Thursday, January 28, 2010

a tale of two cities

shit, work and eat where you sleep.

an uncommuted life sentence, but it works for me.

Ever since India passed its Slum Clearance Act in 1970, the government has repeatedly revisited attempts to surgically remove what it has come to regard as a tumor. Evicting entire families; offering to rehouse them - when pressed - in newly erected concrete blocks complete with indoor plumbing. A hitherto unheard of luxury for rural migrants squatting in the vast labyrinthian channels leaking out from central Mumbai. Unarguably ugly developments which offer not only shelter but, just as crucially, a means of eking out an existence in scores of thriving - though officially unrecognized - industries which generate billions in untaxable revenue.

Successive governments, then, have found the going undermined by persistent recalcitrance. The people simply do not wish to be rehoused

As the west has ably demonstrated, slum clearances only result in funneling existing populations into artificially created pockets which are, themselves, new slums in the making. Repeated amendments to planning policy have scarely addressed the outcome. And it is not merely a social issue. With city acreage selling at a ridiculous premium, government in Mumbai is less concerned with resolving genuine issues of community and public welfare than generating huge profits from untapped resources.

Unlike, say, the notorious favelas of Brazil, crime is not inwardly endemic in the Mumbai slums. Largely kept in line by the same Caste system operating outwith the slums - which inescapably visits its own unique set of problems on a far larger scale - there is very real order and a sense of community in the sprawling network of makeshift factories, sweat shops and claustrophic dwellings. Its peoples often labour just yards from where they sleep; their children receive an education at one or another of the myriad schools established beyond the margins of state intervention.

In short, the people of the slums have toiled for generations to secure and maintain a sense of identity. Often labouring in hereditary trades adapted to meet demand. To procure for themselves that which has consistently been denied through central governmnent.

Uprooting whole families to stack them one on top of another in a concrete house of cards while the plumbing slows to a crawl and the lifts grind to a halt scarcely qualifies as improvement. Paring away all potential to generate an income beyond begging in the street should be roundly vilified.

Shit, work and play where you eat and sleep. An agrarian concept popular before the Highland Clearances of old, when the factory owners waged war and won. Just as before, they come for the children. And put them to work in call centres.


@eloh said...

Oddly enough, I fear I will soon be in that same war as I am much too poor to own two acres so very close to the town square. The "developement" is now next door.

ib said...


Oddly, too, while the concrete block which houses us is shockingly decrepit and foul, we are just a few minutes from the city centre and 'civilization'. The civic authorities been engaged in a regeneration project for some time. The trend is to demolish and move existing tenants to outlying areas with few or no shopping amenities. I have seen it all before. Very quickly, these new builds degenerate into antisocial wildernesses which can only be escaped by public transport oon a limited service.

After close to a decade of prevaricating, our block was scheduled for demolition. The plan has once again been vetoed while the association responsible for them continues to generate an income over and above rents from the battery of radio transmitters and telecommunication masts which carpet the roof of this one building only.

We resemble an air traffic control tower. Or a 23 storey tower block wired up for electric shock therapy.

I hope you persist in hanging on to yout two acres with dogged resistance. Or at the very least until such a time that they make you an offer it would be churlish to refuse.

Löst Jimmy said...

Yes indeed ib...what solution is there in clearing slums? The result is without fail another form of slum, a catalyst for aggressive social decay. Always such 'planning' is done without the input or wishes of the inhabitants. Fragmentic communities and all the social problems one can handle an inevitable product. The same architects and planners who have no concept of living in such places.

@eloh said...

Holy Christ! I went to images and looked at some pictures. Lucky folks that get those end units. I can't imagine living in the middle of those huge buildings.

I also read where the city is on the Forbes richest list... that can't be good for the people with moderate means, not to mention those trying to be self sufficient.

Your driver said...

Yeah, if American experience is anything to go by, "Slum Clearance" is nothing but a taxpayer subsidy to private real estate developers. The urban redevelopment schemes of the sixties have only produced failed housing projects like yours, useless suburban sprawl and a few cities like New York and San Francisco that have become so gentrified that only the rich can afford to live in them.

ib said...

I am curious, Löst Jimmy, regards your recent sojourn in Mexico City.

I am not well travelled, and while I've never set foot there or - for that matter - India, my second hand exposure to world events leaves me in little doubt that people almost always fare better when provided the opportunity to effect change for themselves.

The machinery of state chews slowly like Kafka and spits out kaka. One flavour only.

As you observe wholly correctly, the entire apparatus is totally fucked. Bastard civil servants and bureaucrats.

@eloh, are we still talking Mubai here ?

It is nothing short of astounding the level of self-sufficiency at work in the slums. Of course, there is precious little in terms of available support so there really exists no alternative.

As a high-rise dweller myself, I can all too easily imagine what will become of those evicted individuals when they are pushed into those upright coffins and forced off the streets.

The higher up they put you the more divorced from reality you become, and stuck in the middle you have nothing but the psychological burden of those physically living on top of you.

I sympathize completely with all those resistant to clearance. Social engineering remains a dangerous business.

ib said...


Amen, brother.

Here the new watchword is 'regeneration'. Slum Clearance is altogether too honest, and plagued by association with eugenics and pest control.

It is, as you concisely put it, "a taxpayer subsidy to private real estate developers". The fine tuning of concentration camps in remote areas and the art of media landscaping.

Your driver said...

Ib this post has got me sympathizing with anarchists for the first time in a long time. I usually find myself caught between completely fucking crazy right wing social engineering schemes or weak, half assed left wing social engineering schemes. When forced to chose, I chose the left. That might have something to do with a life spent working on a liberal social engineering scheme. Good to be reminded that people, you know "the people", are capable of making our own arrangements.

ib said...

It reminds me of the first instalment in Mervyn Peake's fictitious "Gormenghast" trilogy. With the "bright carvers" in a sprawling co-operative outwith the castle walls.

Life is described as routinely harsh, but built on grit and vitality. The people age fast and die young while the castle itself is consumed by incremental decay and corruption.

Peake, of course, was present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

Very real events informed his writing and drawings.

The political model is much like Gormenghast itself. Trust no cunt. Fight your battles out in the open when and if you are able. You will fall on your sword regardless, but better that than a knife in the back. Or the torture of rehabilitation.

@eloh said...

Yeah, I googled Mubai slums and there was a picture of the concrete buildings where relocation is happening.

I just fought a battle...I was too old and sick and knew it was hopeless. Just something about the fight I can't resist. Knowing I would lose, oddly added something I still can't quite put my finger on, yet.

ib said...

I watched a British documentary recently, where a Mumbai planning official unveiled a scaled 3-dimensional blueprint based on the "Japanese model".

Staggering in its naivety.

Cut to scenes of a derelict looking multi-storey which in reality was erected only five years previously. Where the slums are bustling, this building loomed up like a dead tooth
from an unsuccessful root canal.

Dogs and rats nosing through the refuse littering the gum line as in the slums, but undisturbed by human activity.

May your enemies tread on venemous snakes.

Ramone666 said...

It´s complex innit, like almost everything in India. When you actually expereince the slums you wish their dwellers a better life for sure, if only for reasons of hygiene. But when the main objectives for slum relocations are rooted in corruption and greed, and the alternative is not that much better, I see why people resist.

ib said...

At a safe distance, I have probably seen more of life in the slums than I have evidence of central Mumbai and its legitimate residents.

The one thing those images don't inform you of is the smell. Of one thing I am fairly certain. Whenever and wherever they move those people, the infrastructure wil not be sufficient to sustain any improvement in sanitation beyond the short term.

Where will the potters ply their trade ? The unlicensed textile manufacturers and machine tooled production lines ?

It is, as you say, complex and untenable.

Neither do I see those call centres and outsourced customer services lasting indefinitely. The very services which have fueled India's economy in recent years. At present, a qualified doctor can earn substantially more fielding international outbound / inbound calls than he or she can practicing in the health sector.

A ridiculous state of affairs, once again provoked by huge international conglomerates.

Thanks for commenting, Ramone666.

Ramone666 said...

Just read that India is planning a manned space mission for 2016. Kinda weird for a nation that can´t feed the majority of its population... Shows once more that it´s a country, to use that old cliché, of extremes. What always sickens me most is the way religion and the caste system are used to keep people dumb and obedient. But it´s a fascinating place just the same.

ib said...

A country of extremes, for sure. And theatrical gestures.

I'm glad you highlighted the caste system. That fucking saddens me greatly. It is no wonder so many people turn to Islam as a means of escaping predetermined roles.

A foul invention to maintain the status quo.

Ramone666 said...

Exactly. But a hindu will never go over to Islam. They´ll get recruted for a lousy hand full of rupees by often shady Christian missionaries instead. Case of the frying pan and the fire.

ib said...

Well. There's been more than a few instances...

But yes. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, certainly. Oh. And I also agree, with little reservation, about "shady Christian missionaries" and their take on saving souls.

A game of 'Scrabble' for beginners.

The caste system is despicable.

I certainly did not inherit the "sins of my father", and it pains me that any child should have to recocile himself or herself to that kind of shite.

A preposterous evil designed to keep human beings knee deep in offal without voicing complaint.