The ASI has the title to the land in Tughlakabad, but the poor residents too hold multifarious constitutionally guaranteed rights of shelter, life and dignity, and housing, among others. The eviction of these people will mean the State’s failure in ensuring a dignified life for its citizens.
THE Tughlakabad encroachment/eviction matter, in which the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claimed the ownership of the land and obtained favourable orders from courts, involving the dismantling of the homes of thousands of residents in the area, reiterates the dualistic notion of citizenry hitherto maintained by the State. The eviction drive in Tughlakabad must be understood in relation to the people’s claim on citizenship.
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Graded citizenship in modern, urbanised India
In modern India, the process of urbanisation of cities seems to create drifts that are visible in its structural arrangement. The State has consistently been neglecting the concerns of poor inhabitants scattered on the peripheries of these urban settings. Such localities are but a by-product of this very process.
By implementing lopsided policies on urbanisation and favouring the elite notion of development, the State has participated in the formation of graded citizenship and has become an active agent of what British-American Marxist economic geographer and anthropology professor David W. Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession”. The politics of eviction and displacement of ‘illegal encroachers’ stems from the desire to expand congesting urban spaces and cleanse them off the unpleasantness that are quintessential to these localities. Here surfaces the underpinning paradox intersecting the modern spatial – the palatial conception of citizenship and the modern nation’s urge to urbanise.
In modern India, the process of urbanisation of cities seems to create drifts that are visible in its structural arrangement. By implementing lopsided policies on urbanisation and favouring the elite notion of development, the State has participated in the formation of graded citizenship.
Contemporary metropolitan cities of India are marked not merely by the birth of an urban elite politics but also by a simultaneous politics of the marginalised. These two political groups juxtapose to create the idea of contested citizenship where most often the marginalised are eliminated to give way to urban elite hegemony. As legal scholar Upendra Baxi puts it, “… people are not naturally poor, but are made poor.”
One of the ways through which urban inequality is reproduced is the impoverishment of the policy for the adequate and responsible redressal of citizenship claims of the poor, and recognising bastis as the basis of claims made by subaltern citizens to the claim of citizenship, that is, the determination and allocation of rights and resources, claims and entitlements as well as a space within the discourse of belongingness.
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What does it mean to be evicted?
An archetypal urban settlement that houses marginalised urban communities caters to the need of space for those who are economically poor. It is also reflected in its built environment which presents a certain measure of their vulnerability. Such settlements move past their materiality and/or their spatial form, and reflect a political engagement with the other part of the city, the urban elite spaces. It represents a “territorialisation” of a political engagement within which its residents negotiate their presence, rights and their access to resources in the city.
This engagement is intricate. It is based on an intersectionality of rights, needs, and political, ethical and moral assertions. In other terms, it involves negotiating citizenship.
Spatial/palatial sense of belonging is a necessary ingredient in the formation of the idea of citizenship, which caters to one’s identity as a citizen. It also strengthens one’s position in the competing socio-political sphere of the State. Citizenship as identity constitutes a crucial part of human life and dignity in a modern democratic setting. The whole discourse of citizenship rests upon the notion of space in which formation of identity takes place.
Questions arise on the accountability of those policemen and local authorities who misled the local population, wrongly ‘sold’ them these lands, and obtained illegal gratification. Will they go scot-free, and the marginalised be further marginalised by bearing the brunt of this vicious business?
Therefore, its formation must not be looked at separately but rather, in relation within the space that nurtures these senses. The constitutional enlightened conception of citizenship by birth (jus soli), and the primacy to the in situ rehabilitation in policies and in court decisions, reaffirm the spatial/territorial entrenchment of the concept of citizenship in India.
Also read: Eviction or resettlement: permanent dilemma in Assam
Ground reality of Tughlakabad
The eviction drive at Tughlakabad presents a new example in the ever expanding list of such eviction drives. The colony, churiya mohalla (the habitation notified as an illegal encroachment by the ASI) holds about 50,000 people living in around 5,000-8,000 dwellings.
The colony sustains largely on the labour of women, who find employment as domestic help in posh neighbouring localities like Chittaranjan Park and Kalkaji, whereas the men mostly perform unskilled labour of rickshaw pulling, rag picking and construction works for livelihood.
In our field survey, we asked the residents here about the perception of the impending eviction drive. They stated firmly that the land is ‘theirs’, and that they have ‘purchased’ it from police and public officers with their hard-earned money. Although they don’t have any documentation to prove their claim, their collective assertion points to ‘sellers’, who work under the clandestine nexus of the police and local authorities. They deceptively lured them to purchase lands and prompted their settlement in the area.
One of the ladies (name undisclosed on her request) told us that she had purchased some land from the police by paying a sum of one and a half lakh rupees in instalments. Questions arise on the accountability of those policemen and local authorities who misled the local population, wrongly ‘sold’ them these lands, and obtained illegal gratification. Will they go scot-free, and the marginalised be further marginalised by bearing the brunt of this vicious business?
The issue of mass eviction is not as trivial as it appears. The decision of a court may decide the legal part of the lis by adjudicating upon title and other interests adjacent with a piece of land, but there are many questions that cannot be dealt with on arid principles of law.
Also read: Supreme Court halts Haldwani eviction drive; says cannot uproot thousands of occupants overnight
The ASI has the title to the land in Tughlakabad, but the poor residents too hold multifarious constitutionally guaranteed rights of shelter, life and dignity, and housing, among others. The eviction of these people will mean the State’s failure in ensuring a dignified life for its citizens. Hence, it is the State that must be held culpable, not the citizens. For the concept of citizenship devoid of these constituent elements is bondage and nothing else, and any State failing to ensure them must be made to relinquish its role as the dominant big brother.