Before January 2004 the banks of the river Yamuna (the Yamuna Pushta), on which the city of Delhi is built, was home to over a hundred and fifty thousand people. By May 2004 it was reduced to a heap of rubble bearing an uncanny resemblance to a bombed out war zone. No, the Pushta residents are not part of the ‘axis of evil’ as defined by Messers George Bush and Company! Instead they are the city’s poor who had built shanties on the river’s neglected banks because this was the most affordable form of shelter available in the city.
Many households had been there for well over a quarter of a century. Many belonged to peasants who have cultivated the dry riverbed for fifty years. Many provided the workforce for the Old City, now home to Asia’s largest wholesale market. But within a span of about three months, Delhi’s biggest squatter settlement had been razed to the ground. The current process of slum demolitions, of which the Pushta is a part, started in the late 1990s. In the past five years or so over four hundred thousand slum dwellers have been evicted from their homes in the centre city areas and ‘relocated’, if at all, to the outskirts of the city.
Such evictions are demonstrative of the inherent instability of the city’s slum settlements, no matter how old, how solidified or how big. This instability, we argue, is created by the kinds of questions raised on slum housing by city elites. In recent years, the central focus has been the illegality of slum settlements which are often built on peripheral vacant land. Unlike the equally illegal housing of the city’s rich, exemplified by the sprawling estates or farm houses that ring the city, unofficial slum housing is never ignored, but subject to constant censure. Further, while the issue of affordable, legal housing for the poor is seldom ventured; many questions persist on the aesthetic quality of slum settlements, on the morality of those who live in it and what it means that a modern city should have slums at all. Slums are taken to be a sign that ‘enough’ progress and development has not taken place and slum dwellers themselves come to be identified as a sign of persistent underdevelopment that must be removed to make way for a more ‘adequate’ urban space. In what follows, we would like to trace how this historical attitude has intersected with the city’s new economy to fuel one of the largest displacements of poor people in the city’s history.
H1 Colonial Histories
The first significant question for us is why the slum has come to be seen in these ways. In the case of Delhi, the problematic of the slum can be specifically traced to the 19th century and to the Mutiny of 1857. Medieval records show that poor quality housing was always existent in Shajahanabad, as Delhi was called in Mughul times. When the East Indian Company first took over the city, its officers were, in the most part, content to leave the Mughul capital as they had found it, with many adopting the luxuriant lifestyle of the native elite. It was the Mutiny of 1857 - a large scale rebellion against the Company’s domination which produced a dramatic shift in colonial attitude. Aware of their small numbers and recent narrow escape, the new administration of the British crown became overwhelming concerned with policing the geography of urban centres like Delhi, which had participated in the Revolt. Not readily decipherable to European eyes, the twists and turns of city lanes andMohullas came to be seen as a source of consistent and potential danger, dissention and of disease, which particularly and adversely affected British troops.. ‘Native’ culture was now admonished for its inferiority, its propensity for dirt, filth, dampness and congestion, and an effort was made to introduce European ideas of city order and planning to ameliorate the poor condition of the city and its inhabitants. In the period that followed, a series of measures were introduced to intervene, perhaps for the first time, into issues of urban form - of how the city’s citizenry lived, and in what type of housing. This change in emphasis provided the government a pretext to direct many areas of local life. Such colonial and hence ‘superior’ improvements were also held up as justifications for continuing British domination.
Vast areas of the old city were demolished to allow for better surveillance, technologies such as sewage were introduced to reduce disease, building by-laws and municipal codes were drafted and expansion plans made to extend a ‘modern’ Delhi for which land was acquired from many sources. Concurrently, as the price of land in Delhi rose with its growing commercial and economic importance, municipal measures also allowed for growing state determination of the land market, including policies to enforce private title and to prevent illegal ‘encroachments’ on land. This was part of a larger effort to strengthen private property laws and to bring lands under government and market control.
By 1936, the entire old Delhi area had been designated a slum under the city’s planning codes, the colonial government controlled vast acreage under the aegis of the Delhi Improvement Trust and the colonials themselves had founded a new and separate city New Delhi to further remove themselves from their native counterparts. Nationalist leaders complained that revenues garnered from the entire city were used only to improve English areas, ignoring the needs of ‘native’ citizens. The British, it seemed, justified their rule on their civilizational superiority instantiating it in law, while spending revenues in a manner that ensured that the gap between ‘native’ and English’ would remain, even as they gained further legislative powers to control the city’s growth.
H2 The Making of Political Society
Despite this negative assessment by the Indian nationalists, colonial attitudes and processes were to persist in the post-1947 period when they took over the reigns of government, with the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act of 1956 defining slums as ‘any area (where) buildings’ (a) are in any respect unfit for human habitation, or (b) are by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation, or any combination of these factors, are detrimental, to safety, health or morals” (quoted in Birdi 1995).
However, buoyed by the new possibilities and promises of independence, the Master Plan for the city, which was introduced in 1962, ambitiously planned a grandiosely modern, slum free city. Slums, still seen as a problem, were to be prevented by the building of vast low-income housing by the newly established Delhi Development Authority (DDA). To allow for this, the DDA, like the Delhi Improvement Trust before it, was given complete authority over the disposal and development of land in the city.
If we track the progress of these policies over the course of the next thirty years, a few important patterns become apparent. Most significantly, there has been no large-scale building of low-income housing, even as the city has grown exponentially. What has been built is unaffordable to the urban poor. Illegal slum clusters have proliferated, as vacant land continues to be controlled by the government. Periodically, the government has sought to come up with ‘ad-hoc’ schemes to manage the problem of the slum. At times, as in the 1960s, these schemes attempted to ‘resettle’ slum dwellers according to a planned matrix. In the 1970’s, slum dwellers were viciously uprooted under the Emergency program, which saw the largest dislocation in the city’s history. By the 1980s, the government had decided against eviction and resettlement as a blanket solution, following the popular backlash against the Emergency demolitions, and proposed instead to upgrade existing slum clusters or provide them civic services on a ‘as is where is basis’.
Whatever the scheme, with each passing decade the government-notified ‘quality’ of improvements or resettlement sites available to slum dwellers has only decreased, even as the rhetoric of the slum as a problem has persisted. Resettlement plot size for example has gone from 80 sq yards in the 1960s to 15 sq yards in the year 2000. Even as the government debated benefits to the poor, the Slum Act, now came to be overwhelmingly invoked against the illegal occupation of public lands by working class peoples, including new migrants to the city (Birdi 1995). With the partial exception of the V.P Singh government, no government has tried to give any kind of legal identity or tenure to slum dwellers. Instead, the illegality of slums and the threat of demolition was used to strengthen political patronage networks, and provided a steady source of income to low level petty officials in the city’s planning bureaucracy and to the police, without who’s permission and authority slum housing could never be constructed in the city.
We argue that in the decades before economic liberalization, slums were allowed to grow as they along with small scale industries, informal sector services and manufacturing provided an important basis for domestic capital formation in an economy that was constructed with an emphasis on policies of import substitution that is a series of micro-initiatives, outside of big business and the even bigger business of the government which now came to dominate Delhi. Coupled with the exigencies of electoral democracy, the urban space that formed was an uneasy balance between the idealized and sweeping ‘modern’ vision of the Master Plan and the realities of the country’s piecemeal, labour heavy, low technology and low wage economy. Yet despite this, slums and the slum dwellers were always left vulnerable to that fact that while present in large numbers and necessary to the economy, they are never entirely conceptually acceptable. The rhetoric of ‘cleaning up’ the city through massive demolitions during the Emergency, when over a hundred and fifty thousand shanties were demolished, is testimony to this.
H1 Emergence of the Pushta Settlement
It is in this context that we shall try and map the history of the Yamuna Pushta slums. There is virtually no official record of when this working class settlement on the banks of Yamuna started coming into being. Government records and oral testimonies do point to the long-standing presence of farmers who cultivated the riverbed during the dry seasons, paying taxes in lieu of their use of the land. The Master Plan also specifies this - denoting the area as an 'agricultural and water body' (Verma, 2004).
Refugees from the Western Punjab who could not immediately find a place to live when they fled to Delhi after the Partition of the country established the first major non-agricultural settlement on the Pushta. Slowly other groups of people, migrants and government, also started moving in. The Central Reserve Police Force built its camp here. A thermal power plant was constructed employing a large number of labourers to unload coal from trains and clear fly ash. Most of these people were from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan and settled in the Pushta area.
With the onset of the planning era in the early 1960s, the decade that saw the framing of the Master Plan, construction activities boomed citywide. A large number of people arrived in the area when the massive Income Tax Office Complex was developed along with the bridge that links East Delhi to the centre of town. A sizeable number of cultivators lost their land to these ‘developments’. Some farmers sold their land to migrant families seeking to build shanties as the area was urbanized. The Pushta thus was colonized by the expansion of state building and the presence of the laborers employed in this process.
Between 1975-77, Delhi witnessed one of the largest slum eviction drives in the history of the country. Over one hundred and eighty thousand jhuggies , or slum houses, were removed from the city and relocated in sixteen colonies established on the periphery of the city. In this whirlwind, the jhuggies of Pushta were also uprooted and people were sent to resettlement colonies on the eastern outskirts of the city. But by 1982, when Delhi hosted the Asiad Games, the city welcomed over one million labourers who were brought into the city to develop the massive infrastructure, including stadia, flyovers, hotels, required for the games (PUDR, 1982). As usual no housing arrangements were made for these people and they settled in the city through its informal housing market. The Pushta became home to a substantial proportion of these people. More recently, given the Pustha’s proximity to the Old city, a large number of people had found work in the trade markets of Chandni Chowk, Khari Bawli, Sadar Bazaar and Lajpat Rai Market. Many of them worked as the transport system of the area either pulling rickshaws or manually hauling goods around the Walled city’s narrow streets.
Saddling two parliamentary districts, the growing numbers of the Yamuna Pushta made the area an important political constituency for political parties like the Congress and the Janata Dal in the demolition lull that ensued in the aftermath of the Emergency. Over time, residents lobbied and received civic amenities like water, electricity and toilets that further strengthened their sense of security. By 2004, there were 27 NGOs working in the area, providing a number of services such as primary and adult education, training in income generating skills, health services etc. While this process did not guarantee constitutional rights or legal title for the Pushta denizens, they did come to occupy, a grey zone where there was some possibility of collective bargaining in a city and an economy where grey zones abounded. By 1999, over three million people were living in slum clusters all over Delhi (Almitra Patel vs. Union of India).
If we consider our own experiences of the Pushta, we are struck by the transformation that came over the area, as it grew over time; the houses were strengthened and cemented with more and more of them reaching over two stories high. Walking down the roughly hewn main street, it was possible to see all kinds of businesses, trades and occupations along with markets, places to eat and a general bustle of activity. In 2003, it seemed that the area was no longer marginal to anywhere but central to its own.
H1 Towards a Global City
It was in the late 1990s that the process and policy of eviction was re-started on a massive scale. It is symptomatic of a definitive shift in the relations between elite and the poor in the city. Whereas earlier slum demolitions were at least couched in the pretence of improving the lives of the poor, evictions in the 1990s have been carried out without any reference to the welfare of slum dwellers. Instead, demolitions have been framed in technical and legalistic prose. In this view, slum dwellers are seen as ‘encroachers’ on public land and ‘polluters’ of Delhi’s air and water, ‘stealing’ resources like water and electricity that are meant for its legitimate and tax paying ‘citizens.’ The single solution for these problems, it appears, once again, is to evict slum dwellers now described solely as migrants; a ploy that destabilizes their claims to the city.
We argue that this move has a lot to do with the policies of economic liberalization and privatization initiated in the early 1990s. Entrepot cities like Delhi are increasingly home to new global capital flows. This has three effects. Most significantly, older economic forms such as informal manufacturing and service economies are being displaced to make room for capital intensive, value added firms. Sustaining investment for these concerns requires the refashioning of the city to meet the infrastructural, land and aesthetic requirements of new global capital. Further, heightened capital inflows have lead to a considerable increase in the wealth of a section of the city’s populace that can be seen in the consumptive landscape that has emerged in the last decade. Malls, flyovers, metro rail, multiplexes, mega temples, ‘deluxe’ housing apartments - Delhi today presents the sight of a city racing to reach the coveted position of a global metropolis. At the same time, it increasingly faces the consequences of rapid growth and unbridled consumptionÐ rising air, water and noise pollution that are degrading the quality of its environment.
Urban planning, then, is increasingly centered on proposals to purportedly ‘manage’ these problems and to remake Delhi in the likeness of Singapore, Paris or London, to transform it into a ‘world-class’ city. Such policies are endorsed and enforced by the city’s government. However, they are not brought about only by state intervention. Changes in priorities lie at the intersection of pressures from global finance capital and an increasingly vocal and assertive middle class. Both sections are interested in the production of a leisurely and well-resourced urban space, not unlike the colonial vision of New Delhi, which sought to remove itself from the dirt and disease of the ‘traditional’ Indian city. Welfare and social justice provisions that ‘encourage’ the presence of the urban poor are seen to be barriers to this goal.
Thus, in the last decade, Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWAs) of middle class neighbourhoods have filed a number of cases in the city’s courts pleading for the eviction of squatter settlements from their vicinities. Arguing that slum dwellers are dirty, polluters, incapable of the civilized mores of the globalized city, encouraged by politicians over the years in order to create a captive ‘vote banks’, RWAs have sought to reclaim the exclusive prerogative of ‘law-abiding citizens’ with legal housing to determine the city. Petitions have also been filed on a number of other matters concerned with the reorganizing of the city. These include the management of pollution, the preservation of heritage monuments, the inadequacy municipal services etc.
The courts have emerged as the useful ally to these efforts with many of the city’s neoliberal transformations stemming from court orders. Most significantly legal sanction has allowed for the bypassing of the political city administration and the space that democratic accountability makes for those without legal status, such as slum dwellers who do not possess legal title to their housing. Partha Chatterjee has termed the web of relationships that connect the poor and the informal to the Indian state ‘political society’ a space that is not constructed by legally enforceable statutes but by political and democratic relationships. It is this set of relationships that the courts are now increasingly ignoring by talking solely to legalistic positions. Those who live within and through the ‘political society’ are thus at a receiving end of the actions of the ‘activist judiciary’, in (increasingly sharper) contrast to those who can afford to live in ‘civil society’ with its attendant full citizenship and constitutionally guaranteed rights (Chatterjee, 2003).
H1 Between Bulldozers
It is in this context of a steady onslaught on the spaces of the urban poor that the demolitions at the Pushta must be understood. The area has long been a target for development plans. Since the 1970s, a number of proposals have been drawn up to channelize the river and reclaim the surrounding banks for housing and recreational purposes (Jain, 1990). Yet such projects were only finally operationalized on March 3, 2003, when the Delhi High Court issued an order for the demolition of the Yamuna Pushta settlement in the Wazirpur Bartan Nirmata Sangh versus Union of India (CWP 2112/2002) case. Significantly, the petition filed by the Wazirpur Utensils Manufacturers Association had nothing to do with Yamuna Pushta. The petitioner had asked for removal of slums from industrial areas. But the High Court arbitrarily brought the issue of Yamuna pollution under its purview, suggesting that the Pushta dwellers were the main contributors to the river’s pollution. Without verifying this or giving the residents the right to be heard, it directed ‘all authorities concerned as well as the Central Government to forthwith remove all the unauthorised structures, jhuggies , places of worship and/or any other structure which are unauthorisedly put in Yamuna Bed and its embankment, within two months from today’. (Hazards Centre 2004)
Not much happened on this order for the next eight months. The size of the Pushta with over a hundred thousand people, its historical presence and well-developed networks appeared to provide some immunity from the demolitions that had already been taking place on a large scale all over the city. It was only in December 2003 that news regarding the proposed demolition of the Pushta started making an appearance in the city’s newspapers. Mr. Jagmohan, the Union Minister of Culture and Tourism unveiled a grandiose plan for the area once the ‘encroachments’ are removed. He proposed a 220-acre national tourist and cultural complex on the riverbanks that ‘would become one of the greatest hubs of cultural tourism and attract hundreds of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists’ (The Hindu, 10 January 2004).
It would be worth mentioning here that large portions of the Yamuna riverbed have already been given away for different city project like the building of the Depot for the city’s new Metro, the construction of a huge temple complex and housing for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The Court’s order now allowed the Government to push further with its plan to redevelop the entire area. The presence of Mr Jagmohan as the chief architect of this project is also significant given his role in overseeing demolitions as Vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in the authoritarian era of Emergency rule between 1975-77. In calling for the demolition of the Pushta, Mr Jagmohan predictably recycled the language of the law, dirt, disgust, and beautification to delegitimize the presence of the urban poor. He suggested that the area was a breeding ground of jhuggi dadas (slumlords), kabaris (waste recyclers), owners of polluting factories and large dairy farms who are ‘strangulating all our constitutional, environmental, cultural and civic values destroying our sacred heritage of the past and making the living conditions of the present chaotic and even polluting and corrupting our future,'' (The Hindu, January 23, 2004).
On hearing of the court order, the residents of the Pushta immediately approached the High Court for relief. They argued that because basic civic amenities schools, water, electricity, sewage - were not, present at the proposed resettlement sites, as was required by the court’s order on removal, no evictions could be carried out. The court, then, put a stay on the demolition and asked the government agencies for an appraisal of the situation. Within four days the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) filed an affidavit in the court stating that indeed, all necessary facilities were available in resettlement colonies where Pushta residents were to be resettled. A group of civil society organizations prepared an independent report that showed the contrary. But the court instead chose to go by the affidavit filed by the MCD and lifted the stay. In the Pushta and its allied communities including civil-society organizations, urban planners and environmentalists this was read as a signal of court’s complete refusal to entertain petitions against the demolition, since everyone was aware that the resettlement areas were woefully inadequate.
With the legal route shut down, Pushta residents tried to intervene through representations to democratically elected bodies and administrative institutions such as the President of the Republic, the Ministry of Urban Development, the Chief Minister of Delhi, local members of parliament and the constituent assembly. Civic authorities ignored technical arguments put forward by planners and civil society organizations that the demolitions contravened the city’s Master Plan’s requirement of proximity to employment, the Draft National Slum Policy citation against demolitions and that the Pushta residents were not the primary polluters of the Yamuna (Hazards Centre, 2004). Representations to political parties and government officials on the important humanitarian questions of where displaced slum dwellers would live and work also yielded no results.
Meanwhile the Congress government of Delhi, aware that it stood to lose valuable votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections, approached the Election Commission (EC) asking for a stay on the evictions until the elections were over in May. The EC, then, put a moratorium on demolition until May 10 on the grounds that the eviction of people would affect their constitutional right to vote. But once again, Mr. Jagmohan, who was also the BJP candidate in one of the constituencies the squatters inhabited, provided assurances that adequate transportation facility would be provided to people willing to vote. The EC then gave the green signal for evictions, albeit on a ‘case to case basis’.
In a last ditch attempt hundreds of Pushta dwellers in a show of political strength traveled to Mr. V.P SinghÕs house to seek political support. The former Prime Minister had in the past actively campaigned on the slum dwellers behalf and promised to do the same again. A few days later, they attempted to make presentations at the house of Sonia Gandhi, then leader of the opposition. However, at this juncture, the police came down heavily upon the people and quickly arrested those who were seen as leaders of the protest. Others were threatened with dire consequences if they refused to demolish their shanties themselves. Following this, the will of the Pushta dwellers broke, cowed down by the presence of Mr. Jagmohan, the attitude of the High Court, the prediction of an imminent BJP re-election, and the persistent history of demolition in the city. People waited instead for the bulldozers. Those who could afford to tried to make alternative housing arrangements.
The last jhuggi fell three days before Election Day in Delhi, even as politicians campaigned to promote the welfare of the people. While the media reported a peaceful and voluntary departure of residents, under a well-organized compensatory resettlement policy, in the Pushta the stories told, seen and heard were quite different. Mindful that the situation was undesired in election season and tense, the authorities sent in exceptionally large number of police force to monitor and control the situation. Entrances and exits to the area were blockaded and a number of tactics were adopted to intimidate the residents into a quiet departure. This, because despite its claim the government had only made arrangements to relocate a certain proportion of the squatters. Out of a total of roughly 27,000 families only about 6000 were selected for compensatory resettlement in plots of 12.5 and 18 sq. mts, leaving the other 21,000 shelterless. For these meager plots, people had to shell out fees ranging from Rs 5,000 to 20,000 which in many cases was simply unaffordable. Those who had not lived in the area prior to 1998 were not eligible for resettlement. Neither were tenants or those who could not provide adequate documentation.
The demolitions started from the area’s southern tip, which is largely Hindu and moved systematically north towards the more densely populated parts inhabited mostly by Muslims. The idea was to create a safe and unhindered passage to encircle the Northern Pushta, which has been known for its militant struggles against the authorities.
The process worked on the principle demolition first, relocation after. Resettlement plots were only assigned on the morning of demolition. This gave people little notice about their intending move. The destruction of houses started even before a proper list of allottees was prepared and notified. Those who had been excluded from the list would first have to witness the destruction of their home, before they could file objections. While bulldozers worked in some neighbourhoods, in others two large fires gutted a large numbers of houses. Residents accused the police of intentionally starting these to ensure their quick and speedy departure,Lathicharging (hitting them with a bamboo stick). those who tried to salvage their belongings. They also suggested that the police were on combing beats at night Ð reminding them to depart quickly without a fuss, arresting those who seemed most capable of forceful opposition, and preventing any mass gathering of people. The police labeled counteraccusations. All of this is telling of the strife that accompanied the displacement.
It was also open season to make money of those being evicted. The cost of getting paperwork in order was high. ‘Free transport’ to the resettlement site cost Rs 200 (at the time of completing the paper, c. !
4). Rs 200 were charged for getting the plot allotted once there. People looking to find housing elsewhere reported that landlords in neighbourhoods were warned not to accept any tenants from the area. Some returned to their villages, some just remained in the Pushta, living among the rubble. All this, as the rest of the city engaged in its democratic mandate, and the media remained silent on what was unfolding on the banks of the river, even as civil liberties groups marked a campaign of organized intimidation.
H1 In the No (Wo)Man’s Land
By the end of April the entire Pushta barring a few tiny clusters had been ‘cleared’. Only the two clusters, Bela Gaon and Mool Chand Basti, which are known to have predominantly BJP supporters, were left untouched. Resettlement was done in the Bawana, Holambi kalan and Madan Pur Khadar areas of the city, all of which are at least 20-35 kms from the Pushta. Residents who received plots in these areas have not received ownership but a license for five years and are unable to construct houses until the MCD completes its survey. It is unclear when this will happen. At the time of writing, many were afraid to leave their temporarily constructed shacks to go to work because of the fear that finding no home would lead the MCD to cancel their plot allocation. They are also unwilling to bring in their valuables, such as cooking stoves, from the city, unless they are allowed permanent construction. After having worked many years to achieve much-desired economic stability from well-established livelihoods, the Pushta residents find themselves on the street again, under grass and thatch roofs, hunting for firewood and cooking in the open.
Because of the distance from the city and hence employment, it is mostly women, children and the elderly who live in these areas. The men remain in the city to keep at their jobs as it is impossible to commute everyday given the distance and the expense. Women have lost their jobs, the family income has halved, and families are separated. The lottery system of allotting plots has meant that social networks built assiduously over decades of co-habitation in Pushta have been violently torn asunder. Many of the children have dropped out from school, or returned to their villages, because there are none in the area or nearby. There is active hostility from the traditional residents of the area, ranging from sexual harassment of women by locals to refusal of treatment at the hospitals nearby. The slum dwellers of the city, it appears, have carried their stigma with them. Government services, like clinics, have not yet been started and a mobile van appears once in a while.
There is of course, no electricity. Far more dire, however, is the issue of water. Madanpur Khadar, for example, is the city’s fly ash dump. The water supply piped through here, thus, is highly toxic; morbidity and disease due to water borne diseases is exceptionally high. When a tanker with clean water does arrive, only the fittest survive. There is also constant flooding as the plots have been built four feet under the street-level drains that lead nowhere. We have been told that the only place to bury the dead is in open spaces where people defecate. They are unable to afford the colony toilets because every visit costs a sum beyond their paying capacity, and are unable to avail land for burial. Whatever space remains must be used for both. The newly born and dead children lie among the feces.
HI Conclusion Awaited
We have argued, following Partha Chatterjee, that neoliberalization has lead to a steady decline in space and services that were once available to slum dwellers in cities like Delhi. Those who were never granted full citizenship are under siege as the processes that provided some protection and removed in the neoliberal assault on illegality and government spending of welfare measures.
There is also, however, a far older trope here this is the dividing line between the desired city and the inadequate city, between citizens and others. Neoliberal urbanism has resurrected the promise of the city beautiful, after decades of ‘failure’ and the determination to obtain it is overwhelming. Like the colonial government before it, the city administration is now using its capacity to legislate and adjudicate to engage in another round of beautification for deserving citizens. Unlike the Emergency however, this round of demolitions is far more permanent, is not done through the declared suspension of civil rights, offers far less to those displaced and comes with the active support of the middle class of the city. The slum dweller, as Amita Baviskar (2002) writes, is not a sentimental figure like the tribal or the hungry farmer, and thus, especially when tinged with the spectre of illegal Bangladeshi (read Muslim) migrancy, is easier to evict, both physically as well as notionally.
One of the serious questions the Pushta demolitions raises is why slum dwellers were not able to break the cycle and provide more forceful opposition. Although a large range of civil society organizations, planners and residents of the Pushta itself were opposed to the measure, the success of Mr. Jagmohan is testimony to the appeal and power of the ‘there is no alternative’ to neoliberalism. A few weeks later, Mr. Jagmohan like the BJP would lose the election. However at the time of the demolition, the spinning machine, like those opposed, could not articulate or conceive of any alternative, especially given the policy consensus on the matter between political parties and the power elite.
It is also a sign of the lack of a strong and organized working class movement in a city which has always been beholden to the exaggerated power of the Indian state, as its capital. This weakness is exacerbated on three fronts Ð the first is the declining politicization of civil-society organizations, that are fractured by their capacity as service delivers of the state, beholden to policy agendas and funds in an increasingly competitive field; the second the growth of a strong middle-class environmental lobby for which Delhi, as is often the case in independent India, is becoming a testing field of sorts. Finally, slum dwellers themselves often tacitly agree to demolition because of the promise of a legal plot, that will be provided to some eligible residents.
It can only be hoped, though the signs so far are rather dim, that the loss of ‘India shining’ will present something brighter to those from the Pushta and Pushta like settlements in other parts of the country. The prognosis however, is not good. As we write, Bombay, home to the largest number of slum dwellers in the country and to their exceedingly well organized political networks is seeing demolitions under the new Congress government that campaigned and won on its promise of being ‘for the common man’. Where are the poor to go?
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