Wasted peripheries and uncertain futures: stories from Mumbai

Authors: Sneha Sharma*, University of Bonn
Topics: Urban Geography, Asia
Keywords: waste, Mumbai, uncertainty, practices
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Uncertainty determines how urban spaces are being built to be more resilient and sustainable in
anticipation of future material risks. In this study, I show that uncertainty is a mode of governance
through which certain urban populations are excluded, but more importantly, I also argue that it is used
as an opportunity to negotiate and find opportunities to survive.
I enter the city space through its margins and analyse how waste-workers claim the city through local
struggles and creative practices when confronted with the precariousness of livelihood. The current work is
based on ten months of ethnographic research conducted at Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai where
around 1500 waste-workers are estimated to be informally associated.
The incident of a massive fire at the dump in January 2016 criminalized the waste-workers for starting
the fire to recover metals. With middle-class demands to close the overused dump, they were banned
from entering the site and multiple attempts to gain permission from the municipal corporation were
unsuccessful. I identify how the narrative of ‘ekjut’ (unity) was constructed to blame them for failing as a
community. By illustrating their claims to the dump using different strategies like leveraging political
networks, street-level bureaucrats and organizing protests, I discuss waste-workers as a heterogeneous
community with different public and individual responses. I conclude that uncertainty is produced as a
force through which urbanism thrives because it requires a continuation of making and unmaking of
materials, spaces and practices.

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