Urbanisation and Systemic Disaster

February 24, 2013

The following article on the urbanization process in Gurgaon is reproduced from the February 2013 issue of Gurgaon Workers News. The original article can be found here.


Gurgaon’s population has grown from a few thousand to more than 1.5 million in 30 years. In previous newsletters you can find reports on different proletarian areas in and around Gurgaon, which express different stages or segments of urbanisation. We visited Mandkaula [1], a village in the rural hinterland of Haryana, which became a labour reservoir, supplying the first peasant-workers for Faridabad’s industry in the 1970s and 1980s. We described the situation in Chakkarpur [2], an old village now situated in the centre of Gurgaon, where former peasantry and migrant service proletarians live next to each other. We wrote about life in Kapashera [3], one of Delhi’s biggest new informal labour colonies, where 200,000 garment workers live in dormitories built by local ‘former peasantry’. Finally we published a short report on Aliyar [4], a small village situated next to the Maruti Suzuki plant in Industrial Model Town Manesar, where thousands of mainly automobile workers live in rented accommodation. We summarised general material on Gurgaon’s urbanisation in various issues of GurgaonWorkersNews – feel free to re-read. [5]

This article is a critique of reformist views on capitalist urbanisation. Most reformist positions complain about the ‘private character’ of development, which neglects ‘public infrastructure’ and demand a more democratic urban planning. This perspective neglects the class character of urbanisation. Consequently we start our critique with some short points about the systemically contradictory process of urbanisation, we then describe the class composition and stratification of urban development in Gurgaon. We finally summarise some of the expressions of urban crisis and raise some questions about ‘working class struggle’ within the urban space.

Description of Class Composition of Urbanisation in Gurgaon
Urbanisation is a historically specific process: the separation of town and countryside under capitalism. Urban areas grow due to disappropriation of the means of subsistence of the rural population and subsequent increase in rural poverty; and due to the concentration process of industry and the labour market. The war-type situation of the partition in 1947 and the exodus after 1971 increased Delhi’s population, but since then Delhi and its satellite towns (Gurgaon, NOIDA, Faridabad, Gaziabad) mainly grew with the attraction of migrant workers into urban (industrial) employment. Compared to other mega-cities, the Delhi area is an ‘industrial melting pot’ rather than being merely an informal container of rural misery. Gurgaon’s urbanisation was closely linked to the building of the Maruti Suzuki car plant [7]: Gandhi’s idea of developing an Indian version of a ‘Volkswagen’ mirrored the German developmental ideology of a sanatised people: the industrial project, the expulsion of slum dwellers from Delhi and other urban centres, and the sterilisation campaign targeting the urban and rural poor went hand in hand.

On the wider social level ‘urbanisation’ itself is an expression of class stratification. Leaving the countryside is enforced by impoverishment, and it is a claim: people starve in the countryside, rarely in towns, given the different power-situation of a concentrated proletariat. Urban planning therefore is the management of social crisis and struggle. India’s celebrated architect Charles Correa recently expressed this conjuncture between ‘urban planning’ and control of the proletariat from the perspective of the ‘neutral’ professional: “Migrants must be diverted away from the main cities to second or third-tier towns where planners have an opportunity to anticipate the changes ahead and build better public transport for instance.” “They come to the cities for jobs. If you can find ways to employ more people in the villages, that’s wonderful, but if they are coming for jobs they don’t have to come to Delhi and Bombay.” [8]

With the urban concentration process the segmentation of ‘rich and poor’ creates constant tension and need for social control. This is one of the systemic pillars which leaves little scope for ‘democratic urban planning’. The other pillar is constituted by the fact that urban development has to obey the commodity form. The budget and foreign debt crisis of the state in India in 1991 pushed urban development like in Gurgaon seemingly into ‘private hands’: the state co-managed ‘private funds’ of global over-accumulation by trying to mould a real estate bubble into a urban landscape. Urban development expands and contracts with the boom and crisis cycle of the real estate commodities and the price of credit money – see previous articles on real estate crisis in Gurgaon. [9]

The ‘urban form’ itself – not merely the conflict between rich and poor and the instability of the commodity form of land and buildings – contradicts any ‘collective and conscious determination of life’. The separation from ‘the rural’ (agriculture), the subsequent increase in the need for transport and energy production and the higher concentration of population enforce a disciplining/labour regime which reproduces hierarchies, not least between generations and differently-abled human beings. All this has to be kept in mind as a ‘systemic framework’ when we now look at the different class segments which constitute the urbanisation process in Gurgaon: the ‘agents’ of urbanisation are not in control of the underlying and determining social process – something very difficult to understand for bourgeois thinking.

* The State
The main violent organised force of urbanisation is the state. In Gurgaon state organisations like Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation (HSIIDC) [10] and Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) [11] are the main enforcing and mediating bodies between ‘private interests’ and land. The state materially depends on land sale and tax revenue.

* The Industrial Management
In industrial regions like Gurgaon, the bigger industrial capital and their formal associations like ASSOCHAM [12] have a major influence in the urbanisation process. The first stage of transformation of land into a commodity is legally frame-worked by the ‘Land Acquisition Act’ for industrial projects.

* The Real Estate Management
Once industrial capital and state have formalised the transformation of land into commodity, real estate developers become the agents and profiteers of the speculation on this ‘rare commodity’. ‘Private’ companies like DLF [13] ‘developed’ large areas of Gurgaon for middle-class residents and corporate office-space and own large areas as ‘land-banks’ – DLF still owns between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of undeveloped land in Gurgaon.

* The Political Class
The political class in the form of political parties functions as a buffer zone and sensory element between state apparatus, capital, landed class and ‘population’. Protests against land acquisition or slum demolition are largely translated into ‘legal or electoral questions’ by the transmission belt of the party system.

* The Landed Class
As commodity owners, the ‘landed class’ and local peasantry first turn into a lobby group of ‘sellers’, be it vis-a-vis the state or the private developers. They often have the local state structure, the ‘village council’ (Panchayat) as a representative. Their ‘united front’ dissolves quickly, given the differences in amount of land owned and subsequent diversification as ‘capital owners’. Some manage to become land speculators, others land lords, others small business men and many turn into proletarians – see report on Aliyar.

* The Local Population and Petty Bourgeoisie
Overlapping with the ‘landed class’ is the category of ‘local population’ in a region whose population mainly consists of migrant workers. ‘Local’ might mean ownership over shops and houses and/or a network of remaining ‘village community’ and political affiliations. They are the main actors when it comes to ‘water or electricity’ protests – see previous articles on road blockades. [14] They also form the back-bone of the emerging ‘anti-corruption’ movement in Gurgaon and wider Haryana.

* The Squeezed Middle-Class and ‘Civil Society’
Parallel to the ‘petty bourgeoisie’ of the local population there is a formation process of the ‘squeezed middle-class’, e.g. residents of private development projects and so-called ‘professionals’ (e.g. engineers, middle management in software companies) in Gurgaon. This section is excluded from the ‘real estate drip’ and lacks influence in the local political power structure. As ‘civil society’ in the form of urban NGO’s and resident associations they re-group as a social force. As ‘gated communities’ they have a specific socio-psychological relation to the rest of Gurgaon – see previous article. [15]

* The House-Owning Working Class
To a much lesser extent than in older industrial regions like Faridabad there is a section of the working class in Gurgaon which managed to buy a small plot of land before the real estate bubble and to build a house as part of an ‘irregular colony’ or shanty town. Their main concern is the threat of ‘demolition’. An even smaller segment of the permanent work-force is affected by the question of ‘corporate housing’, sometimes mediated by the trade unions.

* The Renting Working Class
Most workers and therefore ‘residents’ in Gurgaon are ‘recent migrants’ who live in rented accommodations set-up by the local former peasantry. They are organised within the factories and largely invisible as ‘citizens’ – officially most of them still live 1,300 kilometres away. Their main concern is rent price, limited water and electricity supply (often controlled by the landlord) and problems of commuting and police/thugs harassment. Having to commute to work becomes an issue of class violence itself – see article on riot at Faridabad station. [16] The ‘industrial zones’ as part of the urban space itself have changed: while in Faridabad workers’ slums are next to the factory wall, in newer Gurgaon Udyog Vihar workers live separate from the industrial areas, though there are still chai stalls and other ‘public spaces’ within the industrial zones. In Manesar, the newest industrial zone, even these small pockets of ‘proletarian public life’ have been marginalised within the industrial area, mainly ‘thanks’ to canteens and company buses.

* The Slum Dwelling Proletariat
A smaller sections of the proletariat live in make-shift slums. These are either service proletarians, such as domestic workers or corporate cleaners who have to live close to their masters; or they belong to formerly nomadic artisan and cattle-rearing tribes from neighbouring Rajastan, which have been paralysed by industrialisation and urbanisation – see article on slum fire in Gurgaon. [17]

* The Patriarchal Domain
Apart from the domestic sphere the urban space is the main domain of direct expressions of patriarchal power, be it against women or lower caste proletarians. Urbanisation is a process of dissolution of older patriarchal village communities, which opens spaces for ‘bourgeois individual freedom’, but at the same time contains dynamics of indifference and brutalisation. The recent public rape near Gurgaon has to be seen against this background.

This sketch above can serve as a rough framework in order to read some of the recent news concerning ‘urban conflicts’ in Gurgaon. Most of these news describe ‘inner-bourgeois’ tensions arising from the struggle about the distribution of land and rent revenues. Others describe the ‘urban breakdown’ as a consequence of these tensions, such as lack in infrastructure.

Land Appropriation and the Formation of the Anti-Corruption Movement in Gurgaon / Haryana
“Gurgaon was nothing but a land grab operation by builders and politicians”, the media quoted a World Bank official recently.[18] During the 1980s and 1990s the real estate developers created a deep-link with the political class from the top-level to the village representatives – see previous articles in the land-grab politics. [19] The main company in the sector was DLF. Between 1981 and 1990, DLF got 57 of the 101 realty project licences awarded in Gurgaon – about 56 per cent of the total. In his autobiography ‘Against All Odds’, DLF Chairman K P Singh’s refers to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi as being key to India’s real estate’s transformation: “He asked me what I was doing out in the wilderness and heard with great interest about my plans and how archaic laws and policies were stifling real estate development. Not long after, he became the prime minister of the country and was instrumental in ushering the private sector back into urban development. These reforms would revolutionise the real estate sector and also allow DLF to expand at a scorching pace….”. [20]

The personal connection between DLF and the Gandhi family became one of the main issues of the emerging ‘anti-corruption’ movement in Gurgaon and Haryana, centred around Kejriwal and Khemka. The ‘anti-corruption’ activists criticise amongst others the ‘concessions’ which DLF and the Haryana government made to Robert Vadra, who is married to Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter. For example, DLF Magnolias project showed 70 per cent increase in prices just before Vadra’s investment. In recent media interviews the ‘anti-corruption’-activists remarked: “The misuse of Section 42 of the consolidation act to transfer Panchayat [village council] land worth hundreds of crores to newly-formed companies with a paid-up capital of as little as Rs1 lakh is well known. There is another scam in Gurgaon and Faridabad where forest and hill areas are sought to be partitioned to corner prime plots near highways to build farm-houses and resorts. Panchayats are losing their lands due to deliberate under-valuation during the consolidation proceedings.” “Some senior public servants misused their position for a favorable exchange for themselves or their relatives or their companies floated for this purpose. Huge investments of black money and ill-gotten money have been made through companies in the purchase of land in some villages in Gurgaon and Faridabad districts to benefit from the consolidation scheme.” [21]

The ‘anti-corruption’-populists mainly link up with parts of the former peasantry which feels left out of the big money game. In late 2012, Kejriwal blamed Haryana Central Minister Bhupinder Hooda of favouring the ‘private developers’. ‘He was addressing farmers at the Rashtriya Kisan Mahapanchayat [National Peasant Council] who had gathered to protest against land acquisitions from farmers at cheap rates. “Hooda is working on the behalf of private builders. He had to change the use of land bought by Robert Vadra so that he could sell the same land to DLF at much higher price. The chief minister knew that if he did not change the land use, Sonia Gandhi would have removed him from his post,” said Kejriwal. In Manesar region, villagers are critical of the manner in which the state government had been passing on the acquired land to private builders for developing townships and colonies. “The biggest problem the landowners are facing is due to the acquiring of land by HUDA to benefit builders in the region developing townships and colonies”. The region has over 600 acres of land acquired by the state government that is under litigation in different courts.’ [22]

In GurgaonWorkersNews no.51 we described the relation between the local peasantry / land-lords, who are the backbone of the ‘anti-corruption’ movement and the workers in Manesar, residing in villages like Aliyar. During the wildcat occupation of Maruti Suzuki factory in 2011 and the subsequent mobilisation, the local ‘panchayats’ at large offered support to Maruti Suzuki management and the repressive organs of the state. The state itself tries to mediate between the interests of industrial management and landed classes by tax and revenue redistribution:

‘With the first phase of enhancement money collection in Manesar over, the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation (HSIIDC) has recovered only 20 per cent of the target amount. Senior officials told TOI that Rs 400 crore of enhancement money has been collected so far. Earlier this year HSIIDC had paid Rs 1,500 crore to the district revenue officer, as compensation money for the local farmers. And it is this money, with 11 per cent interest added to the amount, that the HSIIDC says is recoverable from factory plot owners in Industrial Model Town Manesar in the form of enhancement fee. Industry representatives, especially the local associations, have mounted a protest movement against enhancement fee.’ [23]

At the same time the state makes sure that the compensation money does not just sit in the pocket of the former peasants. The state government puts pressure on the local state to increase taxation. Given that many of the ‘villagers’ rent out rooms to the working class, the taxation is likely to be passed on:

‘After the state government made it clear to the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon that it should not expect any financial assistance, the local body is now planning to increase its revenue through property tax by to issuing house tax assessment notice in all the villages that come under its jurisdiction. So far, the MCG had refrained from collecting property tax from villagers, but now, authorities say, they have to do so in order to manage the budget. According to the officials, about 46,000 people live in the 39 villages that come under the MCG’s jurisdiction. Half of them have already been served the notice.’ [24]

We can see that the system is churning. Under the crisis the tension between the different levels of the state apparatus increases. ‘Corruption’ is one expression of this churning. We can see that ‘corruption’ has two main elements, both entirely neglected by the populist anti-corruption movement of the ‘marginalised middle-classes’: a) corruption as a form of ‘extra legal’ redistribution of profits and posts within the social hierarchy becomes prevailing in times when property relations in particular and social relations in general change so rapidly that the formalised legal channels are not able to mediate between the emerging tensions within the ‘owning classes’; corruption in this sense is a spontaneous re-creation of balance within an unstable, but expanding system; it is grease in a cranky mechanism, it is a systemic element, rather than an exception b) in times of crisis, corruption is an indicator for the fact that the ‘owning classes’ have lost trust in the ‘normal affairs’ of profit production and long term investments; it becomes an indicator for the struggle over pieces of a shrinking cake. From a workers’ point of view the ‘anti-corruption’ movement is either a delusional effort or an expression of mere re-shuffling within the ruling class.

Slum Demolition
For the state or real estate developers to get hold of land they often have to get people and their houses off the land. In Gurgaon this is less the case compared to older urban working class areas in Delhi region – see article on slum demolition in Faridabad and Kolkata. [25] The slums seem to be an ‘irregular’ space, but in fact ‘irregular’ slum dwellers are often more closely tied to the representatives of the state and their control. The threat of ‘eviction’ creates space for dependency on political party representatives who promise ‘regularisation’. A recent example from Gurgaon confirms this general experience:

‘A day after the city municipal corporation demolished some houses in Rajiv Nagar a large number of residents in the area staged a demonstration by blocking traffic for several hours, condemning the high-handedness showed by the civic agency.
“The buildings that were demolished by MCG on Friday are at least two decades old and no new construction was taking place in them. We are protesting at the way they were demolished. On the one hand, the MCG is not willing to provide basic infrastructure in unauthorized colonies and on the other hand it is quick to bulldoze the homes of poor people,” said Indian National Lok Dal [main opposition party in Haryana] councillor Gaje Singh Kablana, who led the demonstration.’ [26]

Water Wars
Gurgaon’s water situation is symbolic, a high-rising city sucks itself dry and the struggle over the vital resource becomes a barometre for social power – see previous articles on water politics and ‘shaky foundations’ of Gurgaon’s towers. [27] According to the groundwater department, in summer 2012 the water table plunged by 90 centimetres to 1 metre. In some areas the water-table in Gurgaon’s semi-arid belt has reached depths of 51 metres, a serious concern. The state blames the ‘more than 30,000 illegal tube wells’ in Gurgaon, while most of the water is used for the industry and the golf courses and lawns of the upper classes.

The hoarding of water results in health risk, in recent years the cases of dengue fever during summer months has increased. In summer 2012 over 400 cases were reported, often from areas with a high concentration of water tanks. The local state seems to have difficulties to intervene within this ‘semi-private sphere’: “The reason why we have not been able to issue any challan [fine bills] so far is because we haven’t received any written order from the concerned authorities. We have only received some verbal orders on how much fine we can impose on those who are not maintaining unhygienic conditions that lead to mosquito breeding,” said Dr VK Thapar, chief medical officer, Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon. [28]

The other problem concerns waste water: “A city drowning in its excreta”. [29] Between 2006 and 2011 over 35,000 new dwelling units were built in Gurgaon. Only a third of Gurgaon is connected to a sewerage line. Residents who live in private colonies say HUDA officials turn their complaints down, arguing sewerage lines are the responsibility of private builders like DLF. The private developers in turn blame the state. They allege that development charges collected from them towards providing for infrastructure were diverted. ‘”More than Rs 12,000 crore was collected and made available to the state government. But all this money has been used up by politicians in their constituencies. Nothing flows back into the city,” says a senior executive with a prominent real estate company who did not wish to be identified.’ [30]

Energy Crunch and Report by Casualised Energy Workers
Gurgaon’s energy supply depends to a significant extent on fossil fuel operated generators – see previous article on energy crunch in the industrial sectors [31]. With the government’s decision to increase diesel prices, energy ‘back-up’ costs in Gurgaon are expected to rise by 30 per cent in 2013. ‘Malls, offices and luxury hotels burn thousands of litres of the fuel every day just to keep their backup systems running. “Gurgaon is a city that virtually runs on diesel. The entire commercial sector depends on it for power backup,” said a businessman. Commercial buildings consume as much as 1,000 litre of diesel a day and having to pay Rs 10 extra for every litre of diesel. Call centres are looking at an average increase of about 15% in maintenance costs, hotels will pay even more. “The upkeep costs here will rise by 25%. Considering the kind of diesel consumption Gurgaon’s hotels register, this is going to pinch really bad,” Anirban Sarkar, executive manager of the Radisson Blu hotel. In Sahara Mall diesel consumption is around 1,000 litre a day, a figure that shoots up further during peak summers.’ [32]

Usually the criticism of ‘bad energy infrastructure’ is launched from the perspective of the large consumers. Following a report by energy workers about the impact of ‘privatisation’ on their working conditions.

Haryana Electricity Board Worker: From Electricity Board to Electricity Corporation
Faridabad Majdoor Samachar no.289, July 2012

After the central government and the Haryana government passed new laws, on 14th of August 1998 the Haryana State Electricity Board was dismantled and divided into four corporations: Haryana Power Generation Corporation Limited, Haryana Electricity Distribution Corporation, North Haryana Electricity Distribution Corporation, South Haryana Electricity Distribution Corporation. After the board was turned into corporations contractors entered in mass into the power generation and distribution sector. They started to sub-contract all electricity-related work. Regular employment was turned into irregular work, permanent employees into temporary workers. The contractors changed frequently, the workers remained the same. Obviously there are rules for the corporations, there is no lack of laws. Nevertheless, transgression of laws is the norm and adherence to the law the exception. Apart from some construction workers all workers are ITI [skilled] workers or diploma holders. In order to get hired through contractors even the educated youth has to pay bribes to university teachers, members of parliament and ministers. In the South Haryana Electricity Distribution Corporation in Faridabad a contractor disappeared after having settled all accounts with the corporation, while the workers were left with three months of unpaid wages.In the Haryana Electricity Distribution Corporation in Gurgaon on the 1st of April a new contractor came in and together with the talk about opening new bank accounts the wage payments of the workers got delayed. The previous contractor had been holding the contract for five years, but he did not pay contributions to the workers’ IPF, neither did his predecessor. They did not issue pay slips or PF numbers. Those who had left the jobs have not received their PF money after two years. The typists are hired through contractors, as well. The billing department the meter reading and the bill distribution is also done through contractors. Drivers and computer operators are hired through contractors. In each electricity sub-station there are seven workers hired through contractor for each permanent employee. Given the involvement of the central government in the breaking up, can workers expect anything from the Haryana government? This is something to consider. What can be done and what should be avoided?

An even more precarious situation in the outsourced refuse collection in the ‘private colonies’ of Gurgaon: ‘Residents of Sector 23A have complained to the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) that private sanitation contractors were making children collect garbage from the area. The area residents claimed the contractors hire boys, mostly from slum areas, on daily wage basis. “It suits the contractors to hire boys since they get paid very less,” said a resident.’ [33]

NH8 – Highway to Hell
The highway NH8 is another symbol of ‘fatal and failed’ neo-liberal development – see previous articles on the highway. [34] For people who have to cross the highway in order to go to work there are still long stretches without save crossings. In 2012 more than 250 people were killed in accidents on the 40 kilometres from Delhi/Gurgaon border to Manesar, most of them pedestrians. The main concern for automobile drivers in turn is the fact that the traffic jams in front of the toll gates reduce the average speed during rush-hour to just above 20 miles an hour. Every day around 200,000 cars have to pass the toll gates. The highway was developed by the private company Delhi-Gurgaon Super Connectivity Ltd’s (DGSCL). This company is more or less bankrupt and has 1,600 crore Rs [1 crore = 10 million] credit debt. End of 2012 Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said that either the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) or the state government could “purchase” the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway – a major bail-out for Punjab National Bank, Bank of India and other creditors of DGSCL.

Affordable Housing Swindle
While crores have been pumped into deadly highways the ‘affordable housing scheme’ of the Haryana government turns out to be an election gimmick. The Gurgaon Citizens’ Council (GCC) – a middle-class residents’ association – alleged: “In 2009 the government of Haryana gave wide publicity to the proposal that it would build one lakh low-cost houses in the state. Out of them, 40,000 were to be built in Gurgaon, 30,000 in Faridabad and Panchkula and the remaining 30,000 in the rest of Haryana in places like Rohtak, Hissar, Panipat, and Sonipat. While Gurgaon was stated to be a high potential zone, the rest were considered medium- and low-potential zones. However, even after three years there is no sign of these housing complexes, meant for the poor, coming into being”. [35]

Private Developers, Local Authorities and the Gated ‘Civil Society’: Re-Making of the Local State
Parallel to the ‘anti-corruption’ mobilisation focussed on the land-owning class / peasantry there is a second formation of middle-class discontent, based on a disillusioned professional middle-class and centred around the issue of ‘living in New Gurgaon’, a space of scary rapid social change and little regularities. Similar to the land-owning middle-strata the relation of these ‘middle-class activists’ towards the working class is arbitrary. For them it is no contradiction to run NGOs for illiterate children and at the same time pressure the state to remove slum dwellers from their neighbourhood. They are largely ‘corporate professionals’ with their characteristic illusions that ‘things can be fixed, you just have to know how to’, an illusion which arises both from their social isolation as ‘intellectual workers’ and as residents of gated communities. We quote from a dissertation which captures the reality of this class segment and their ‘political activism’ nicely:

‘Residents are able to escape the dysfunction of the urban in high-rise communities offering “exclusive conveniences…stringent security, wide-open space, parks, schools, health centre and shopping arcades” (Unitech Heritage City). The gated enclaves are serviced by 24-hour generators and privately sourced water; and disparately linked by “secessionary networks” of private infrastructure and transport services. DLF provides residents a private shuttle service to metro stations, mall and workplaces, whilst the in construction 16-lane DLF toll way 11, and private rapid metro system services DLF’s Cyber City SEZ.’

‘I Am Gurgaon’ represent one such group, aimed at “awakening a responsible, aware and vigilant populace” and bringing together “the administration, corporate organisations, schools, RWAs [Resident Welfare Associations], NGOs and developers” to “make a true ‘Millennium City’” (I Am Gurgaon website). Lead by a group of residents from DLF City, the group’s primary project has been the “Million Trees Campaign” through which the group organise tree-planting, monitor sanitation and street-cleansing workers and have developed a Biodiversity Park at the heart of DLF City. The campaign is sponsored by multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Canon, and KPMG and has the willing support of both the HUDA administration and the Municipal Council (Hindustan Times 2012). The Biodiversity Park is built on land previously used for mining and over the past few years has been occupied by slum “encroachments” and illegal developments; cleared and gated to make way for the park’s development (Hindustan Times 2010).’

So they petition, make regular visits to the HUDA office and slap Public Interest Litigations against authorities for not taking action against illegal wine shops that have come up all over Gurgaon. They organise tree planting programmes and cleanliness drives and campaign for women’s safety. The people organising these programmes are bankers, architects, doctors, IT professionals and businessmen.

[from: Fragmented citizenships in Gurgaon: An urban zone of exception. Candidate Number: 53037]

In Gurgaon the triangle of local state, private developers and contractors and ‘civil-society organisations’ toss and turn about responsibilities and finance of social reproduction.

‘The Haryana government has decided that the developer, as defined in the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act, 1975, shall transfer the administration of the condominium to its residents’ welfare association (RWA) immediately after the grant of the occupation certificate. Raman Sharma, president, Gurgaon Progressive Forum explains the reasons for the reluctance of the colonizers to hand over administration to RWAs, he said : “Before the hand-over the colonizers will have to pass on the entire details of the project that include the super area, common area and other factors like commercial and basement aspects. Now this will open a Pandora’s box and result in conflicts.”‘ [36]

Sometimes this escalates into actual confrontation:

‘The South City-I residents’ welfare association (SCRWA) protested against Unitech’s apathy towards the maintenance of one of the earliest private colonies (set up in the early 1980s) in Gurgaon on Saturday. The protesters alleged that the builder showed utter disregard to the residents, majority of whom were senior citizens and women. Instead of addressing the problem, they locked their office gates and hired goons, bouncers and outsourced securitymen to attack the residents. Over 200 residents belonging to all age groups participated in the protest, which was led by the SCRWA president, Ashok Bhardwaj. The protest was also attended by R S Rathee, president of Gurgaon Citizens’ Council, and other RWAs.’ [37]

Urban Anonymity and Patriarchal Brutalisation
The urban space is a space of bourgeois freedom and its double-character. The old patriarchal village communities, the sexist and caste-based hierarchies are, if not dissolved, then transformed. As proletarians, Hindu and Muslim garment workers and their families live together in extremely confined spaces in rented houses in Kapashera – see report – sharing one tap, without any major tension. Under the pressure of ‘individualised sellers of labour power’ the boundaries between ‘individual freedom’ and ‘escape from the shackles of the village oppression’ on one side and atomisation, indifference and brutal competition on the labour market on the other are free floating. If workers don’t manage to create new collectivities of struggle as a process of an association of free individuals, the urban space will turn into a mixture of battlefield and solitary confinement.

‘At least one suicide, on an average, is taking place every 36 hours in Gurgaon as victims hang themselves, consume poison or jump from a height, according to police figures which show that 104 people have ended their lives in the first four months of 2012. Nearly 88 of the suicide victims since January were aged between 20 and 40 and a bulk of them were in their 20s. A total of 13 victims were aged 15-19 years, police data showed. The chief medical officer of a government hospital here told IANS: “Increasing suicidal tendency is a social as well as medical problem. We are ready to provide psychologists at special camps if some NGO takes the initiative.”‘

Some violence is internalised, other violence targets others, most often those close to us. Domestic gendered violence is wide-spread, the shrinking families cannot cope with the pressure of proletarian existence. Patriarchal violence existed in the village, but there were other (female) family members who could intervene. In the urban sphere a female proletarian community has still to be created – as we witnessed ourselves in Chakkarpur. [38] The material background for the more rampant and openly aggressive masculine violence is the gender heritage of the patriarchal (peasant) community whose ‘communal aspect’ is dissolved by massive (short-term) influx of real estate money, which gives young men command over a mass of newly arrived migrants, as land-lords, as contractors, as the people with local roots and power. A sudden boost of power in an increasingly anonymous space, a space which due to 80 per cent male migrant workers is a largely male space. This is combined with the feeling that ‘despite the money, there is no future for the sons of the soil’ – a precipitation of social death. The public gang-rape at the Gurgaon – Delhi border was an expression of this aggressive hyper-masculinity. The ‘social indifference’ is often projected into the urban architecture, like in the following women’s descriptions of Gurgaon, which also express the fear of the (male) ‘rural uncivilised world’ and of the (men of the) dangerous classes:

‘If Delhi’s bad, Gurgaon’s worse: girls’ [39]

Anything can happen in Gurgaon’s barren stretches.
I think it is the mindset of the majority of people in Gurgaon that makes it worse in terms of safety. The young corporate professionals and nuclear families just form a small percentage when compared to people who come here from the neighbouring border areas. And not just that, our mindset too, that ‘oh this is Haryana and that kind of people’, makes it difficult for me to feel safer here. Also, for me, I know Delhi roads well, there are people on those roads and you understand the routes. But in Gurgaon, the place is still developing and sometimes you have to cross these barren stretches to get to your destination
Bhavna Chaudhary, 21, self-employed

Day or night, you are subject to harassment
For me, Delhi is a little safer than Gurgaon. I lived in Greater Kailash for one-and-a-half years, and then shifted to Sohna road, Gurgaon, in an apartment. I shifted because I got a job here. But I think it was a bad decision. Even in daylight, people stare at you. You step out of your door and people start staring at you so hard, you get very uncomfortable. That is not the case in Delhi – at least, not in daylight. I have visited GK’s M-Block market even after 9pm, and still never had people staring at me or passing comments, but here, after 7, you shouldn’t be out.
– Anushka Saxena, 28, sales manager

You never know when someone will take out a gun
The biggest problem in Gurgaon is the local guys there who create a ruckus very often. Being a girl, I have to stay away from them; you never know when someone picks a fight and one of them pulls out a gun or a knife. And if this were to happen in Delhi, there will be at least some cops in the vicinity. In Gurgaon, there is police only in the few check posts, and many areas, due to this, are not safe.
– Shamita Khanna (name changed), 24, works at a financial consultancy firm

There are vast expanses of absolutely nothing
Outside the apartment complex where I live, there is literal wilderness at night, and it is pitch dark. The safety is limited till my complex’s gate, where the guards stand. There are way too many pockets of deserted or not-so-developed areas and a stark contrast between what’s behind the complexes’ gates and outside it. Outside complexes’ gates, the roads are far from developed, there’s barely any lighting, and a lot of the people who roam the streets there are rowdy and uncouth.
– Rishika Bhatnagar, 26, MNC employee

The reaction of many ‘radical left groupings’ to the gang-rape was knee-jerk, demanding ‘tighter control’ (GPS for public transport) and law and order – which has been criticised by comrades. [40] It is a lost race to try to deal with brutalisation by demanding more ‘control’ in the anonymous hands of the state. The combination of ‘bourgeois atomisation’ and delegation of power to the state is the material basis for indifference, which in turn becomes a precondition for (gender) violence. It will be largely in the hands of the female workers, to break patriarchal violence. The female call centre workers and other ‘young professionals’ will have to enforce that their recent position as wage earners and night-shift workers finds an expression in the freedom to move around freely outside the office walls – which will have to be enforced against the ‘men on the street’ and the ‘protectionism’ and moral conservatism of the ‘public opinion’ (the middle-class opinion of ‘safety’). The sexual harassment within the factory – like most forms of violence in the factories – remain invisible in most cases. Women in the garment and electronics factories, where they sometimes account for half of the work-force will have to find ways to translate their collective self-confidence into the domestic sphere. It will be first priority of any communist politics to support this.

No Conclusions
‘The urban’ has become the preferred space of a certain faction of the academic and bohemian left, which waters down Marxist class perspective with post-modernism and/or insurrectionist romanticism. Consciously or not they follow the bourgeois ideology of ‘post-industrialism’ which tries to render invisible any significance of ‘workers collective productivity’ for society and reduces workers to either ‘subjects’ or an unruly mass of poor people. We can relate to this bluntly with a quote by Otto Ruehle, a left communist in Germany in the 1920s, whereby ‘factory’ might well be replaced with any work-place which brings workers together under one roof in a systemic cooperation / division of labour:

‘Only in the factory is the worker of today a real proletarian, and as such a revolutionary within the meaning of the proletarian-socialist revolution. Outside the factory he is a petty-bourgeois, involved in a petty-bourgeois milieu and middle-class habits of life, dominated by petty-bourgeois ideology. He has grown up in bourgeois families, been educated in a bourgeois school, nourished on the bourgeois spirit. Marriage is a bourgeois penal institution. Dwelling in rented barracks is a bourgeois arrangement. The private household of every family with its own kitchen leads to a completely egoistic economic mode. There the husband looks after his wife, the wife looks after her children; everyone thinks only about his interests. Even the child in bourgeois schools is directed to knowledge influenced by the bourgeoisie, which is tailored in accordance with bourgeois tendencies.’ [41]

The class character of the space outside the work-place is evident, the slums next to the mansions. ‘The dwelling in rented barracks’ sometimes turns from a bourgeois arrangement into collective proletarian resistance against the land-lord. Many working class initiatives keep these ‘proletarian experiences’ in their separate spheres, they either focus on the ‘workplace’ or the ‘area’. This newsletter hasn’t broken the dichotomy. It mainly refers to ‘workers’ in the urban space and does not manage to trace the social links to their reality within the production process. We have seen how certain ‘urban struggles’ become channeled into ‘problems of disadvantaged citizens’, we haven’t seen yet how collective conflicts which arise from the fact of ‘being a proletarian’ in the urban sphere (around housing, water, traffic, oppression) are influenced by or influence the numerous conflicts in the factories. Instead of conclusions we want to refer to a text by Sergio Bologna, which tries to understand the ‘productive political background’ of the ‘urban movements’ in Italy in the late 1970s, after the struggles in the older industrial strongholds had been defeated. [42]

/// Footnotes:


(1) Kapas Hera Border


General Urbanisation Process

Housing UK



Real Estate Crisis in Gurgaon





Road Blockades

Gated Communities

Commuter Riot

Slum Fire


Land Scandal

DLF and Gandhi


Manesar Protest

Manesar Fees

Manesar Tax

Slum Demolition


Water Wars and Shaky Grounds



DLF – State

Energy Crunch

Fuel Costs



Housing Swindle


RWA Protest

Domestic Violence

Gurgaon Safety




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