May 30, 2020
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A Murky Lense

Attempts to unravel the mental maps of what constitutes urban renewal in Delhi. But remains unclear on three of its objectives

A Murky Lense
Swept Off The Map: Surviving Eviction And Resettlement In Delhi
By Kalyani Menon Sen By Gautam Bhan
Yoda Press Pages: 200; Rs. 250
Physical maps are familiar to every schoolchild, but this book attempts to unravel the mental maps of what constitutes urban renewal in Delhi. In 2004, over 35,000 families were forcibly ejected from the ‘Pushta’ on the banks of Yamuna in the heart of the city, and about 6,000 of these were ‘resettled’ at Bawana, once a rural market and now painfully emerging as a hub of industry, transport, and commerce. The physical space separating the two is 40 km, but the mental distance is stark, brutal and unforgiving.

The two authors muster data from over 2,500 households, collected by a young and dedicated Jagori research team, to provide a meticulous description of this separation, significantly viewed through a feminist lens. The report is structured around a set of four principles accepted by the Government of India—shelter for all, economic development, quality of life, and safe environment.

One question is summarily settled through the data and the interviews—resettlement does not improve the life of the urban working class; in fact, it makes it even more difficult to survive. But three questions, that are part of the objectives of the study, remain standing tantalisingly within the contemporary social and political topography. What is legality? Can a lens be adequately gendered? Can research connect a community to larger struggles of the working poor?

A good read for those wishing to sharpen their understanding of the first question, but unclear on the last three.

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