Working with, on, and against the state: The politics of claim-making in urban India

Authors: Harsha Anantharaman*, University of Minnesota - Minneapolis
Topics: Political Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Urban, India, Activism, Waste-picker, Bureaucracy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Studio 7, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Waste-pickers’ labor, crucial to the daily functioning of Indian cities (Gidwani & Maringanti 2016) is rarely recognized as such. For over a decade political struggles over waste-picking in Chennai have centered on demands for livelihood security, an end to police harassment and recognition as workers, in the form of state issued identity cards with little success.

However, in 2014, Identity cards emerged as a real possibility when the demand was re-presented with the aid of cutting edge methods including GIS mapping that were increasingly favoured by the state. Reflecting on my experiences as an activist campaigning for identity cards, I detail how the deployment of methods favoured by the state – what Cindi Katz (2001) might call a “counter topography” opened many doors, some of them trap doors. The adoption of a collaborative, rather than confrontational stance helped waste-picker issues penetrate bureaucratic decision-making circles and access resources of the state machinery. This culminated in camps to register 1,000 waste-pickers for identity cards. However, the eventual stalling of the identity cards initiative and reflections on the process point to the limitations and risks inherent to this mode of political change-making. Collaboration effectively deradicalized our ability to make demands of the state, instead creating dependence on individual state actors and their shifting agendas. The risks associated with the continued life of data collected for specific purposes also remain ever present.

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