients of stolen land, for to regard our planet as a commodity offends every conceivable principle of natural rights.’ Well said Mr. Ward, I beg to elaborate a bit further on your comment. The sky rocketing growth rate in population has been the boon (for us humans at least) of the Industrial Revolution and several other technological wonders that followed in every field and we haven’t looked back ever since. But, the growing population needs a place to move into and the only way we can acquire it is by eating into (or squatting) the share of the other species. Clearing of forests does not only harm the flora, but it proves detrimental for the hundreds and thousands of other species residing in that land. No other species is as exclusivist as we humans are. For instance, while some animals are fiercely territorial, no other species demands that other species do not share its space of residence to the extent we humans do. I mean a crow, a pigeon, a snake, a squirrel and so many others can call a single tree as their home, but how many (except the privileged pets and the ubiquitous microbes) can say the same about your home and mine? So in essence, all we have done is consistently displace the several thousands of species which have been residing on earth for millions of years before us from their areas of inhabitation, ward it off, claim it for ourselves and then defend it with utmost vigour; be it the early cave man using fire and primitive stone tools or the modern one using electrical fencing, insect repellents and other lethal weapons. Blame me if I cannot spot an eerie similarity between the Mathura saga and what our ancestors and we ourselves have been doing, on a much larger scale albeit.

    Have we been kinder to our own species at least? Again, history provides the answers. Today America may be among the strongest and most diverse nations on the earth, a melting pot of cultures. But it wasn’t always so. For centuries numerous indigenous tribes- the Incas, Mayas, the Cherokees etc- ruled over this vast continent and seldom had interactions with outsiders. And mind you these tribes were no pushovers, they were famed for their wealth, knowledge and martial prowess. But in come the Conquistadors- a handful of Spanish colonisers with pistols, canons and small pox (perhaps their deadliest weapon which wiped out hordes of the natives) and the rest is history. Today the Native Americans constitute no more than 2% of the population of the United States of America. Mr. Trump, while you talk of building a wall, deporting illegal immigrants and what not, it would do you good to have a look at the illustrious history of your own ancestors (by which I mean all the European descendants who abound in present day America).

    By now it’s fairly clear how humans have been gradually squatting over more and more of this planet, edging out other species. But then the greatest law keeper of them all- nature- seems to be playing catch up too, with antibiotic resistant bugs and natural calamities as its weapons of choice against the human squatters. What the ultimate result of this conflict will be shall have a great role to play in deciding the future of humanity and indeed the planet Earth as a whole………………………………………..

    Dev Desai
    Dev Desai
    MBBS student at AIIMS, New Delhi & a passionate dabbler in the enthralling world of words.

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