There is a need to understand urbanization from the perspective of those who are marginalized in the process and to challenge this exclusion. It is also possible to illuminate urban processes from the perspective of the Global South, as most urban studies work has been done in the context of developed countries. There is also a need to share the contestation over the expansion of urban spaces and its connection to air, water, waste, travel and politics in Pakistan and India.
Marginalization, Contestation and Change in South Asian Cities, edited by Nida Kirmani, Associate Professor of Sociology at Lahore University of Management Sciences, does all this and more.
The book has nine chapters: five on Pakistan and four on India. It begins with a precise but analytical introduction by Kirmani. Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Nausheen H. Anwar writes a thoughtful “Afterword” in the context of the new millennium, though it lacks an open discussion of marginalization.
Among the Pakistani case studies, three relate to Karachi (Bahria Town, security and urban transport) and two to Lahore (Lahore Development Authority [LDA] Town and Men’s Inns for middle-class, small-town visitors). The India case studies feature two on Delhi (toxic air and electoral politics in informal settlements), one on Amritsar (access and urban landscapes) and one on Bangalore (waste infra-economy).
An interesting semantic factor is kept in mind in the title of the chapters; they are often labeled by the specific site of the dispute within those major cities, rather than enclosing them with major city names. For example, the chapter on the displacement of the city of Bahria is titled “Entangling the ‘Global City’: Everyday Resistance in Gadap, Karachi”, because it was the place where the indigenous Balochi and Sindhi communities had been uprooted with the imposition of the gated community of the city of Bahria.
A collection of essays argues that the urbanization of Pakistan and India leads to dispossession, marginalization and displacement, intertwined with resistance, negotiation and struggle
Similarly, the chapter on Waste Economy Politics and Marginalization is titled “City Boundaries and Waste Frontiers: Exploring Nayandahalli as an Ecosystem Where Waste is Transformed into Resource,” designating the locality as a specific waste recycling site rather than the city of Bangalore. The names of the places where the communities live were favored over the identities of the big cities.
The central concept of the book is that rapid urbanization in Pakistan and India leads to dispossession, marginalization and displacement, but these processes are intertwined with resistance, negotiation and struggle. Negative developments of displacement are actively challenged and there are glimmers of hope in how the poor deal with these processes.
Another important point is that there are diverse responses to dispossession, ranging from resistance to ambivalence to co-optation, and you cannot lock them into binary constructs. As Kirmani writes in the “Introduction”, the many ways of dealing with marginalization range from “organized, everyday resistance, silent encroachment, forced acquiescence, overt acceptance and even adoption of the models neoliberals by some, depending on the circumstances”.
In other words, those subject to displacement have free will. Either they resist displacement or they are part of it, but they are not passive spectators.
The changes brought about by neoliberalism and the gentrification of cities lead to the creation of enclaves for the upper classes in the form of gated communities, and other changes that lead to dispossession and the creation of new forms of informality. Neoliberalism and informality are the most discussed and common denominators in the book.
Shahana Rajani, assistant professor at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, Karachi, and anthropologist Heba Islam explain how the neoliberalism-induced sanitation of Gadap across the city of Bahria is leading to ‘erasure’ and the “forgetting” of indigenous communities, their way of life. life, livelihoods and customary and legal rights to land. In order to create the “global city”, the “smart city”, it is treated as if there was nothing before the creation of Bahria Town.
Economist Kabeer Dawani and researcher Asad Sayeed deliver a scathing critique of the market forces propelled by neoliberalism that have gained control of transport in Karachi by shrinking the public sector, but have been unable to respond to the request since Karachi has one of the biggest passengers. – seat-to-bus ratios.
Structural violence and structural coercion are reflected throughout the book in the way the poor are treated. The fact that the poor resist it, or try to take advantage of the limited opportunities that exist, is the other side of the coin, but they come up against unfair and loaded dice. In this regard, the work of Aasim Sajjad Akhtar and Ammar Rashid documenting the struggles of slum dwellers on the outskirts of Islamabad deserves to be included in future editions of the book.
Many subordinate groups profit from this process of urbanization which marginalizes the poor. Whether numbers [village headmen] in LDA City who act as intermediaries by convincing farmers to sell their land to the housing corporation, pardhans in the jhuggi [semi-permanent settlements of tents and mud constructions] communities in Amritsar who act as intermediaries, real estate dealers in LDA City, hostel owners in Lahore who offer cheap accommodation to visitors from distant cities, “air contractors” who sell gadgets such as air quality monitors, purifiers and personal protective masks in Delhi’s toxic air — many are profiting and thriving from these new modes of urban restructuring, and becoming co-opted agents of the new change.
American Professor of Anthropology and Geography David Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by dispossession” is also addressed in a few chapters, where the struggle is not only between peasants and urban capital, but there is a whole range of “rentiership” who benefits from the deal.
Speculative capital and speculative urbanism are also highlighted. In the case of LDA City, the land acquisition was not even complete at the time of the purchase and sale of the land files. By creating this “fictitious” capital, the value of peri-urban rural hinterlands is greatly increased simply by transforming them into profitable housing corporations.
One of the benefits of publishing an edited book on Pakistani and Indian cities is that it allows readers to compare the similarities and differences between the two countries. Marginalized garbage collectors picked up from jhuggies in central Amritsar and housed in small accommodation in remote settlements have faced similar problems of lack of access to water and sanitation faced by the poor in the Pakistani towns face when sent to a remote settlement where they do not enjoy full property rights. The processes have so much in common in both countries.
Similarly, the patronage politics described in Delhi’s informal settlements has much in common with similar practices in Pakistan. Urban water and sanitation facilities are provided conditionally, in exchange for electoral votes, and on a progressive basis. Some election promises are kept and many forgotten until the next election cycle and the role of persistent political intermediaries in the form of pardhans in India and similar political entrepreneurs in Pakistan allows for abundant common thinking.
Exclusion is also a recurring problem throughout the book. Contributors note the indigenous communities of Gadap who were excluded from their lands because of the city of Bahria, and the jhuggi people in Amritsar who were excluded from city life because of their remote settlement settlement.
We read that Delhi’s poor and lower middle classes have been displaced by ‘toxic urbanism’ and air pollution that have sparked calls for social justice and governance-focused environmental activism participatory. Then there are the collectors in Bangalore, who collect and process the “maal” [material]; instead of being recognized for their crucial service to the city, they were driven to move further into outlying areas.
Similarly, due to the policy of securitization and the erection of physical barriers everywhere, Noman Ahmed, a professor at the NED University of Science and Technology in Karachi, writes how handcarts and street vendors are excluded from middle and upper classes. This emphasis on security is the result of crime and terrorism in Karachi.
In terms of weaknesses, the book does not have a note on contributors. Considering they are from both Pakistan and India, that would have helped.
Furthermore, the chapter “Studying in the Mahol: Middle-Class Spaces and Aspiring Middle-Class Male Subjects in Urban Pakistan”—about small-town men living in a Lahore hostel—does not quite merge done with the rest of the book. Additionally, there is no exclusive discussion of the impact of dispossession and marginalization on women and, as noted earlier, a chapter on urban slums would have been welcome.
That said, the book was a pleasure to read, with each chapter based on long-term primary fieldwork and analysis of some aspect of marginalization, displacement and dispossession in both countries, and how this leads to resistance, cooptation and negotiation and contestation with elements of hope shaped by the daily struggles of the poor.
The reviewer is a social scientist based in Islamabad. She tweets @FoqiaSadiqKhan
Marginalization, contestation and change in South Asian cities
Edited by Nida Kirmani
Oxford University Press, Karachi
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, January 23, 2022