UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Between eviction and existence : urban restructuring and the politics of poverty in Delhi Routray, Sanjeev Kumar


This thesis examines the effect of urban planning on poor migrants in Delhi. The thesis begins by tracing the shift from a “passive revolution” in urban planning to a neo-liberal mode of active planning that accentuates capital accumulation in the city. Subsequent chapters examine how this mode of urban planning creates conditions of “structural violence” through large-scale demolition and resettlement that contribute to increasing impoverishment and social suffering in particular neighbourhoods. Critically deploying Partha Chatterjee’s and Sudipta Kaviraj’s complementary theories of Indian democracy, and drawing on seventeen months of ethnographic and documentary research in three neighbourhoods—a ‘jhuggi jhopri settlement’, a ‘transit camp,’ and a ‘resettlement colony’—as well as interviews with Delhi urban planners, the thesis shows how the poor participate through intermediaries; how they negotiate with the state over various kinds of enumeration and proof documents for eligibility and access to welfare services; and how they deal with the judiciary to stall demolition or obtain resettlement plots. A key finding concerns how the state imagination constructs what can be called ‘numerical citizenship’: a peculiar mode of urban citizenship in which minimum residency tenure determines a migrant’s or community’s ability to procure documents for establishing material claims and political belonging in the city. I discuss examples of how Delhi’s urban poor claim, negotiate, perform, and realize numerical citizenship through a range of practices. Through an analysis of legal negotiations in everyday contexts, the project also explores how the poor navigate the judicial system by rejecting legal and social classifications, building social relationships and alliances, and contesting existing land use and class relations. Lastly, the thesis examines the poor’s cultural idioms and strategies of both peaceful and militant resistance to policies that threaten them with eviction or deny them basic services. Here, the activists’ work in marg darshan (path-showing) and chetna badhana (consciousness-raising) is understood to be part of the general rann-niti (game-plan) of the politics of poverty. With a focus on the logic of different modes of political mobilization, the thesis examines how the poor’s political imagination and agency involve participation, negotiation, and resistance to urban planning policies.

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