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Struggling in Bhim Nagar: Fixing a Just Urban Imaginary

Authors: Sangeeta Banerji*, Rutgers University
Topics: Urban Geography, Development
Keywords: dispossession, accumulation, brokerage, slum-demolition, Mumbai
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In October 2017 Bhim Nagar, a precarious informal settlement in the megacity of Mumbai was demolished for the fourth time in ten years due to ‘security threats,’ rendering 500 families houseless. I discuss the implications of the processes before and after this demolition, opening up potentially valuable land for capture, presenting an opportunity for petty local fixers, brokers, and intermediaries to make significant profits for those whose interests lie in exploiting the poorest. Geographers, anthropologists and other observers on issues of inequality have always argued that slum demolition, on an intuitive level, is about the accumulation of capital and state driven dispossession. However, I show through ethnographic research that it is the field of fixing, a hierarchical systems of positions comprising of various broker and middlemen, which controls these processes. This paper shows ethnographically that local fixers use all manner of techniques to ensure that they emerge as dominants in the struggles within this field of power in Mumbai. Their activities, while local and diffuse, represent a vital force guiding the bulldozer of the municipal bureaucracy in Mumbai. Taking seriously the terrain of what Chatterjee (2004) calls “the para-legal,” a domain of action neither legal nor illegal, I elucidate field of fixing as a as a key resource through which political possibilities can be generated and sustained in a city plagued by structural inequality. I posit that developing a detailed understanding of the field of fixing will ultimately lead us to a more just urban vision, in India and elsewhere.

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