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A Humanitarian Narration on Slum Demolition Verdict

Miseries of demolition in a slum

Pushed away, in a welfare state

Bulldozer blades tear it to ground

Accidental fire burns it down

Demolition is the erasure of belongingness and the memories attached to the land. Demolition of such a large scale of those who are adversely affected by poverty, struggling with their physiological needs, placed at the margins should be seen as an attempt to undermine the entitlement of citizenship in a welfare state.

Demolition is the exercise in which dignity is turned into debris, which is again a privileged term for people dwelling in inhuman, inhabitable conditions. Authority claims rehabilitation, but what would be restored at an isolated land away from economic activities of the targeted population?

Relocation of slum, at times, seems to throw the poor away. Authority can turn blind to the truth of rehabilitation colonies but the reality is that it affects the livelihood. So, poor people relocate them in some other (nearby) slums or unauthorized settlements. They don’t prefer to go to places far away from places pivotal to their economic activity, that’s why such rehabilitation colonies end up being ghost towns.

The relocation of slums to the periphery or the edge of the city can be studied in the light of geographer Edward W. Soja’s work in which he introduced the concept of spatial justice where he identifies geographical location as fundamental in producing spatial injustice.

Placing the poor in a segregated neighborhood, pushing them to the fringes of the city is a fundamental mistake which is committed while planning the placement of the slum population to be relocated and rehabilitated. As this pushes the poverty stricken neighborhood away from the mainstream society, hidden from the rest of the city fabric. Not only this, those dwelling in such neighborhoods in inhuman dwelling conditions, they themselves would not be able to register protests for the way they would be treated by the state and its biopower.

Adding to this, those placed on the periphery and their built environment, inevitably end up searching for livability in such spatially degraded, poverty stricken conditions of the human habitat. This can be considered as a case for the concept of precarity, as this would literally force people living in these neighborhoods to expose themselves to vulnerability and threats beyond their control. And the precarious population questioning livability is overlooked, ignored and neglected by the welfare state because of the geographical location resulting in spatial injustice.

These rehabilitation colonies are the exact translation of Foucault’s concept of heterotopia where ‘unwanted’ people in the mainstream city fabric are collected, pushed and restricted to dwell away from the mainstream. These dwellings and neighborhoods can be compared to a prison where inhabitants are bound and restricted, making them the assemblies of discriminated neighborhoods.

But the question is why is it necessary to relocate, rehabilitate people who are already on the margins, exposed to fiscal vulnerability to a place alien to them? Why can’t the welfare state just provide a habitable life in the place where slums come up rather than shifting them to some other places?

The authority which failed to stop SriSri’s World Cultural event on the fragile floodplain of river Yamuna, calls the slum dwellers encroachers, illegal inhabitants and polluting agents while pushing them away from the land which a certain capitalist lobby sees as prime, suiting their vested interests.

So, if the governing authority throws them away, it will be seen as snatching away opportunities of survival from them, with limited access to the centres of livelihood. The whole exercise would end up as a means to detach the place of work from the place of living. Now, in that case, if one has to choose between a habitable, dignified life and a place where issues of survival are addressed, it is obvious to shift to places where issues of survival are addressed as survival here is more important than dignity.

When the governing authorities seem adamant in shifting poor to the peripheral land away from the core of the city, I strongly believe that fast, affordable and better connectivity of public transport can be a kind of solution which should be kept in mind while planning for such an action. This can work as a measure through which the segregated neighborhood can be connected to the economic core, livelihood of the targeted population, facilitating them with opportunities to survive.

An enclosure can’t feed the poor, opportunities near it would certainly do.
So, place them near their livelihood, let them survive, let them feed

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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