Street Hawkers and Public Space in Mumbai
Author(s): Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria
Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 21 (May 27 - Jun. 2, 2006), pp. 2140-2146 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
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Street hawking is generally considered as a "menace" or an "eyesore" that prevents the development of Mumbai as a world-class city. But this article explores the essential presence of hawkers in a city, which requires a critical understanding of the functioning of public space. The experiences of hawkers in Mumbai, as elsewhere in India, have taught them not to fear a regulatory state, but a predatory one, a state that constantly demands bribes and threatens demolition, against which a licence provides security. JONATHANSHAPIROANJARIA
he hawker question is central to the debates over public
space in Mumbai. Since the late 1990s, elite NGOs and
residents' associations have been actively promoting, with
some success, the idea that hawkers are to be blamed for many of the city's problems. To them, hawkers are "a symbol of a
metropolitan space gone out of control" [Rajagopal 2001:94]; a "menace" who inappropriatelyuse streets and footpaths, block traffic, depress real estate values and are, more generally, eyesores that prevent Mumbai from being a "world-class" city. This despite the fact that street hawking has had a long historical presence in Mumbai, provides essential services to most of the population and provides direct employment for over three lakh people, in addition to indirectly employing hundredsof thousands more [Bhowmik 2003]. Their essential and at the same time
contentious presence on the streets requires a critical engagement with the function of public space and the role of street hawkers in future plans for the city.
In order to understand the functioning of public space in
Mumbai, it is necessary to understandwhat hawkers actually do in that space, and how they conceptualise their own relationship to it. This is important because several parties involved in the debates over hawkers operate with a limited understanding of their work, their daily interactions with the state and the visions hawkers themselves have of a vibrant, democratic and wellfunctioning city. In an attempt to address this problem, this paper provides an account of the situation of hawkers in Mumbai,
drawing from field research conducted from June 2004 to September 2004 and from June 2005 to March 2006 with unlicensed street hawkers in Mumbai. It is also based on the interviews and informal conversations conducted with the activists working with Mumbai's elite NGOs (often referred to as "citizens' groups") and residents' associations, as well as the statements made by thematpublicmeetings. Demonstratingthe complexity of hawkers' daily lives and their interactions with the state will hopefully elicit new ways of thinking about the place of hawkers in Mumbai's
Hawkers and the Law
No new hawking licences have been issued in Mumbai since
1978, although, along with the larger population, the number...
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