Beejpatra: Seventh Leaflet | Dec’22

The Seventh Edition of Beejpatra explores ‘Violence in the City: Urban Commons and Commoning in the City’

As the urban sprawl increases, more and more villages are being declared as urban spaces, and being swallowed up by municipal corporations. These rural spaces are now being forced to change their defining characteristics to fit themselves in the narrative of the urban. In this process, there is a constant loss of our cultural, traditional, and ecological diversity, which was still preserved to some extent in rural landscapes. This is in no way to say that structures and ways of life in rural spaces are ideal or should be romanticized, but the few spaces that existed in such areas for the most marginalized sections of the population, are even more scarce in cities. These are our commons – land, knowledge, culture, or any other resources that are shared and jointly managed by all, for the benefit of all – without the presence of government or private control over them. Responsibly and collaboratively using these resources and spaces, and reclaiming them for public benefit – or commoning – is a practical framework used by many as a tool for movement building and organising. It is these commons that become the source of livelihoods for the landless, a space to rest for the homeless, and a means of solidarity building for the oppressed. From cattle grazers who use common lands to feed their animals, to women from different communities in a village who draw water from the same lake, the commons are open to all.

However, our commons are gradually disappearing – especially when villages are transformed into cities, and commons are acquired by private corporations, or are even conflated with government property. As a result, urban commons are an extremely rare sight, and this robs marginalized populations dependent on common resources of everything, and pushes them further towards the margins of society. Their traditional knowledge systems and practices are rendered meaningless as their reach to these resources is restricted. This systematic delegitimization and violent destruction of our commons – and subsequently of those dependent on them – is not a new phenomenon, but is even more relevant in today’s times, where our structures of governance have increased surveillance and control over all our lives, and keep coming up with new ways to limit our constitutional rights and freedoms.

This kind of violence is extremely commonplace in urban spaces, and exists in a multitude of ways – be it in the form of the everyday gender based violence in public transport, to the lack of safe spaces for children, to the perpetuation of class and caste based inequalities that manifests in ways like homelessness, to demolishing of urban farmlands, or even religious violence fueled by an atmosphere of fanaticism in our own neighborhoods – making it difficult for everyone, except those with social and economic power, to be able to exist in public spaces without fear. As mentioned, this violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and is the result of prevalent power structures based on hierarchies of caste, patriarchies, religion, and several other systems embedded in our social fabric. These structures don’t just have a superficial effect on our lives, and they are not easy to identify or get rid of. To understand how violence exists in the city, we need to look at the role these structures play in the making of our cities – and how the process of urbanization as it exists today in India, is in itself based on violence.

This new edition of Beejpatra, is a bid to understand the ways in which these violent structures cause us detriment, and propose new imaginations of existence in urban spaces despite them. Mariam Fatima starts us off on this journey by bringing forward some voices from the dhobis of Delhi, and the ways in which they cope with demolitions of the dhobi ghats in the wake of upcoming development projects around the Yamuna – a sentiment also echoed in Yashna Dhuria’s photo story, which shows the state of the homeless that are now forced to live on the banks of the river in extremely unstable and unsafe conditions, as a result of similar infrastructure projects. Bharathi Nakkeeran writes about the absolute disregard the city and its influential populace holds for its waste workers, without whom it would be impossible for anyone to function. Abhiti Gupta goes on to unpack the ways in which some populations and issues are given presence over others, and how sanitized stories of tragedy are given precedence over those with complexities and layers of marginalization – even in spaces that claim to be inclusive of all. Lastly, Amitanshu’s article is an exploration into how structures and desires within the city interplay to give rise to gang violence specifically in Delhi. We are hopeful that all of these contributions will bring forward even more imaginations and alternatives to existence in the city than they aimed to, and will urge us to keep searching for answers to the questions they have posed.

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