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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 35, New Delhi, August 15, 2020

Hands that made our cities: Struggles and Lifeworlds of Migrants in India | Tanya Sharma

Friday 14 August 2020

Book Review

by Tanya Sharma

City Makers: Tribulations & Triumphs - A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India, Indu Prakash Singh, Mukul Prakashan, Delhi, 2006, Pp. 608

City makers: Tribulation & Triumphs-A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India is a distillation of a series of events in social activist Indu Prakash Singh’s journey of 16 years working in proximity with the homeless residents and other vulnerable groups of the National Capital of India. Extending over 36 chapters, CityMakers is a work of immense courage and conviction unveiling to its readers the hidden reality of the Indian democratic institutions (in particular its bureaucracy and police system), and its fractured developmental policy framework, in relation to slum-dwellers and migrants. Therefore, the book has potential to offer many useful insights in the exploration of an ‘alternative life of a city’ from the prism of the rights of the migrants, homeless, and disadvantageous people, who maintain and sustain the city, yet ignored and at times dealt with violence both systematically and by the structures of power, policymaking, planning and so on.. Such an alternative characterization which moves the city beyond the middle-class psychology of ‘beautiful city’ defies the logic of inhumane faces of development and urges rethinking and restructuring the visions socially, politically and economically.

In this book, the author has sought to narrate the heart-wrenching tales of the homeless residents of India, majority of whom are rural migrants from various areas of India victimized by caste atrocities, communal tensions, debt, penury, destitution and natural disasters. They constitute the unorganized sector of the economy and are cardinal to the development of the city. Singh has accorded these homeless residents with the nomenclature of ‘CityMakers’, a category that includes the rickshaw pullers, construction workers, domestic workers, head pullers and pushers, in other words, the representatives of the lowest strata of the society, mostly belonging to the communities of Dalit, Muslim, OBC and Scheduled Castes.

In its introductory chapters ranging from 1 to 12, this book sheds significant light on the loathsome treatment meted out to the homeless by the state institutions and the society at large. They are denied basic amenities like housing, employment, labour rights, political representation and provision of ration cards and other identity certifications, making them completely non-existent and rendering them incapable of having adequate interaction with the mainstream society due to which they are constantly viewed with suspicion, contempt, fear, prejudice, and inhibitions. They are thus constantly subjected to marginalization from rural to urban and hence to the social apartheid.

CityMakers brings to forth the contributions of the state institutions in perpetuating ‘homelessness’ which is not just a social menace but also acts as a catalyst and a breeding ground for a host of other vulnerabilities. It draws attention to the negligence of the bureaucracy and lack of political will in devising adequate development policies for addressing the issue of rehabilitation and human settlement. While the government has recorded the intent that every citizen has the right to housing by framing dozens of policies such as Night Shelter for Urban Shelter less 1989-90, National Housing and Habitat Policy 1998 etc. and issuing guidelines, this book claims that their translation into actions has not been seriously considered. The target has not been seriously pursued, let alone met. This neglect has compelled the homeless to take up begging and become drug peddlers. Furthermore, it is argued that the police brutality also contributes to the conversion of many of these homeless into criminals. Criminalization of begging through the enactment of draconian laws on the lines of Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959 without any sound provisions of sources of employment, and omissions, both overt and covert in the census process of enumerating, especially people who are at margins are other structural arrangements adding to the miseries of homeless. These appalling conditions of the homeless and the frivolous attitude of the democratic institutions towards them presents a picture of ‘other’ India to which Singh has called Non-India in the chapter India v/s Non-India.

Singh’s endeavor in association with Action Aid International India and its initiative of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan is to underscore the seriousness of the issue of rehabilitation in the urban India. Skillfully braced by field interviews, writ petitions, census records and other assorted fact findings covered in chapters 5, 16, 20, 22, 25 and 26, his work emphasizes the need to revisit planning and development in a way that our cities, towns and villages become inclusive and contain sustainable habitats for residents. H thus brings in the concept of ‘caring city’ to replace ‘smart city’, and characterizes it with features of no poverty, accountable governance, humane bureaucracy, just judiciary, inclusive authorities, responsive media etc

This book is richly endowed with everyday realities, experiences, and presents arguments with legal and social evidences. Every chapter seems to be written with a thematic underpinning. It thoughtfully criticizes and questions the apparently strong connection between India’s democratic and developmental status when India’s rising stature of an ‘emerging global power’ comes at the expanse of silencing the voices of the millions and paying a lip service to their needs especially of housing, employment and political representation in the name of welfare. Arguments in the book are supplemented by various case studies as a testimony in detail that how and in what manner a particular model of a city is imagined and reproduced as organized and beautiful at the cost of denying rights to the people who make the city. The book is dense in highlighting complex arguments in simple prose. Thus, the book could be useful for varieties of people across academia like political scientists, economists, sociologists, and development theorists etc. as well as architects, bureaucrats, and policy experts. However, since it is written more in an anecdotal and dialogic format in a continuous and scattered manner, in order to gain a nuanced understanding of the problem of rehabilitation and human settlement a preliminary effort is required on part of the reader to segregate the articles into sections pertaining to what is the issue, how it is being dealt and how it should be dealt?

(Author: Tanya Sharma, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi)

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