'A Survey Lies in Wait’: Cartographic Agency and the Line Between the Village and the City in Mumbai

Authors: Chitra Venkataramani*,
Topics: Asia
Keywords: Mumbai, Coastal Zone, Anthropology, Land Rights, Cartography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8212, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper attends to the ways in which cartography and politics intersect in Mumbai’s fisher community’s struggle for land rights. This struggle began in 2011, when the Indian government released a new policy that granted fishers the right to “self-develop” their settlements. However, fisher communities live in informal settlements that are home to many other communities, and the path to claiming this right became intricately connected with reclaiming the fisher community’s identity as “original inhabitants” and that of their settlements as fishing “villages.” The need to claim this identity became urgent when the state announced a mapping project to “verify” the existing fishing villages in the city.

The fisher community’s political strategy in the face of this project unfolded through visual tactics that drew on historical traditions of picturing “natives” in combination with images of political patronage. The survey image lies at the heart of this visual enterprise, directed towards reproducing the identity of a community as “traditional fishers” and their settlement as “villages” in the eyes of a government cartographer. It shows how the moment of making the survey is not simply a closed moment of recognition between the cartographer and the landscape, but is an open moment fraught with the potential for misrecognition. As much of what constitutes “Mumbai” falls under two different surveys — revenue surveys that record agricultural land, and city survey sheets that record urban land — the survey image comes to gain agency as the lines between the “urban” and "village" are redrawn.

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