Urban Infrastructure and the Denial of Personhood: A case study from India

Authors: Pallavi Gupta*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Legal Geography
Keywords: Urban Infrastructure, Personhood, Caste, Labor, Death, India.
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Every year, scores of workers die while cleaning the sewers, mostly by inhaling noxious gases. Yet, their deaths are barely the subject of conversation in a clean India. Infrastructure as a socio-material assemblage can inform us about the uneven relations of gender, caste, and labor. In this paper, I ask whose deaths are accounted for and recognized by the Indian state and by the larger society? I draw on Black Studies, Dalit studies, Infrastructural studies, and secondary data to understand how infrastructure produces racialized inequalities. I highlight the social, political, and material aspects of infrastructure that differentiate laboring people and deny personhood to some bodies. Further, I demonstrate how the laboring bodies of the sewage workers face degrading conditions marked by poor labor practices, owing to the uneven social relations of caste, and the workings of capital. I conclude by problematizing the poetics of infrastructure that furthers unequal relations of caste, labor, and power.

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