The Agency and Governance of Urban Battlefields: How Riots Alter our Understanding of Adequate Urban Living

Year: 2012 HiCN Working Paper No. 122

For the first time in close to 100 years, India reports higher population growth in its urbanised areas than across its vast rural landscape. However, a confluence of vast urbanisation and scarcity of resources has implied heightened levels of localised violence, centred in and around already impoverished neighbourhoods. This therefore has a disproportionate impact in further marginalising poor communities, and is at odds with the notion that cities are incontestably and inevitably the context of sustained poverty eradication. And yet, we know relatively little about the mechanics of security provisioning in Indian cities at large. The central argument in this paper is that violent urban spaces have a profound impact on how safety and security are understood by the state as well as the urban poor, thereby redefining the parameters of adequate urban living. I look in detail at how the 1992-1993 riots in Mumbai unfolded in a group of inner-city neighbourhoods, and find that specific acts of brutality and violence during the riots continue to shape currentunderstandings of the „safe city‟. In doing so, I also find that the nature and form of informal urbanspace affects the mechanics by which the state endeavours to control violence, while individual acts of public violence function as markers that legitimate the use of, and reliance on, extralegal forms of security provision.