Thispaper explores the complex and contradictory politics of urban transformation in Mumbaiby focusing on the agency of slum residents displaced by redevelopmentprojects.
Ethnographic analysis of two cases of social mobilization on theurban periphery reveals that differentiated subaltern subject formationprocesses are crucial to whether and how global city tranformations and capitalaccumulation advance in the city. Redevelopment is experienced through changingclass, gender, and ethnic relations and ideologies to constitute the “fatalcouplings of power and difference” (Gilmore 2002) that shape dispossession aswell the political practices of countering it. In one case, genderednegotiations, participation, and ideals of domesticity in?uenced residents’engagement with redevelopment in ways that enabled slum clearance andresettlement but also exacerbated inequalities. In the second, articulations ofclass and ethno-religious marginalization prompted alliance with otherdisplaced groups and resistance to evictions expressed through idioms ofcitizenship. In both cases, NGOs and social movements mediated and partiallyaltered desires and modes of engagement with state agencies and other socialactors. Historically sedimented development practices, inequalities, anddiscourses shaped the capacities and resources through which displaced groupsstaked claims to the city. The political geography of Mankhurd appears to offeran extreme or exceptional case in which eviction and resettlement are intimatepartners, juxtaposed and overlapping with each other.
I argue, however, thatthis frontier space offers a lens into how processes of accumulation anddispossession are taking place throughout Mumbai. Neoliberal policies, stateagents, non-governmental groups, and discourses of improvement, legitimacy, andbelonging have engaged and excluded residents in urban redevelopment indifferent ways throughout the neighborhoods of the city. At the same time, thepolitics of the evicted are constantly pushing and reworking redevelopmentalstate practice. For instance, protests and negotiations have led togovernmental promises of extending resettlement eligibility to a greater numberof Mumbai’s citizens. New national policies such as the Rajiv Awaaz Yojana offerthe possibility of public housing without reliance on market mechanisms or theparticipation of developers and market incentives. Mediating groups and slumresidents have also altered their tactics.
For instance, the SPARC Alliance andslum-based leaders have recently undertaken a more critical approach to stateredevelopmentalism (Arputham and Patel 2010). NAPM has been involved innegotiations and compromises with local and national state agents around newresettlement options. Political strategies are thus never ?xed but constantlychanging depending on circumstances.
As the city grows and infrastructure andaccessibility improve, expansion into currently devalued frontier neighborhoodslike Mankhurd may again threaten residents with displacement (Bhide 2009). Itremains to be seen how future con?gurations of force—including subalternpolitical engagement—will in?uence development trajectories. In this paper, Itake seriously Harvey’s assertion that “the right to the city is far more thanthe individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to changeourselves by changing the city” (2008). However, I argue that radicalscholarshipmustpaymorerigorousattentiontotheoften-overlooked,differentiatedembodiments, meanings, and experiences of urban change that are at the heart ofsuch deep social transformations. In this regard, Mumbai’s redevelopmentpolitics offer more than a Third World case af?rming established theories ofglobal urbanization and accumulation by dispossession. It demonstrates thatjust as primitive accumulation produces “an accumulation of differences anddivisions within the proletariat” that fundamentally molds class power through racializedand gendered labor practices (Federici 2004:63), so too does redevelopment inrelation to land. Redevelopment produces difference and reworks class relationsthrough ethnicized and gendered displacement practices and experiences that inturn fuel varied and unpredictable political movements.
Similarities areevident in other global struggles over dispossession ranging from theproperty-ownership desires and racialized predatory lending practicesunderpinning the US foreclosure crisis to eviction politics of multiplydispossessed groups in the global South. In-depth examination of theseinterconnected but distinct political processes “denaturalizes” dispossession(Hart 2006), illuminating greater and hopefully more inclusive and promisingavenues for social justice.