Locating the Debate: Poverty and Vulnerability in Urban India
How should questions of poverty and inequality be read through the ‘urban turn’? The intent of this essay is to argue that place matters— an urban location is not just an incidental data point in understanding poverty but a context that determines its form. Put simply: the paper argues that an urban location shapes the structural conditions of poverty, the experience of coping with it as well as the possibilities and forms of responding to it. It shapes, in other words, every aspect of poverty and inequality that is of interest to policy makers. The paper traces the content and contours of what is urban about poverty and vulnerability. Framing the latter as a quest for dignity, it assesses the empirics of urban and rural poverty, and then looks at employment, physical and social infrastructure, housing and shelter, basic capabilities and questions of identity and belonging to distinguish and assess the impact of an urban location on each. It then suggests key approaches that must define policy responses to urban poverty and vulnerability that reflect its particularities.