[The above image is part of a photo essay titled “We Who Built Your Games”, featured in the October 9th, 2010, issue of the Tehelka. Photographs taken by Samar Jodha and the text written by Rishi Majumder. Article found here: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=hub091010We_Who.asp#]
Sanjay Kumar (age 18), is a migrant worker from Mirzapur, a small town located in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He along with several others worked on the construction site of the Shivaji Stadium in New Delhi as they dressed the city for its spectacular mega-event—the Commonwealth Games of 2010 (held between October 3rd through 14th).
For the image, the author writes, “Twilight Zone: Sanjay Kumar, 18, Mirzapur, UP. This is his first out-station job. The small farm back home is not doing well. Little water, lesser electricity to run the tube well. He now mixes cement at the Shivaji Stadium site.”
[Photograph is part of a photo essay by Ankit Sharma, titled “Toiling for the Commonwealth”, which captures the living and working conditions of construction workers building infrastructure for the Games. Images found through this link]
Worker colonies constructed using corrugated, tin roofing material, bamboo posts and blue tarp sheets to protect from rain. For several months workers lived in sub-standard informal dwelling spaces to build spectacular urban infrastructure for the city meeting international building codes. Like Sanjay (above) they came from various neighboring towns and villages to steal part of the ‘development impetus’ spurred by the mega event.
[Photograph taken by Ravi Agarwal as part of a photo essay titled “Down and Out” tracing the forms of informal labor that supports almost 80-90% of India’s population. He writes, “The expanding city, displacing periurban agriculture and a source of employment. Surat, Gujarat, 1997”. Images found here: http://www.iisg.nl/exhibitions/downandout/]
Peri-urban agriculture is another source of subsistence living that supports several agricultural households living on the outskirts of urban centers. Here men, woman and children work on their small plots of land, sometimes barely surviving and sometimes doing relatively well. Whatever be the case, the expanding city looming on the horizon poses itself as dormant threat, waiting to displace people, land and forms of employment. In some cases, urban development comes with its promise of stable employment. In other cases it provides unjust compensation packages rendering these lives to mere numbers.
My work over the past year has been engaged with documenting, understanding and piecing together fragmented stories of those who are internally displaced, or internal migrants, caught within continuous cycles of poverty, making home wherever they go. Through these stories, the idea of housing and labor as permanent entitlements has come into question. Here the “informal” is not really a physical ‘site’ of observation but a continuous journey—or a process—with several temporary destinations, demanding a study of “livelihoods” rather than of informal housing or informal labor. In the next few blog posts I will elaborate upon some of these ideas and terms used.
In my earlier work, I have tried to conceptualize these observations as a state of “transience” and these sites or temporary destinations as “transient spaces”. The term ‘transience’ (or transient) signifies perpetual insecurity as a mode of life, dictated by patterns of movement and access to temporary means of sustenance. Transient space is a spatial yet corporal condition. Spatial, in that it spans across borders of cities and states, and corporal in that it performs on the bodies of those who are caught within these cycles of persistent poverty. Here ‘temporality’ and ‘perpetual insecurity’ are important factors that will be integral to the metaphors and stories told hereon.
I intend to use this blog space to catalogue some of these fragmented stories, draw diagrams or narratives to develop new ways of seeing these sites of ‘informality’ and archive interesting articles, films or publications that speak of/to these observations.