Building a Home. Building a Life : Incrementality and Investment in Resettlement Colony

Gautam Bhan, Tripta Chandola, Kinjal Sampat, Nidhi Sohane | 2019


In its broadest sense, this study seeks to understand a straightforward urban question: how does one build a life in the city? Yet each word in this question undoes the seeming directness of the inquiry. What if the “one” is a peripheral citizen, marked by both income poverty and social inequality with uncertain access to legal and formal housing? What if “build” is a complex terrain between construction and repair but also destruction and rebuilding? What if “life” is difficult to unpack into its material and socio-economic dimensions let alone its affective ones? What if the “city” is not just a context but also an actor? This study is about twenty-two residents of Savda Ghevra, a resettlement colony in the north-west periphery of New Delhi, where, from 2006 onwards, residents have been allocated plots after the forced evictions of their homes in bastis throughout the city. Their stories are particular but also emblematic. Ghevra is a specific place, but it is also a type. Across the megacities of the global south, it represents an empirically common, if not economically dominant, mode of urbanization: incrementally self-built housing in the context of cycles of eviction and resettlement as well as deeply constrained social and economic life-worlds. These stories are, in fact, stories of the urban condition for much of the world’s urban residents.

In telling these stories, we seek to engage with the ethical, political and intellectual call of southern urban theorists to delve deeper into the actually existing conditions of urbanism in southern cities.

We focus on three lines of inquiry.

•The first is to understand the incremental processes by which residents have built their house over the ten years they have lived in Ghevra in order to understand the what, why and when of their building activities. We call this the material cycle of their inhabitation.

•The second is to relate the material cycle to what we are calling the life cycle of inhabitation: their own sense of making a viable social, economic and affective life in Ghevra for themselves and their families. We seek to understand, in particular, how changes in the life cycle impact the material cycle and vice-versa.

•The third is to understand, evaluate and enumerate the multiple forms of investment – time, money, labour, emotion – that underlies both the material and life cycles of inhabitation. We deliberately hold these different notions of valuation together, and are equally interested in the economic and financial value of the investment they have made as well as its affective and felt value.