Urban Commons and the Right to the City in India

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Birgit Dailer:


„Actionaid India“ I had the opportunity to participate in two outstanding events:

„Actionschool“ organised on the Campus of “Osmania University” in Hyderabad. Young researchers, activists together and experts discuss in a three weeks’ seminar issues of basic interest. I had the opportunity to participate one week in the seminar and a conference in New Delhi on 200 years of Karl Marx and the commemoration of Samir Amin, who passed away in August.

This year’s Actionschool subject was “Urban Commons and Right to the City."

The Seminar

“The course unpacked what constitutes Urban Commons, and how the understanding of the concept can be applied in the context of cities and urban spaces. The course used the commons approach to look into the different parameters of Urban, and embed it into the Right to City approach. The discussions focussed on how resources for collective use should be accessed in a regenerative manner to sustain urbanism.” (see: booklet for the course).

Urban Commons in India are of another dimension than in Europe: Indian Mega-Cities are not very different from European cities in their structure. But they are completely different in seize and in their social composition. Thank you Sandeep Chachra, Pritha Chatterjee and Divitha Shandilya to give me the opportunity to learn about Urban Commons in India!

India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. But according to United Nation's Millennium Development Goals (MDG) programme in 2011-2012 270 millions or 21.9% people out of 1.2 billion of Indians lived below poverty line of $1.25 (no new data are available). And this situation didn’t change much. Today estimated figures show about 300 million citizens living below poverty line. In big cities about 30% of the inhabitants areliving under such conditions. They are working poor: street-vendors, domestic workers, waste-pickers, construction workers, and others, women, men and children trying to secure a livelihood, living in slums or even without any shelter in the streets. The inner Indian migration process from rural to urban areas continues by different reasons (privatisation of common land, political disregard of the needs of rural populations, natural disasters, bad harvests and others)."


Here are some of the examples how initiatives of working poor fight for their right to the city:

Indu Prakash Singh

... working since many years against poverty and homelessness in Indian big cities reports on campaigns of the working urban poor, fighting for dignity and reclaiming themselves as “city-makers”. They are heroes to save the common urban spaces. City-makers fight for dignity, for shelter rights and residence permits and the campaign is now active in over 20 cities, including Delhi. (www.gcssfs.org/InduPrakash Singh)

SWaCH wastepickers cooperatives

The SWaCH wastepickers cooperatives in the cities of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchward were successful in setting up cooperatives for door-to-door waste collection and waste processing instead of dumping. In Pimpri-Chinchward in collaboration with SNDT Women’s University SWaCH enabled 1500 women-wastepickers to become service providers for households in Pune city. This considerably improved their conditions of work and upgraded their livelihoods, effectively bridging the gap between households and the municipal waste collection service. The initiative brought together two interests – the waste pickers’ interest in upgrading their livelihood and the municipality’s interest in sustainable SWM. (www.swachcoop.com)

The Kolis: The traditional fisher communities of Mumbai

Gayatri Nair from Tata-Institute Hyderabad reports from The traditional fisher communities of Mumbai - the Kolis. The example shows that commons traditions may come into conflict with other initiatives. The Koli came into conflict with the entry of migrant labour in fishing in the highly urbanised space of Mumbai, and the conflict between local (Koli) and migrant labour which surfaces around the question of access to common resources, in this case the seas. Gayatri is analyzing the complex interplay between the commons, the city and the community, questions about how the fish-workers should organize. Until the political consciousness of the community shifts from hostility towards migrants to questioning the path of development the fisheries is on, the dispossessed Kolis will be pitted against the dispossessed migrants."(www.Tiss.edu/GayatriNair) (via email, 2018)