The Vulnerable Foundations of India’s Urbanism


The dominant image of the COVID-19 pandemic in India is of thousands of people leaving cities for rural districts, despite lockdowns, forced to walk hundreds of kilometers along ighways, because interstate transport was shut down. They were riven out of urban areas by a host of factors: uncertainty of the ength of the lockdowns, sudden loss of income and employment, nability to bear the costs of urban life (especially rent), concern or families, or the possibility of using expanded benefits avail­ ble only outside cities through the National Rural Employment uarantee Act (NREGA).1 Cities that were meant to hold the romise of social and economic mobility seem, in this moment, to have failed.

We must, however, step further back. The story of the pandemic nd its attendant lockdowns in India is not one of a singular cri­ is. It is, instead, a continuation of an everyday vulnerability that receded this moment. Two snapshots paint a picture of this vul­ erability. The first is in Delhi-a city of 17 million people-where he government announced temporary food relief during the first OVID-19 lockdowns: nearly 7.2 million of the city’s residents lready qualified for food aid. Anticipating more need, the gov­ rnment sought to reach an additional 1 million people. Within weeks of the new program opening for applications online, however, 3.8 million applied.