In the Public’s Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi

Gautam Bhan  | 16 September 2016

Abstract

To understand how the evictions of the poor in Delhi can be read as acts in the ‘public interest’, this dissertation argues that we must first locate the basti in the particularity of the production of space in Delhi. The term basti is used most often by the poor to describe their homes that are often marked by some measure of physical, economic, and infrastructural vulnerability. The basti is often reduced to the slum, a marker of illegal occupation of land and, more broadly, the dysfunctional landscape of the megacities of the global South. Yet this dissertation argues that more than just a ‘slum,’ built environment, material housing stock, or planning category, a basti is, in fact, a territorialisation of a political engagement within which the poor negotiate their presence in as well as right to the city. It is a spatial manifestation of the negotiations of citizenship. Its eviction then represents not just the demolition of a built environment but the transformation of precisely this political engagement—an erasure of the poor’s presence within and right to the city. Read this way, evictions allow us to access the politics of the production and reproduction of poverty and inequality in the contemporary Indian city and the negotiations of citizenship that underlie it.