Featured image above: Author’s own
In the background of consequences of reorganization of urban space, this blog highlights the aftermath of the displacement of the working-class to the periphery. It uses the case study of a peripheral region of Delhi, called Narela, to show that this new site was marked with contestations and conflicts. Narela is located in the northern part of Delhi, situated 30-40 km from the centre of the city (Figure 1). I discuss one important aspect of displacement, which the field-stories offered – that of ‘Placelessness’ amongst a displaced community and how it is – produced and reproduced at places of residence and work.
Resettlement always has its own contestations and there was a restructuring of the social lives of people of the Narela resettled basti (slum) dwellers, especially with the absence of basic infrastructure.
Through the creation of resettlement colonies, albeit through processes of displacement, the ‘urban poor’ was included into the legal/formal ambits of city. However, these ways of inclusion intensified a certain kind of exclusion - struggling for livelihood, basic infrastructure, housing and social dignity. An intense impact on women’s lives was seen resulting in loss of their employment and an added burden of household activities residing in an area with no access to basic resources such as water, electricity, ration or proper housing.
Placelessness post Displacement
The built environment of resettlement colonies with poor housing structure, no proper drainage and sewerage, water facilities, and narrow roads signified poverty and therefore was translated into the ways they were perceived by the already existing local communities (Varga, 2013). The resettlement colonies were not able to provide these people with a sense of security because of a sense of disorientation and placelessness after displacement. On my pilot field-visit in December 2017, I witnessed a commotion post an episode of brutal violence against an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist, who are always women) worker in Pocket 11, who retaliated and filed a complaint against illegal selling of alcohol in Narela, because the men would spend most of their income there. There were a few women in the resettlement colony with the ASHA worker who went ahead and filed a police complaint. Later during the conversation about this incident with women, respondents of Pocket 11, opened up about alcoholism becoming a household problem for which the ASHA worker and a few others rightly raised their voice.
The women revealed that alcoholism and drugs have made it difficult for them to walk freely in their own neighbourhood streets and use public spaces. It not only had increased financial burden on women of the households but had also pushed young girls to dropout from school and take home-based work, which brought them to the judgement of the community members.
Hence in many cases of harassment or violence the women and young girls get no support from the community members. While narrating the whole incident, a woman mentioned, ‘Everyone was recording the incident but not one came in her support while it is everyone’s problem’. Alcoholism was exacerbated as a problem post resettlement because of a lack of community support to women to speak out against it in contrast with the support of community members they received when they were in ‘Delhi’ (the term used by resettled workers for core areas of Delhi from where they were replaced). Men of Pocket 11 had their own perspective about alcoholism, explaining that they mostly fell off the wagon and gave in to addiction because of loss of earlier employment opportunities and a long duration of struggle while resettling.
Besides the above factors, the vacant and unregulated spaces in Narela provided further opportunities to young men for using it to consume alcohol or drugs, which they could not do on the streets of resettlement colonies. The men from the local community also used these spaces for consuming alcohol and hanging out.
The Delhi Development Authority commercial complexes and community spaces in Narela resettlement colony were public spaces which have become highly masculine spaces while women are usually left with home spaces and streets of resettlement colonies to socialize with no safe spaces around for their mobility.
On asking women about usage of Baraat Ghar (community space) in the resettlement colony of Pocket 8, women said they used it for teaching stitching and embroidery to young girls for a while, but because men and young boys started using it for drugs in the evening or late at night, parents stopped sending the girls. The space is now vacant and is only used by men and young boys. The park in Pocket 4 was used by boys to play or to smoke marijuana which made the space inappropriate for girls and women. The women only felt safe on the streets of the resettlement colonies or inside their homes.
The women of the resettled household found no work as domestic workers, which they had lost due to resettlement. The households of the local community did not prefer to employ women from the resettlement colony. Aware of this bias, women from the displaced community therefore preferred working in industries or home-based work. Violence associated with the resettlement colonies is inherently linked with the moral geography of Narela, which feeds into the process of how this space is perceived and further conceived. In an interview, Neeldaman Khatri, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Narela, had spoken about pushing for better law and order situation in Narela for assuring safety of women, which otherwise is known for not being safe for women. The violence, illegalities and everyday politics of space were not often resisted by the residents because of severed ties and a lack of solidarity amongst community members after resettlement. The moral panic was not only about the working-class community but also about certain religious and ethnic communities. The locals in Narela believed that the resettled slum dwellers used the place ‘inappropriately’ and their behavior, eating habits, religious practices would harm the meanings associated with the place. The presence of the working class in industry spaces, however, was not met with any tension, because that was assumed to be their place.
The displacement of working-class communities to resettlement colonies in the periphery of Delhi became a part of Delhi’s Resettlement and Rehabilitation Scheme. However, as evident from the above accounts drawing on lived experiences of women, the displacement has not only placed them in a space which harbours resentment, conflict and violence but has also weakened their networks and access to support of their community. Lack of government schools (ibid), accessible public spaces and employment opportunities for educated girls and land uses designed with no coherence, restrict the mobility of girls and make the place unsafe for women. The resettlement had an opportunity to set an example for co-creating safe spaces for working-class women. The failure of planning policies to adequately plan for inclusive spaces is also an inevitable result of the lack of effort to involve communities in the planning process.
 Varga, J. J. 2013. Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914. New York: NYU Press
Dr. Tanya Chaudhary is presently working as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Human Development. She has a PhD in Development Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and was a recipient of Junior Research/Senior Research Fellowship from UGC during her PhD. Prior to this she had pursued Master’s in Geography from Jawaharlal Nehru University followed by another Masters in Regional Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. She had briefly worked at Town and Country Planning Organisation, Delhi as a Research consultant before joining a full-time PhD course. She has been a PhD exchange student at the Department of Geography, Indiana University Bloomington.
Her research work and publications contributes to the discipline of Urban Studies, Labour Geography, Migration Studies and Gender and Development. At IHD, Delhi she is managing and researching on a project on Tribal Migration from Rajasthan. She has also contributed to other projects on Social Security in the organised sector, UNICEF project on Cash Transfer Scheme for girl child and upcoming Delhi Human Development Report.