“We made this land”: spatialized narratives of belonging and property from Kathputli Colony, Delhi

Authors: Susmita Rishi*, Kansas State University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: belonging, property, informality, global South, slums, Southern theory
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since liberalizing in 1990’s, the Indian State has embraced a ‘culture of legality’ in the planning and management of slums and other informal settlements. The shift to a more entrepreneurial governance model has meant a monumental shift in how slumdwellers make claims on, and engage with, the State. Further, this has also led slumdwellers to seek alternative sources of security and legality in order to maintain their urban existence. Along with the acceptance of the designation of being ‘illegal’, many urban poor are also engaging with what had previously been subsidiary identities in order to negotiate more effectively with the post-colonial neoliberal state. In this paper, I present evidence from an ethnographic study in Kathputli Colony, Delhi to show that while claim-making has shifted, slum-dwellers recognize that urban space is produced through their everyday acts of living. Centering stories and anecdotes, I elucidate the ways in which residents challenge hegemonic understandings of ownership and property. Based in everyday acts of domesticating land, and appropriating space, residents claim the settlement as their "ghar" or home, and script a collective identity as owners of Kathputli Colony. While the assertions of their right to continue ‘inhabiting’ the settlement have come to naught, through these claims’ residents create a ‘quiet social movement’ that counters the hegemonic narrative of the city as a space of merely capitalist social relations.

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