I am looking forward to the inaugural conference of the New Zealand India Research Institute, which starts tomorrow. The conference theme is Changing India: From Decolonization to Globalization and it will critically examine the changes that have taken place since Independence.
I am just putting the finishing touches on the following paper, which I plan to develop into a journal article:
Bastis as “forgotten places” in Howrah, West Bengal, India
Kolkata’s poverty is world-famous. Howrah, located on the opposite side of the Hoogly river and Kolkata’s twin city, fares worse. Howrah’s bastis (slums) have been described as “deplorable”, “dirty”, “filthy” and “overcrowded” since the late 1800s. India’s recent rapid economic growth has not improved the lives of those living in poverty – many of whom are Muslim – in Howrah’s bastis. This paper argues that Howrah’s bastis are “forgotten places”, historically and politically constructed habitats that are neglected, but nevertheless deeply inhabited, by the state (Lee & Yeoh, 2006: Fernandes, 2010). In these bastis, services that are the responsibility of the state – such as access to civic amenities – are not adequately provided for. It discusses how such “forgotten places” leave a gap that NGOs and grassroots organisations try to fill, and draws on ethnographic fieldwork to describe the efforts of Howrah Pilot Project, an organisation that runs grassroots-level development initiatives in one of Howrah’s bastis. Such organisations can be viewed as a response to processes of ‘active forgetting’ but need to be augmented by a responsive state in order to achieve meaningful, long-term, beneficial change.
Check out the rest of the NZIRI 2013 Conference Programme to see what else people will be talking about.