Module on Claiming the City (Part of Course on The Illegal Citizen)

This module is part of the course on The Illegal Citizen.

In this module of the seminar course, we intend to interrogate certain fundamental issues surrounding law and its application towards an understanding of, what we believe, is the construction of the urban illegal located within the realm of access to land for purposes of shelter and livelihood. The challenge truly lies in trying to develop a framework, within and beyond the law, to understand urban illegalities in the above-mentioned context.

There are few basic premises to such an interrogation. Illegality permeates all sorts of social relations in urban areas – with respect to civil, commercial or criminal law, for example and its forms are undoubtedly observed in all class / caste segments of society. in the present analysis, we will focus on the social processes providing access to land for shelter and livelihood and attempt an understanding of its spread across urban landscapes.

Despite its all pervasive presence, what is witnessed is that law treats different forms of illegality differently. This indicates to what we like to call the “differential application of law”. It could be safely argued that more often than not the gaze of law and its stringent application is concentrated on if not reserved for the urban poor. The abstract figure of the illegal citizen materializes as the ragpicker, street child, beggar, pavement dweller or for that matter the slum dwellers and not the developers who flaunt building and zoning laws besides having the sufficient influence to get them altered if need be. The illegal would also be the cyclists on MG Road, facing the risk of punctured tyres, thanks to the police, and not those who drive / ride around with / without licenses, inevitably polluting the air besides also probably breaking all traffic rules. These are just few examples though the attempt through the course would be to elaborate on others.

What logically appears inferentially then is that some forms of illegality tend to be more accepted and tolerated compared to others, both by the State and public opinion. This leads us to another premise what Fernandes and Varley essentially term as “degrees of illegality”.

The above then creates a distinct image of an “illegal” as it were. The ensuing denial of rights in the form of access to basic services results in an obviously lowered standard of living with minimal tenure security. All through this, the illegality is reiterated, confirmed and reconfirmed to mould an undeniable status of the illegal as one. This status is manifested in every manner making the illegality obvious to the subjects and the others as well. Therefore, though the slum exists for decades on end, the resident citizens are consciously denied access to basic services as a means to illustrate its illegality and to reinforce this notion continuously.

There is also the anointment of the illegal in popular media and the marketing of this status in the domain of public opinion (including cinema, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc) as well. An interesting illustration could be drawn from the representation of certain characters in cinema creating a stereotypical yet distinct image that is quite impossible to then break free from. These could be the forever fighting slum women, drunken lazy, rowdy, thieving poor, dirty ragpickers, deviant street children, commercial sex workers with loose morals, poor slum people in need of help, etc.

Added to the above process of illegal construction is the important role played by the adoption and active promotion (in every sense of the word) of a particular image for the City that implicitly offers no space (spatial or otherwise) to certain sections of society. rather crassly put, this implies that those who cannot comply with this image or who are not desired for this image will have to be put away somewhere or invisibilized. Take for example what happened in Hyderabad when Bill Clinton visited the City on the invitation of Chandrababu Naidu. The State government went whole hog in removing all encroachments (read homes of urban poor) along the route to be taken by the Clinton convoy. Further, thousands of vendors were dislocated in the process without any mention of compensation to the displaced. The only ray of hope was that as soon as Clinton departs they would resume their activities. Even beggars were not spared in this cleansing exercise as at least 5000 of them were hauled up with the totally disabled ones sent to some make-shift homes and the remaining threatened of lock-up time if they were to be caught venturing out. A similar occurrence was when Tony Blair was to visit Kolkata, “Operation Sunrise” was launched to rid the streets of hawkers and illegal encroachments.

The adopted image has numerous attributes, each implicitly letting in or outlawing certain sections of society. The “clean” image serves no space for the squalor of the sums or pavement dwellings as evident from the Supreme Court ruling in February 2000 that banned any fresh encroachments or unauthorised occupation of public land for dwelling resulting in the creation of a slum. The “fast” image results in cycle free zones. The “consumer” image results in hawking free zones and massive eviction drives against roadside hawking. The mother of all such images is of course the “global” image, which from the Bangalore context, is the Singapore Dream. Like any other desired image, this appears to emanate from a rather distinct sense of disillusionment with the present image and represents a move towards to discarding present identities and adopting others.

    Course Outline


    Session 1: To develop an understating of the premises underlying the construction of the urban illegal from the following entry points.

• Law and its differential application • Image outcasts

Reading material
i. Cities and Citizenship by James Holston and Arjun Appadurai
ii. Law, the City and Citizenship in Developing Countries: An Introduction by Edesio Fernades and AnnVarley
iii.Partha Chatterjee – The Legal and the illegal Citizen – Jorge Hardy and David Satterthwaite – Essay of Alain Durand-Lesserve – Introduction to The Other Path – Hernando de Soto – Bhaktavar Case – Bangalore is not a Sinagpore – Janaki Nair – Vajpayee Statement that Mumbai must become Shanghai – Traffic in Democracy – Michael Sorkin


    Session 2: A critical look at the usage of pavements and the various illegalities associated with pavement encroachments. It is also intended to look at the hawking that takes place on pavements and the associated legalities.

Reading material:
i. Photo essay
ii.Important judgements on Pavement dwellings / hawking
iii. Press Clippings
iv. Manushi articles
v. Informal Trade by Hernando De Soto


    Session 3: To understand the issue of illegalities that is associated with access to housing.

Reading material:
– Revenue layouts – ALF – Revenue Layouts – Real Estate Reporter and press clippings – National Slum Policy (draft) – Interview of Jan Sahyog and arranging of visit – Important Court judgements on Slums – Migrant Women and Urban Experience in a Squatter Settlement – Saraswati Haider – Welcome to History: A Resettlement Colony in the Making – Emma Tarlo – Legal pluralism in Caracas, Venezuela – Rogelio Perdoma and Teolinda Bolivar – International Trends and Country Contexts – From Tenure Regularization to Tenure Security – Alain Durand-Lesserve and Lauren Roston


    Session 4: Claiming the City.

Reading material: – Jobs, Land and Urban Development – Solomon Benjamin – Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship – James Holston – Visit and discussion on Vyalikaval Slum (Chowdiah Hall) – Slum Organisations and Politics by Stealth – ALF introduction to SCE report