CityMakers: Tribulations & Triumphs – A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India

CityMakers: Tribulations & Triumphs – A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India


Reviewed by Tanya Sharma

First Published:

06 Jan 2021, 11:38 am


CityMakers: Tribulations & Triumphs – A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India

Delhi: Mukul Prakashan, 2016; 608 pp.: 9789383253128, Rs. 1000.00 (pbk)


CityMakers: Tribulations & Triumphs – A Saga of Heroic Struggles of the Homeless Residents in India is a distillation of a series of events in social activist Indu Prakash Singh’s 16-year journey working in proximity with the homeless residents and other vulnerable groups of the national capital of India. Extending over 36 chapters, CityMakers is a work of immense courage and conviction, unveiling to its readers the hidden reality of the Indian democratic institutions (in particular its bureaucracy and police system) and its fractured developmental policy framework, in relation to slum-dwellers and migrants. Therefore, the book has potential to offer many useful insights into the exploration of an ‘alternative life of a city’ from the prism of the rights of the migrants, homeless and disadvantaged people who maintain and sustain the city, yet who are ignored and, at times, dealt with violence both systematically and by the structures of power, policy making, planning and so on. Such an alternative characterisation which moves the city beyond the middle-class psychology of ‘beautiful city’ defies the logic of inhumane faces of development and urges rethinking and restructuring the vision socially, politically and economically.

In this book, the author has sought to narrate the heart-wrenching tales of the homeless residents of India, the majority of whom are rural migrants from various areas of India victimised by caste atrocities, communal tensions, debt, penury, destitution and natural disasters. They constitute the unorganised sector of the economy and are fundamental to the development of the city. Singh has accorded these homeless residents the nomenclature of ‘CityMakers’, a category that includes the rickshaw pullers, construction workers, domestic workers, head pullers and pushers – in other words, the representatives of the lowest strata of society mostly belonging to the communities of Dalit, Muslim, Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes.

In its introductory chapters (1 to 12), this book sheds significant light on the loathsome treatment meted out to the homeless by state institutions and society at large. They are denied basic amenities such as housing, employment, labour rights, political representation, and provision of ration cards and other identity certifications, making them completely non-existent and rendering them incapable of having adequate interaction with mainstream society. As a result, they are constantly viewed with suspicion, contempt, fear, prejudice and inhibitions. They are thus constantly subjected to marginalisation from rural to urban and hence to social apartheid.

CityMakers highlights the contributions of state institutions in perpetuating ‘homelessness’, which is not just a social menace but also acts as a catalyst and a breeding ground for a host of other vulnerabilities. It draws attention to the negligence of bureaucracy and a lack of political will in devising adequate development policies for addressing the issue of rehabilitation and human settlement. While the government has declared that every citizen has the right to housing, by framing dozens of policies such as ‘Night Shelter for Urban Shelter less 1989–90’, ‘National Housing and Habitat Policy 1998’, etc., and issuing guidelines, this book claims that their translation into action has not been seriously considered. The target has not been seriously pursued, let alone met. This neglect has compelled the homeless to take up begging and become drug peddlers. Furthermore, it is argued that police brutality also contributes to the conversion of many of these homeless into criminals. Criminalisation of begging through the enactment of draconian laws along the lines of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act 1959 without any sound provision of sources of employment and omissions, both overt and covert, in the census process, particularly of people who are at the margins, are other structural arrangements that add to the miseries of the homeless. These appalling conditions and the frivolous attitude of the democratic institutions towards the homeless present a picture of an ‘other’ India, which Singh has called Non-India in the chapter ‘India vs Non-India’.

Singh’s endeavour, in association with Action Aid International India and its initiative of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, is to underscore the seriousness of the issue of rehabilitation in urban India. Skillfully supported by field interviews, writ petitions, census records and other assorted fact finding covered in chapters 5, 16, 20, 22, 25 and 26, the work emphasises the need to revisit planning and development in a way that our cities, towns and villages become inclusive and contain sustainable habitats for residents. It thus brings in the concept of ‘caring city’ to replace ‘smart city’, and characterises it with features of no poverty, accountable governance, humane bureaucracy, a just judiciary, inclusive authorities, responsive media, etc.

This book is richly endowed with everyday realities and experiences, and presents arguments with legal and social evidence. Every chapter seems to be written with a thematic underpinning. It thoughtfully criticises and questions the apparently strong connection between India’s democratic and developmental status when India’s rising stature as an ‘emerging global power’ comes at the expense of silencing the voices of the millions and paying lip service to their needs – especially of housing, employment and political representation in the name of welfare. Arguments in the book are supplemented by various case studies as a detailed testimony of how and in what manner a particular model of a city is imagined and reproduced as organised and beautiful comes at the cost of denying rights to the people who make the city. The book is dense in highlighting complex arguments in simple prose. Thus, the book could be useful for a variety of people across academia, such as political scientists, economists, sociologists and development theorists, etc., as well as architects, bureaucrats and policy experts. However, since it is written more in an anecdotal and dialogue format, in a continuous and scattered manner, to gain a nuanced understanding of the problem of rehabilitation and human settlement a preliminary effort is required on the part of the reader to segregate the articles into sections pertaining to the particular issue, how it is being dealt and how it should be dealt with.


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