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Dissertation Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

in the Faculty of Arts, Jadavpur University

Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay

Jadavpur University

Kolkata 700032
Certified that the thesis entitled NEGOTIATING INFORMALITY: CHANGING FACES OF
KOLKATAS FOOTPATHS, 1975-2005 submitted by me for the award of the Degree of Doctor of
Philosophy of Arts at Jadavpur University is based upon my own work carried out under the supervision of Professor
Samita Sen, School of Womens Studies, Jadavpur University and Dr. Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Centre for Studies
in Social Sciences and that neither this thesis nor any part of it has been submitted before any degree or diploma



Countersigned by the Supervisors:


Preface and Acknowledgements

The debts that I have accrued during the course of writing this thesis are numerous. Of
course, the usual disclaimers apply. I would like to thank Professor Samita Sen for sharing
with me, ever so generously, her erudite comments, incisive critiques, challenging
expectations, and above all, her time. Her presence, as supervisor, has been inspirational. Dr.
Dwaipayan Bhattarcharyya, the co-supervisor of the thesis, provided valuable insights that
allowed me to frame my argument. Dr. Jayanta Sengupta, who supervised my work in the
first year, posed interesting questions during the proposal-writing stage that have challenged
me to formulate and re-formulate many pieces of the work. Dr. Sengupta advised me to re-
write the proposal in every quarter. This practice has enabled me to systematically track my
own changing sensibilities on the issue in the last four years. I am thankful to Professor
Ananya Roy for suggesting improvements in an earlier draft of the thesis. Her courses in the
Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley, and my hours-long discussions
with her, provided much of the intellectual stimulus for the various chapters of this work,
and raised countless other questions that I look forward to pursuing in future research
projects. Professor Raka Ray supervised my work at UC Berkeley, where I spent the crucial
dissertation writing year. Her methodical approach and theoretical insights helped me
resolve many puzzles I was grappling with in the last year. Bodhisattva Kar, Rajarshi
Dasgupta, Partha Chatterjee, Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Gautam Bhadra, Keya Dasgupta, Ishita
Banerjee-Dube, Supriya Chaudhuri, Sukanta Chaudhuri and Amlan Dasgupta helped me
develop the perspective of the work. They read countless drafts of chapters and suggested
improvements. I am thankful to Professor Joyashree Roy for a wide range of things. She has
been a strict administrator, kind teacher, and embodiment of public morality. I still consider
Professor Joyashree Roy and Professor Anuradha Chanda (who supervised my Masters

Thesis) to be my guardians along with my family elders. Justice Chittatosh Mukherjee has
been a veritable archive of a city, changing social sensibilities and a time that only a handful
of Calcuttans can remember. His access to the city bureaucracy and in Jogubabus Bazaar
made it easier for me to conduct the field research. He also helped me understand legal
complexities associated with urban informality. I am indebted to Late Sati Rani Devi (my
paternal grandmother), Late Ajit Mukherjee (my maternal grandfather), Gita Mukherjee (my
maternal grandmother), Subir Gangopadhyay, Joyashree Gangopadhyay, Pranab
Mukhopadhyay, Swadhin Sanyal, as they made me their partner in their remembering.
However, none of this would have been possible without a more personal set of
debts: to my close friends, and family members.
My interest in the histories of mass political formation in postcolonial India
developed in course of my discussion with some of my brilliant friends in Jadavpur
University. Debarati Bagchi, Ritwik Bhattacharyya, Ranu Roychaudhury, Abhishek Basu,
Arpita Misra, Pallabi Ghoshal, Madhurupa Banerjee, Rahul Bhawmik, Iman Mitra, Subhasree
Bhattacharyya, Atig Ghosh and many others displayed their interest on my research and
helped fine-tune much of my arguments. Many of them became my comrades in different
capacities and in different walks of life. I grew up with them. In 2006, I came in touch with a
few brilliant undergraduate students in the Department of History, Jadavpur University.
Neha Chatterjee, Ishan Mukherjee, Malini Siddhanta, Swarnali Guha, and Anwesha Ghosh,
who became my friends and critical audience. All of them contributed meaningfully to shape
my argument and writing. Neha read several drafts of my papers and added value to the
argument and writing. I shared some wonderful intellectual and friendly moments with Ipsita
Roy, Sumit Roy, Sharmishtha Pal, Aditya, Namrata Kapoor and Lubaina Rangawala. Aditya
drew several maps and diagrams based on my field findings. I have inserted some of them in
my thesis with his kind permission. Debarati has always eagerly taken the rigour to edit my
work. Ritaprava has technically embellished the thesis.
I have received generous funding under different programs in different stages of this
dissertation. I started as a JU-SYLFF (Jadavpur University-Sasakawa Young Leaders
Fellowship Fund) Fellow. The SYLFF Fellowship provided the highest possible funding (in
India) for a period of three years. I am thankful to Nippon Foundation and Tokyo
Foundation for awarding Jadavpur University the prestigious SYLFF endowment. The JU-

SYLFF Programme has instituted a rigorous mechanism of reviewing the progress of the
SYLFF Fellows at Jadavpur University, involving acclaimed scholars. This institutional
arrangement taught me the lessons of accountability and helped me validate my research
findings, and correct my formulations in every step. I am thankful to all the SYLFF Fellows
all of whom have enriched my work through the many discussions we had and I am also
grateful to the JU-SYLFF office staff. The Expert Committee Members, comprising
Professor Biswajit Chatterjee, formerly Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor Nilanjana Gupta,
Dean Faculty of Arts, Professor Swapan Chakraborty, Department of English, Professor
Himadri Banerjee, Department of History, Dr. Anindya Jyoti Majumdar and Dr. Shibashish
Chatterjee, Department of International Relations, Professor Ashish Majumdar, Department
of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Ipsita Chanda, Department of Comparative Literature,
Dr. Sudeshna Banerjee, Department of History, Dr. Dalia Chakrabarty, Department of
Sociology, Dr. Atashi Chatterjee, Department of Philosophy, Professor Anup Sinha, Indian
Institute of Management, Kolkata gave incisive comments and encouraged me. Throughout
my dissertation years, Dr. Anjan Ghosh, Centrefor Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, gave
me useful insights. It is unfortunate that Anjanda could not see the completion of my work.
I wish to thank the Vice-Chancellor and JU-SYLFF Steering Committee Chairman
Professor P. N. Ghosh, former Vice-Chancellors and JU-SYLFF Steering Committee
Chairmen Professor A. N. Basu and Professor S. K. Sanyal and all other Steering Committee
members including the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Siddhartha Dutta, the former
Registrar, Mr. Rajat Bandyopadhyay, and the current Registrar Dr. P. K. Ghosh, the Finance
Officer Mr. G. K. Pattanayak, and the Deputy Registrar Mr. S. G. Sarkar for their kind
words of encouragement and strong support.
I was also awarded the 2008 SYLFF-Fellows Mobility Programme grant to pursue
my research in El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico. My Mexican experience enabled
me to engage with a wider trans-national literature on urban informality.
In August, 2009, I went to University of California, Berkeley, as a Fulbright-Nehru
Doctoral Fellow. I fully used the UC Berkeley libraries, archives, and established strong
academic network with many professors, and graduate students.
Parts of Chapters I, III and IV have been published in peer-reviewed journals and
books. Parts of Chapter I have been published as From Public to Pablik: Elementary

Aspects of Street Politics in Postcolonial Calcutta in Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society
(Volume 42, No. 3, 2007). Parts of Chapter III have come out as Hawkers Movement in
Kolkata, 1975-2005 in Economic and Political Weekly (Volume 44, No, 17, 2009). A different
version of Chapter IV was published in English in Sociological Research Online Volume 14, No 5,
2009 and in Spanish in Estudios de Asia y Africa, Volume 141, No XLV, 2010 under the titles
Archiving from Below: The Case of the Mobilised Hawkers in Calcutta and
Negociaciones del Archivo: El Caso de Los Venderores Ambulantes en Calcutta,
respectively. Another paper based on the material presented in Chapter II is forthcoming in
G. L. Riberico, C. Alba Vega and G. Mathews edited book titled Economic Globalization
from Below (New York: Berghan, 2011). I am thankful to all the anonymous reviewers of
my papers for their thoughtful comments.
I am thankful to the librarians and staff of a number of libraries and archives
including the libraries of Jadavpur University, National Library, Calcutta, Town Hall Library,
Calcutta, Assembly Library, Calcutta, Commercial Library, Calcutta, Bancroft Library, UC
Berkeley, Anthropology Library, UC Berkeley, West Bengal State Archives, Record Room of
the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta.
I have presented my thesis in several seminars and workshops in Calcutta, Berkeley,
New York, Frankfurt, Beijing, Mexico City and Jakarta. I am indebted to those who listened
to my presentations and commented on them.
I was born in Kalna and I completed my primary education in Sashibala Saha
Prathamik Vidyalaya where I received affection and education from Mrs. Prabhati
Chakrabarty. I completed my +2 from Kalna Maharajas High School. I am grateful to Mr.
Jaynal Abedin, my History teacher, Mr. Partha Biswas, my English teacher, Mr. Tapas Karfa,
my Biology teacher, Mr. Manik Lal Guha, my Physics and Mathematics teacher, Mr. Sunil
Maji, Mr. Sridam Mafdar and Mr. Janaranjan Ghosh, my Mathematics teachers, Mr Prasanta
Dhar, my Bengali teacher and Mr. Ram Pada Khan, my Geography teacher. I acknowledge
my intellectual debt to some of my fathers illustrious friends in Kalna College. Mr. Hemanta
Mukherjee, Mr. Amar Ghosh, Mr. Kalyan Bhattacharyya, Mr. Dipak Goswami, Mr. Sunil
Kumar Roy and Mr. Mrityunjoy Banerjee gave me the first lessons of Human Sciences along
with my parents and uncle. My chemist sister, my journalist brother and I grew up under
their supervision, and affective surveillance.

I also grew up with many friends in Kalna. We wait for each other for evening addas
in a tiny book shop or in Basudebs place. Basudeb has been a constant source of inspiration
for me from the very childhood.
Writing this thesis would not have been possible if Shaktiman Ghosh, Murad
Hussain and Sudipta Maitra of the Hawker Sangram Committee did not enthusiastically help
me. I am thankful to those who have me interviews. Ratan Mandal and Ismail deserve
special mention as they agreed to insert their names as my principal respondents. I dedicate
this thesis to the hundreds of urban political workers in India.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements i

List of Maps and Illustrations 1

List of Abbreviations 3

Glossary 5

Introduction 9

Chapter One 26
Streetscape and Social Life: Contextualizing the Study

Chapter Two 82
Spatialities of the Act of Selling: Footpath, Mall, Commodities

Chapter Three 126

Governing Footpath Hawking in Calcutta: The State-Union Complex

Chapter Four 156

The Political Use of Knowledge: Embodying Space, Classifying Usage

Conclusion 182

Bibliography 194
List of Maps and Illustrations

Figure I A Beggar in Front of Lighthouse Cinema Hall. 74

Figure II A Pavement Dweller Near Rabindrasadan. 74

Figure III A Footpath Shack Near Calcutta Club. 75

Figure IV Late Evening Activities Beneath the Grand Hotel. 75

Figure V Measuring Weight is a Livelihood Option in Esplanade. 76

Figure VI A Mobile Public Call Office in Jawaharlal Nehru Road. 76

Figure VII Chaitra Sale in Jadavpur Station Road. 77

Figure VIII Book Stalls in College Street Footpath. 78

Figure IX Garment Stalls in Front of a Multinational Outlet. 78

Figure X A Brief Transaction in a Footpath Jewellery Stall Before 79

a Jewellery Shop.

Figure XI A Footpath Transaction in Gariahaat. 79

Figure XII Stalls Selling Belts, Watches, Wallet in Esplanade. 80

Figure XIII Message of Politics, Message of Capital: Brisk Activities 80

in Esplanade.

Figure XIV In Front of A Police Kiosk in Esplanade. 81

Figure XV Pirate Modernity. 81

Figure XVI Base Map Showing Major Concentration of Hawkers in Calcutta. 121

Figure XVII Map Showing College Street Intersection. 122

Figure XVIII Map Showing Kalighat, Chetla, Bhawanipur. 123

Figure XIX Map Showing Sealdah 124

Figure XX Advertisement of Egyptian Tobacco. The Statesman, 125
9 May 1888.

Figure XXI Advertisement of Dry Elite Champagne. The Statesman, 125

28 April 1889.

Figure XXII Advertisement of Biscuit Casket. The Statesman, 20 June 1881. 122

List of Abbreviations

AP Amritabazar Patrika.

AP 1 Anandabazar Patrika.

CBD Central Business district.

CITU Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

CMC Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

CMDA Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority.

CPI Communist Party of India.

CPM Communist Party of India (Marxist).

DFID Department for International Development of the United Kingdom.

GOB Government of Bengal.

GOI Government of India.

GOWB Government of West Bengal.

HSC Hawker Sangram Committee.

IPC Indian Penal Code.

ISI Indian Statistical Institute.

NASVI National Alliance of Street Vendors in India.

NCEUS National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector.

NFITU National Front of Indian Trade Unions.

NGO Non-Governmental Organization.

NMRD National Movement for Retail Democracy.

PWD Public Works Department.

SEWA Self Employed Womens Association.

Rs. Rupees (Indian Currency).

RSP Revolutionary Socialist Party.

SB Special Branch (of Calcutta Police).

SEZ Special Economic Zone.

TS The Statesman.

TT The Telegraph.

TOI Times of India.

UPA United Progressive Alliance.

WB West Bengal.

WBSA West Bengal State Archive


Adda Informal chat among a group of people on a wide range of subjects.

Adhikar Right/ Stake.

Amchur Dried mango used as spice.

Annas Formerly an Indian coin worth 1/16 of a rupee.

Atithi Guest.
Baithakkhana Living Room.

Bazaar/Bajar Market.

Bandhakopi Cabbage.

Bania Trader.

Bhadralok Gentleman.

Bhel puri A dish of puffed rice, spices and hot, sweet and sour chutney.

Bigha A measure of land equal to a quarter of a hectare.

Biri Country-cigarettes.

Chaatna To lick.

Charak Popular Bengali festival involving strict penance to worship Lord Shiva
and Shakti.

Chaitra sale A discount sale at the last month of the Bengali year.

Chatpata Tangy.

Chola Batura A dish consisting of chick-pea cooked with spices and a type of round

Dada Elder brother/political boss.

Dhaba Roadside (mostly highways) restaurants.

Durga Puja The annual Autumnal Bengali festival of worshipping Goddess Durga.

Elaka Dakhal Neighbourhood control.

Englishtani English.

Gaddi The office of a traditional Indian businessman.

Ganesh Chathurthi Hindu festival in Maharashtra to worship Lord Ganesha, popularized

by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

Ghoogni A kind of snack made of peas cooked with spices.

Goli Lane.

Goomty Depot.

Gorer Math An open ground near Fort William.

Ghumna-phirna Wandering about.

Hafta Weekly bribe.

Hallagari A kind of police van used to confiscate goods in large scale.

Haq Right.

Ijjat Honour.

Imandari Honesty.

Japani Japanese.

Jhaal muri A snack made of puffed rice with spices, peanuts, coconut pieces and
bits of other snacks.

Jogandar Helper, supplier.

Juta Shoe.

Kaviraji Fried fish garnished with scrambled egg.

Kebab Grilled fish or meat.

Kuli Porter.

Luchi tarkari A dish consisting of a kind of small and thin saucer-shaped bread fried
in ghee or oil and served with vegetable curry.

Mahajan Moneylender.

Maidan An open ground in between Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Red Road in

Makarsankranti The transition of the sun from the Saggitarius to the Capricornus; the
winter solstice.

Masala dosa A South-Indian pancake made of rice flour and filled with spices,
potato and other stuff.

Mastan Ruffian.

Matar pulao Rice cooked with green peas.

Mathadi Municipal.

Maya Illusion.

Mor Intersection.

Nam Sankirtan Vaishnavite congregational chanting.

Nani Maternal grandmother.

Neta Leader.

Ostagar Chief artisan or tailor.

Paan Betel leaf.

Paneer A kind of cottage cheese.

Papri chaat A mixture of thin, crisp, wheat biscuits with boiled vegetables or raw
fruits and spices.

Paratha A type of bread made without yeast, usually fried on a griddle.

Patloon Trouser.

Phuchka A crisp ball made of puffed wheat stuffed with mashed potato and
tamarind juice and spices.

Potol A kind of a vegetable shaped like a cylinder tapering at both ends.

Roomali roti A large, flat, thin piece of bread made without yeast, usually folded like
a hankerchief.

Rusi Russian.

Sangram Struggle.

Sar Head.

Sarkar Government.

Sawng Clown.

Shaheed Minar A monument commemorating martyrs.

Shri Mr.

Thali A set meal at a restaurant.

Thana Police station.

Thanda Doi Cold Yoghurt.

Tolla Protection money.

Udvastu Refugee.

Vidya Knowledge.

WBSA West Bengal State Archives.

Zamindar Landlord.


Social relations always have a spatial form and spatial content. They exist, necessarily, both in
space (i.e., in a locational relation to other social phenomena) and across space. And it is the
vast complexity of the interlocking and articulating nets of social relations which is social space.
Massey 1994, 168

We often tend to take footpaths for granted. A rather underrated element of the urban form,
footpaths create a network of elevated pathways for the pedestrianthe quintessential
modern urban subject. Footpaths are often made of stones and concrete, and are usually
assembled between public roadways and private property-lines, and are used as architectural
devices to demarcate thresholds of different forms of navigation and property regimes. As
threshold, the footpath has historically hosted a plethora of human activities far exceeding its
intended utility as a technology of zoning. The footpath, for instance, stages street vendors,
shop-keepers, pavement dwellers, political activists, environmentalists along with
pedestrians, cops, infrastructure workers and property owners (Loukaitou-Sideris and
Ehrenfeucht 2009). Often, these social groups collide and collude with each other in
unpredictable ways to eke out a living in the city. This thesis is a contemporary history of
the footpath and the staging of the social in Calcutta1. It observes and analyzes different
forms of occupation on the footpath with special reference to the hawkers. The hawkers
occupation has been occasionally compared with the occupation of the pavement dwellers.

In 2001, Calcutta was officially renamed as Kolkata to emphasize the Bengali origin of the city. The
renaming involved the assertion of a new Bengali cultural identity over the cosmopolitan cityscape.
Throughout the dissertation, I use the old official name of the city for two reasons. First, I do not subscribe
to the provincial idea of the city. Second, the dissertation also covers a period when Calcutta was the
official name of the city.

Overall, the dissertation seeks to show how the footpath is counted in order to be
occupied (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 362). Who counted the occupation and who
occupied? How did they occupy? How has the occupation been counted? How did footpath
enable such occupations to take shape? What does it mean to occupy the footpath?

Research Issues

Broadly speaking, the dissertation studies the politics of space-making in Calcutta, in the last
quarter of the twentieth century and the first half of the first decade of the twenty-first
century. I seek to observe the transformation of the city and contribute to the literature
through the study of an everyday space that of the city footpaths which is everyday not
only in the empirical sense of the term, but also in the sense that Lefebvre (1997) gives it: it
is that uneven terrain of the familiar and the unperceived where unspectacular negotiations
of the widest questions of meaning and power can continue. And there is more particular
spin in the case of the footpath because the street in a bourgeois city represents and acts out
a principle of architectural order through which the cityscape is neatly structured between
private buildings and public spaces. Now the question has been, since Partha Chatterjees
essay (2004) of the same title, Are Indian Cities Becoming Bourgeois, At Last? (Chatterjee
2004, 131) If one remembers the famous first line of the essay, it has a secret, subtitular
function: Or, if you prefer, we could exclaim: Are Indian cities becoming bourgeois, alas?
This deliberate note of indecision between mourning and non-mourning was kept alive till
the very end of the essay, and Chatterjee wondered: Will political society2 provide the
instruments for negotiating a controlled transition to a new urban regime or will it explode
into anarchic resistance? Throughout the dissertation, we will come back to this question
again and again.
The discussion, thus, has a specific focus. It concerns more with the ordinary,
informal or everyday spatial politics (Amin and Thrift 2002, Tonkiss 2005) than the
discourses of elite capture of urban space. The Cartology of power in the city in this sense
hems in temporary and mundane sites of negotiation. If the abstract conceptualization of
streets and footpaths refer to Lefebvres representations of space, street life corresponds

See Chapter IV for a discussion on the term.
to thinking about streets and footpaths as spaces of representation shaped by the spatial
practices of various kinds of street people like the demonstrator, the rioter, the prostitute
(Dennis 2008, 143), and more routine users of the street such as the pedestrian, the hawker
and the pavement dweller. It is to the relationship between regulation, performance and
resistance that I turn in subsequent chapters of the dissertation. The discussion, thus, offers
two key frames for thinking about the politics of urban space. First, I consider the collective-
transgressive claim-makings within the so-called informal economy as generating a distinctly
spatial politics in the city. These movements are often seen to target the urban space as a site
of struggle and convert it as a crucial resource for political mobilization. Second, I study how
the politics of practice and the politics of public space embrace and implicate each other in
the city. The everyday spaces of the street corner, the footpath, the underground metro
station, the park and square are sites where diverse social groups and classes negotiate
conflictual spatial claims. The state on the street emerges out of and thrives on such
mundane negotiations. Contestations over the meaning and the use of public space in the
city draw a trajectory from the ordinary experience to wider conceptions of social
inclusion and urban order (Tonkiss 2005, 60). Does our Calcutta experience provide any
such conceptions?

Thinking Spatially

The current investigation treats space as essentially socially constructed (Ismail 2006). De
Certeaus (1984) says
[A] space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities and
time variables It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements displayed
within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operation that orient it, situate it,
temporalize, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or
contractual proximities. (p. 117, quoted Ismail XXXV)

Clearly, De Certeau thinks of the sociality of space concerning the likeliness between space
and discourse in the sense that like discourse, space also becomes socially meaningful and
inhabited by power relations through practice (Ismail 2006). This is also how space renders
power relations inconspicuous as representing the objectivity of order and design (Ismail
2006; Soja 1989; Keith and Pile 1993). De Certeaus perceptive insistence to study individual
practices in everyday life shows how the use of space itself constitutes the contestation of
spatial domination. Studies of various social movements and of urban collective action have
shown how popular action is spatially grounded (Ismail 2006). My study extends this line of
argument in showing how a certain popular mobilization results in the re-appropriation of
space and contests over its polyvalent uses.

City in Indian Social Research

Just after decolonization, in 1950s, Indian city emerged as a prominent field of social
research. Three factors contributed to the production of literature on urban issues: a) the
long-term transformative impact of refugee influx in the socio-spatial, economic and political
organization of the city, b) the nationalist initiatives to build regional capitals such as
Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar (often with the aid of the western state of the art planning
paradigms), and c) the over-all nationalist thrust in modernization through urbanization. In
aggregate, these factors ushered in a new political climate in which urban issues received
sociological attention (Khilnani 1999). Soon, this scholarly enterprise was institutionalized by
a few academic associations, such as Indian Sociological Association and Indian Economic
Association (Kidambi 2007, Nair 2005, 7). Indian Planning Commission came to fund a
number of socio-economic surveys on several of Indian cities. These surveys created a
strong legacy of descriptive sociological studies concerning wide structural issues of
contemporary cities. These works identified the city as a site of problem and essentially a
product incomplete modernization (Kidambi 2007), and a prototype of underdevelopment,
muddle, crisis, squalor, poverty, and violence (Roy 2007). Anthropologist and a prominent
Gandhian Nirmal Kumar Bose thus saw Calcutta as a premature metropolis (Bose 1965)
represented by herds of sheep grazing on city parks, or movement of cattle through heavily
trafficked streets (Anjaria 2008, 11). In their evolutionary schema, the Indian city appeared
as an unavoidable anachronismas incomplete vis--vis the advanced cities of the global
North. Such a hierarchy among cities created a long-standing divide between theory and
policy in the organization of academic knowledge. While cities like New York and London
were seen to produce the Theory, cities of the South such as Calcutta and Bombay were

portrayed as mega-cities, big yet powerless requiring empirical research and policy
interventions (Roy 2007).
The city appeared to be a possible future for the village within the schema of
Nehruvian planned development. Thus, Nehru said, The fundamental problem of India is
not Delhi or Calcutta or Bombay but the villages of India We want to urbanize the village,
not take away the people from the villages to towns (quoted in Prakash 2002, 3). The close
relationship between the Indian nation state and the sociological projects on the urban
question in the early post-colonial decades thus produced a number of urban
autobiographies of the Indian state.
The urban question remained alien to the historians for a considerable period of
time. But in 1960s and in 1970s three contingent interests appeared to persuade them to
urban research. First a number of historians belonging to the Cambridge School began to
trace the urban roots of middle class nationalism3 (Seal 1968, Bayly 1975, Ray 1979,
Kidambi 2007). Second, scholars interested in the process of industrialization in developing
societies focused their studies in particular urban contexts4 (Kidambi 2007). Third, economic
historians of Mughal Empire such as Irfan Habib pointed to an Indian process of
urbanization, court politics and capital accumulation in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Habib even considered the thirteenth century as a major rupture in Indias urban history. He
pointed out that three connected developments, namely increase in the number of towns,
expansion of urbanized craft production and expansion of commerce, and the emergence of
a non-localized urban elite residing in the cities; appear to have taken place between
thirteenth and fifteenth centuries (Habib 2001). Common to all these works, as Prakash
(2002) and Kidambi (2007) have aptly noted, was a tendency to view the city merely as a
backdrop for larger economic and political processes which were the principal focus of
Prasant Kidambi (2007, 5) enumerates three important strands of development in
urban historical research in the next two decades: First, in the second half of 1970s, a group
of architectural historians such as King (1976) and Metcalf (1989) showed how architectural

Consider the title of Rajat Kanta Rays one of earlier works in the rubric of the Cambridge historiography:
Urban Roots of Indian Nationalism: Pressure Groups and Conflict of Interests in Calcutta City Politics,
The example will be Morriss work (1965) on the myth of deindustrialization.
modernity in Indian cities during the colonial period was shaped by the ideologies of the
ruling elite. Another group of scholars explored the impact of 1857 in reshaping colonial
attitude to urban issues in North India (Oldenburg 1981). Second, scholars began to study
the histories of different ethnic groups (Bayly 1983, Timberg 1978), migrants and the
working class (Chandavarkar 1981, Joshi 1985, Chakrabarty 1981). Usually, these studies
were conducted to contribute to different domains of South Asian history other than urban
studies. A third group of historians drew insight from cultural anthropology and ethno-
history and studied the public culture of Indian cities, urban popular cultures and collective
mentalities (Kumar 1989). With Kidambis fairly comprehensive analysis of trends of urban
historical research in 1970s and 1980s, I add a fourth point. The revisionist historiography
on eighteenth century developments in India that unraveled a post-Mughal trends of urban
development and the breaking of old patronage networks in regional centres, immensely
contributed to our understanding of the urban in India (Alam, 1986).
Despite the historians growing interest on the urban question, and the formation of
the Urban History Association in India, the village continued to dominate the scholarly
agenda in the 1960s and 1970s (Kidambi 2007, 5). Thus, in 1981 historian Narayani Gupta
found that the peasant still continued to remain the dominant subject for research in India
(Gupta 1981, Kidambi 2007). The development of the Subaltern Studies scholarship under
the leadership of Ranajit Guha (1983), further overshadowed urban social history. Unlike
Gramsci who was extremely conscious about the urbanity of the subaltern force, the South
Asian subalternists developed an intellectual agenda to study largely the peasant politics
under colonialism and nationalism. Interestingly, Dipesh Chakrabartys book on jute workers
in Calcutta (1989), one of the few works in the Subaltern Studies cluster that focused directly
on urban settlements, showed that the rural migrant workers prior cultural consciousness
prevented the growth of a modern class consciousness in them. (Kidambi 2007). Thus,
even in Chakrabartys account the shadow of the peasant continued to loom large over the
modern city.
However, over the past decade or so, there has emerged a scholarly trend to treat the
city as society. Gyan Prakash calls this intellectual trend the urban turn in South Asian
historiography (Prakash 2002). As Sekhar Krishnan (2008) pointed out, the renewal of
interest on the cities of the postcolonial world in general was related to a number of recent

urban shocks in the South from communal violence and religious extremism to ecological
crises and infrastructure collapse5. The new urban histories emerging in the crucible of such
predicaments have shown how the cities of the South had been central to the circulation of
transnational ideas of urbanity and unique forms of modernity belonging to the global urban
history as distinct from the histories of colonialism and the nation state. Questioning the
theory/ethnography divide between the cities of the North and the South, this emerging
literature invites us to view these cities as key players in a global network which is constituted
by zones of graduated sovereignty (Ong 2006, Roy 2007).
The recent urban turn6 however, has uneven topographies. Mumbai, for instance,
has received relatively more attention responding to two phenomena in the mid-1990s that
considerably shaped, and continues to provoke, the research agenda for Mumbai scholars
(Anjaria 2008). The first was the growth of the radical Hindutva under the nativist and
xenophobic political organization Shiv Sena that resulted in the communal riots in Mumbai
in 1992-1993 (Anjaria 2008).7 A number of ethnographic works on this topic were brought
out by Bannerjee (1995), Heuz (1995), Hansen (2001) and Sen (2007). During the same
time, as Anjaria (2008) points out, a group of scholars have also studied the analogous
communal violence in the city (Appadurai 2000, Mehta and Chatterji 2002). The second
phenomenon, according to Anjaria (2008) was the economic reforms of 1991, which
signaled the formal end of the Nehruvian schema of state-led development and
protectionism, giving rise to the liberalization of the Indian market to competition, imports
and foreign investment. Several studies have documented how the new regime of
liberalization informed the citys culture and politics (Appadurai 2000 and 2001, Hansen
2001, Rajagopal 2001, Varma 2004, Fernandes 2006 and Bannerjee-Guha 2007). The two
perspectives of communalism and neo-liberal globalization provoked rich ethnographic
research on Mumbai especially on the transforming political climate and its deep links to the
realestate market and the underworld (Anjaria 2008).

Ashis Nandy argues that the urban turn accompanied a larger seismic cultural shift that parallels the
decline of the imagination of the village (cf. Sundaram 2010). He reminds us that the imagined journey
from the village to the city had been a fateful one, marked by contradictions and traumas of the selfhood
(Nandy 2001, 28).
The Shiv Sena and its associated form of violent communitarian politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s
was first studied by Katzenstein (1979) and Gupta (1982).
However, the scholars absolute focus on the twine forces of communalism and
neoliberalism obscured many other myriad, subterranean, and at times conflictual processes
that crucially inform the everyday life in Mumbai (Anjaria 2008). Rather, they end up in
narrating linear biographies of the city and the state as transitioning from cosmopolitanism
to provincialism (in the case of Varma 2004), or from developmentalism to neoliberalism
(Anjaria 2008). Within such a historicist schema of urban change the scholars appear to plot
a number of stories ranging from popular Hindi movies (Mazumdar 2007) to the change of
name from Bombay to Mumbai (Hansen 2001).
Calcutta, which till 1960s occupied the central location in Indian urban research, has
now receded to the periphery of scholarly attention. Apart from Ananya Roys path-breaking
City Requiem Calcutta (2003), and Partha Chatterjees handful of citations of the citys popular
mobilizations in a more ambitious project of understanding the popular politics in most of
the world in his The Politics of the Governed (2004), Calcutta has not been centrally figured in
any of the well circulated book on Indias urban social forms published in the last couple of
decades. There can be several plausible reasons for this silence. First, one might find it
interesting to reckon with the fact that the shift in academic attention from Calcutta to other
cities has taken place following the decisive decline of Calcutta in the industrial and business
map of the subcontinent. The reason why Mumbai figures number one among Indian cities
followed by Bangalore and Hyderabad in Islamic terrorists hit-list also partly explains why
scholars find the Mumbai story more saleable to the world community. Second, as I have
already mentioned, Mumbai in the last few decades staged several dramatic events, each one
of which has been seriously dealt with by scholars. Calcutta, on the contrary, has displayed
tremendous political stability in a three decade long left rule. Scholars who studied the
reasons of this stability under the left rule, generally concentrated in rural West Bengal. They
also helped in establishing a myth of stability by not looking at political developments in the
urban belts in general and Calcutta in particular where the Left Front was never comfortable
with the electorate. Thus, Calcutta, as a site of new political developments and social change
remained largely unattended by these scholars. Third, unlike some other Indian cities like
Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, Calcutta was rather slow to embrace market economy
due to a profoundly entrenched left political skepticism towards corporate investment and
market liberalization, long tradition of trade unionism, and its geographic location at the

centre of the countrys one of the most impoverished belts and the worlds highest urban
In the late 1990s, however, the tide turned (Chatterjee 2004) as the ruling
communist coalition in the state of West Bengal sought to refurbish the image of Calcutta as
a as a logistics hub and a safe investment destination under the Look East Policy of the
then Congress-run government at the Centre. The bhadralok city was to become the home of
an aspirational Bengali Diaspora seeking the right amalgamation of global consumer spaces
and the cultural memory of the bhadralok city. In fact, Calcuttas home-grown ethic of
neoliberal urbanism was intimately associated with the prospective capital investment in
West Bengal from the Asia-Pacific region. Ananya Roys work has amply depicted the
process of gentrification and the informal mode of managing dispossession in the rural-
urban interface of the city. My research on footpaths and hawkers located in the heart of the
city reviews some of these issues bringing the notion of public space back to the debate on
urban informality. As Doreen Massey (1994) has noted, phenomena such as globalization
can be understood as changing forms of the spatial organization of social relations (p. 168,
Also see Fernandes 2006, 122). Drawing on this approach, my research focuses on the ways
in which the creation of identity of different social groups unfolds through local forms of
spatial politics and contestations.
I claim that this is a story that cannot be narrated with the macro optic of the global
history of urban modernity or with the micro optic of what can be called impact analyses.
Both the optics reduce Calcutta to a mere scrap of data that informs the metropolitan
audience but its global encounters can hardly impact significantly in the shared space where
London, Paris, New York, Bombay and Calcutta jointly experience colonialism,
industrialization, modernization, migration, infrastructural revolutions, postcolonial
predicaments and environmental degradation.

Partially following Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeuchts (2009) perceptive analysis of the
sidewalk of Los Angeles, the dissertation explores the following themes in the study of the
footpath in Calcutta: distinctiveness, publicness, politics, and regulation. These themes
entwine to provide a composite narrative thread for the dissertation. Prior to connecting

these ideas in rest of the dissertation, it is helpful to explore each in isolation for them to be
clearly understood.
Distinction: Although scholars of social spaces have written extensively on streets
and parks (Mitchell 2003), the footpath (variously known as sidewalk, pavement, walkway,
etc) as a distinct space has received lesser attention. The relative lack of scholarship on
footpath could be attributed to the perception that footpath is just an undifferentiated part
of the street. The dissertation questions this long-held commonsense. It argues that to take
footpath for granted as the street is to miss the history of zoning and speed in the city. As
Chapter I will show, footpath differs from the rest of the street in its conceptual location in
modern town planning, in the spatial articulation of the police power, in the history of
citizens aspiration to become modern, as well as in its social translation as a threshold where
proprietary and jurisdictional rights were much more confused and open to disputethan
in the passageways on either side (Winter 1993, 100). The dissertation therefore highlights
the distinct characteristics of urban footpaths as small public spaces that wind throughout
the city.
Publicness: The dissertation further examines the ambiguous journey of the
footpath in the regime of sociality and property, distributed along the axes of the private and
the public domains. A diverse range of social interests have negotiated access on the
footpath attributing conflicted meanings to it. While continuing the tradition of works
concerning public space in the global South, the dissertation posits the conceptual separation
between the public and the private without losing sight of their porosities, mutual
constitutions and inextricably intertwined existence in everyday life (Loukaitou-Sideris and
Ehrenfeucht 2009).
Spaces are generally marked by physical, social and legal restrictions. Moreover, they
function in relation to other spaces. Footpaths, for instance in a residential neighbourhood,
or abutting a shopping mall, or bordering a transit point do not function in the same
manner. In addition, as Don Mitchell has argued, what makes a space public is often not its
preordained publicness. Rather, a space is made public when, so as to fulfill a pressing need,
one group takes space and through its actions makes it public (Mitchell 2003, 35, cf.
Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeucht 2009, 8). As Margaret Kohn (2004) tells us, urban spaces
could be conceptualized as a continuum of public and private usage mediated by the notions

of ownership, accessibility, and intersubjectivity (Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeucht 2009).
The public/private dichotomy is still relevant to our discussion because it points to the
conflicting desires of modernity. To get rid of this dichotomy is to ignore the process
through which this dichotomy was globalized through the expansion of capitalism. However,
it needs to be studied in the light of the existing works highlighting the genealogies of
privacy in public and vice versa. Due to the generalization of capitalism and bourgeois
property relations across the globe in the last three centuries, it is difficult to posit a history
of difference in the postcolony without paying attention to the everyday journeys of these
categories under colonial and postcolonial conditions. Thus, our story of the footpath in
Calcutta is an attempt to reorient the history of difference.
Politics: In liberal social and political thought it is axiomatic to assume that politics
requires the spaces of appearancethe public space. The second logical step is to say that
public space is not only the stage but also an active agent in shaping mobilization. Such a
belief in the existence of a public independent of experience rests on the liberal/modernist
division of the body into private (conspicuous by its structuring absence) and spaces of
appearance where politics occurs. One way to go beyond such a gendered understanding of
politics is to question the very givenness of the public and assign historicity to its formation
by observing how the very materiality of public spaces like the streets and the protest zones
emerge and configure themselves as interstitial to the circulation and assemblage of
protesting bodieswhose auto-reproducibility produces walls of invisibility for the police
state. The dissertation studies the footpaths of Calcutta to document the ways in which
demonstrations, spectacles, creative destruction, massive re-building and violence
reconfigure the materiality of the street. In short, the project complicates the relationship
between space and politics without assigning the determination of space over politics. The
project studies the materialities of the footpath contingent upon the historically specific
moments of the assemblies of protesting bodies in Calcutta in the postcolonial period. What
forms of politics does the street enable? How are conflicting desires of democracy and
modernity enacted in the footpath and its grid?
Regulation: The dissertation examines the regulatory and policy frameworks and
extralegal mechanisms that rule footpath uses in Calcutta. Since the regulatory framework is
integral to the creation of public space, a dissertation of this kind cannot escape it. When

does and what makes certain sedentary practices on the footpath like standing and vending
inappropriate? Why are peripatetic activities on the same space permissible? Does the
regulatory framework necessarily make distinction between the objects of threat (like a
dangerous tree on the passageway) and the subjects of threat (like a street hawker)? How
does the city manage the sedentary and the peripatetic on the public space? It is often seen
tat in the debate over the appropriate use of the public space, the engineers and the
upholders of the law differ fundamentally from the human rights and civil liberty activists. In
this debate, certain users are seen to be more prominent (see the comparison between the
hawkers and the pavement dwellers in Chapter IV). In fact, the process of justifying
appropriate access can lead to the exclusion of less mobilized groups in the policy and public
discourses. Regulations, then, are the outcome of context specific agreements between the
state, political organizations, and dominant groups, often premised upon extra-legal terrains,
involving financial extortions, chains of informal economic exchange, and so on.
In short, the dissertation traces how Calcutta dealt with the peripatetic and the
sedentary embodied in various incarnations of the pedestrian, the pavement dweller and
the street hawker in the postcolonial period. How did the state unfold and materialize
itself on the streets as India transitioned from imperial sovereignty to popular sovereignty?
Although grounded in a specific archival and ethnographic field of Calcutta, Negotiating
Informality adverts to many more cities as it proceeds to unravel the conflicted intersections
of the global and the local archives in the construction of Calcutta as a quintessentially
postcolonial city of predicament, stagnation and declineas a black hole of urbanization.
My analysis specifically builds on recent research that has interrogated the non-
porous and distinct boundaries between state and society (Migdal 2001, Mitchell 1991).
Timothy Mitchell, for instance, explores the co-constitutive existence of state and society.
Following him, I have tried to maintain that the boundary of the state (or political system)
never marks a real exterior. It is a line drawn internally, within the network of institutions and
mechanisms through which a certain social and political order is maintained (78). Further,
Joel Migdal (2001) has explored how the state can be imagined in two ways: a) as an image of
a unified, distinctive entity, and b) as the practices of a heap of loosely connected parts or
fragments, frequently with ill-defined boundaries between them and other groupings inside
and outside the official state borders (cf. Fernandes 2006, 123). Drawing on this

approach, Leela Fernandes (2006) shows how state practices are centrally implicated in the
politics of spatial restructuring, as the state swings back and forth in managing the spatialized
political conflicts between the middle class and popular groups. Such acts of balance often
develop via spatial conflicts among social classes and diverse range of discursive
constructions of the urban space (Fernandes 2006). Using this optic, the dissertation reads
the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009, which, it argues seeks to manage claims
to public space through the creation of legal hawking zones.

Informal Economy

The term informal economy has been la mode in the global policy circle since the
publication of Keith Harts (1973) powerful work on street-based petty economic activities
in Accra, Ghana. If the early studies on informal economy at the behest of the ILO
documented an enormously diverse range of economic activities outside the formal
contractual regime of the capital, in the past one and half decades there has been a shift of
focus from the economics of informality to the politics of the informal economy seeking to tease
out connections between subaltern agency, public space and the modes of resistance (Anjaria
2008). The result, according to Anjaria (2008), is the flurry of interdisciplinary works tracing
the ways in which, for instance, marginalized street hawkers resist a combination of
antagonistic forces represented by the state-corporate complex (Cross 1998, Stoller 1996 and
2002, Duneier 1999, Rajagopal 2001, Popke and Ballard 2004, Stillerman 2006 and Donovan
2008). This also means that informal economy literature has made a transition from a purely
economic analysis to anthropology and sociology of the marginal populations and their
tactics. But, knowledge production on informal economy has largely remained outside the
purview of historical analysis. Within this literature, there has emerged a disciplinary division
of labour: informal economy would be studied by anthropologists and sociologists and
formal economy, working class, trade union movements would be attended by historians. A
number of significant developments across disciplines in the last two decades has, however,
complicated this clear disciplinary division and prompted us to discuss the possibility of
developing a historical-anthropological framework to study informal economy.

First, as can be found in a number of publications in the 1980s and 1990s that
largely dealt with the patterns of writing of anthropologists in general and the estimation of
ethnographies as texts (Papalias and Papalias 2005), anthropologists have shown their
capability to make sense of the archives by relating the archive with the subject community
(Tarlo 2003, Das 2007). Second, the historical turn in anthropology in the work of Cohn and
the anthropological turn in history in the early Subaltern Studies cluster in 1980s proved to
be very productive in the context of South Asia. Third, over the last decade, historians of
labour have started paying attention to issues like informalization, casualization, non-wage
labor economy, etc. (Bhattacharya and Lucassen 2005). This recent interest on the
informal by historians shares a historical conjuncture with two important developments
taking place in a global scale: a) a convergence of studies on labour relations and labour
markets in colonies and post-colonies that questioned the basic presumptions of the working
class history (Chakrabarty 1989), organized labour and trade unions in the South, and b) the
reversal of the process of formalization (in four decades since the Great Depression) with
trade liberalization (Bhattacharya and Lucassen 2005). While a group of historians have
questioned the very boundary between wage worker and non-wage worker, self-employed,
home worker, a few others, most notably Prabhu Mohapatra (2005), attempted to historically
situate the informal economy in colonial India in its interface with law, state power and
Street hawking is a tempting subject for scholars because of an ensemble of
connections that it embodies (Anjaria 2008). First, in most of the cities, street hawking is
illegal or partially legal which means street hawking can provide a site for the ethnography of
space, state as well as law. Second, street hawking is the largest informal service sector in any
city of the global South having complex linkages with other sectors of formal and informal
economy, and rural production and urban consumption which mean scholars interested in
informal economy, rural-urban economic linkages and rural urban migration might find
street vending an alluring case for ethnographic inquiry. Third, in many cities, street
hawkers have direct connection with clientelistic politics, political parties and the porous
bureaucracy (Cross 1998), which means that scholars studying urban mass political
formation should have reasons to study how street hawkers work.

Source Material

The source material for the study has been collected from various archives of the city, such
as The Calcutta Municipal Archive and Library at Town Hall, Calcutta Police Archive in the
Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta, The West Bengal
State archives at Writers Buildings and at Theatre Road, the Newspaper Archive of the
National Library, Calcutta, and the archives of various hawker unions, most notably the well-
managed data-base of the Hawker Sangram (struggle) Committee.
The fieldwork I was involved in from July 2005 through May 2007, and
intermittently in May-June 2009, consisted of interviews and, with much greater frequency,
informal conversations with hawkers while they worked on the footpaths. Sitting with them
on the side of the road enabled me to observe their work, their interactions with customers,
passersby, shopkeepers, local officials and the police. Moreover, a substantial part of my
research involved following hawkers and hawkers union leaders to meetings with municipal
officials and the police, as well as attending protests and rallies.
My field and archival research at the Historic Centre of Mexico City with Professor
Carlos Jose Alba Vega during my stay at El Colegio de Mexico in 2008 as a Doctoral visiting
fellow, and at UC Berkeley as a Fulbright-Nehru researcher in 2009-10, have added flavour
to the research enabling me to situate my study to a vibrant trans-national dialogue on urban
spatial research practiced in Latin America and North America.

Describing the Chapters

Chapter I of the dissertation outlines the historiography and evolution of streets and
footpaths as social spaces. It uses illustrations from cities of other countries such as
London, Paris and New York to discuss various kinds of negotiations over street and
footpath obstructions beginning from late-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.
Drawing from these examples, the chapter then looks at the evolution of the footpath in
Calcutta to unravel the contested genealogies of the public in colonial and postcolonial
contexts. Chapter II then proceeds to make a case study of a particular commodity and the
social network around it, which involves, inevitably, an economy comprising many kinds of

trading activities. The central emphasis in this discussion is on the hawkers who are
producers but more significantly play a role in mediating between production and
consumption. The act of mediation is the act of selling a commodity, which takes place in the
interstitial space of production and consumption. Chapter II also places the footpath in
relation to the shopping malls that have become in popular and scholarly perception the
index of a new global consumer culture with an ensemble of leisure, exchange and
consumption. In this chapter, I invoke the history of Calcuttas retail culture, showing that
even in the 1880s, there were vibrant markets in international products, ranging from the
Egyptian cigarette to the Cuban cigar and from French Champagne to cheap German
household products. Chapter III explores the role of the state and popular activism
(Sangram) in the maintenance and institutionalization of economic informality. Based on the
analyses in Chapter II and Chapter III, the next chapter (Chapter IV) compares a successful
and a failed mobilization in Calcutta. In both cases, use of the footpath has been central. The
chapter shows how the success of the hawkers in claiming the footpath is tied to the
marginalization of the claims of the pavement dwellers that has a) homogenized the
representation of the footpath as only used by pedestrians and hawkers, and b) led to the
elision of the pavement dwellers as a governmental category. The chapter argues that by
arrogating to themselves an archival function which is conventionally associated with the
governmental state-sections of population like the hawkers can become successful in their
negotiations with the government.
Negotiating Informality reaffirms the importance of space, place, property, territory and
information in political mobilization. In this respect, the dissertations approach differs from
Partha Chatterjees now classic formulation of popular politics (2004) that is, in my view,
primarily a theory of population where population groups are seen to respond to the
operation of governmentality often sidestepping the neat distribution of property between
the private and the public domains in a bourgeois city. I argue that the understanding of
popular politics needs to engage with the questions of the subject populations asymmetric
access to the market, the world of commodities and the dominant knowledge apparatuses
that convert the people and the individual into data, tables, unique numbers and passwords,
and the worker into the consumer and vice versa.

Taking all the four chapters together, the dissertation seeks to show how urban
conflicts in India are a spatialized form of contestation over neoliberal development. Space,
in this case, as Fernandes has put it, does not merely serve as a physical container or
transparent mirror of social relationsit is both a substantive component of a liberalizing
economy and a realm in which the state attempts to manage consent and resistance to
liberalization (Fernandes 2006, 145).

Chapter One

Streetscape and Social Life: Contextualizing the Study

The street is not just a given spatial phenomenon. The street is also a construct. As an
invented space, streets are built and designed to accomplish a function. As Spiro Kostof
argues, the street is an invention because it represents an artificially marked off space
(1992, 190) designed to ensure flow of traffic and air and water, and to assign a stable
baseline for subsequent city architecture. Hence, streets carry, as Lefebvre argues, an active
role (1991, 11) in the making of the city. However, in practice, streets exceed their intended
functions and become a social space inhabited and used by people. The street as public space
is an eminent instance of what Lefebvre calls lived space: The users space, says Lefebvre, is
lived not represented (or conceived). When compared with the abstract space of the
experts (architects, urbanists, planners), the space of the everyday activities of users is a
concrete one, which is to say subjective (Lefebvre 1991, 362).
The street, for long, has remained an object of special attraction, and implicated in
the formation of modern urban political subject around the globe. A heterotopic site of
encounters among conflictual users, and mass political protest, terrain of control and
subversion, enjoyment and anxiety, the street is at the core of debates on infrastructure,
electoral politics, and development in the city (Fyfe 2006). This chapter tracks how the street
has come to be an object of inquiry, an operative of change and part of governmental
infrastructure. Investigating sites in the metropolitan West as well as in colonial and
postcolonial India, the chapter considers the wider politics and consequences of the
modalities that both produce and regulate the street.

If one undertakes a grand tour of the street historiography, her first stop is to be in
the post-Haussmann Paris. Haussmanns boulevard-avenues expressed a new paradigm of
street for the emergent industrial, capitalist city in the backdrop of the golden age of
barricaded street fights in revolutionary Paris.
Arguably, Baron Haussmann built his new roads to enable circulation of bodies and
things, and legal, political and spatial opening of the city to its hinterlands for greater
generation of wealth. The new boulevard was also to break the material contexts of urban
insurrections and provide avenues for counterinsurgency logistical movements in
insurrection-prone working class quarters. Thinkers ranging from Engels to Walter
Benjamin, we know, unlashed their harsh critique of Haussmanns constructive
destruction of the city paving the way for the straight, wide mesh of boulevards as a remedy
to the dangers of civil war (Benjamin 1995, 54, see also Fyfe 2006).
Next stop on the historiographic journey would be the Greenwich Village in New
York, from where Jane Jacobs (1961; see also Jacobs 1995, Fyfe 2006) challenged Le
Corbusiers model of expressway and tower blocks. While visiting New York in 1930s, Le
Corbusier could not suppress his delight to experience easy navigability because of the
regular street grid: the streets are at right angles to each other and the mind is liberated
(quoted in Fyfe 2006: 3). However, he observed an urban no mans land made up of
miserable low buildings in poor streets of dirty red brick and it was precisely from such
streets that the great refutation of his model of urbanism would be launched (quoted in
Fyfe 2006: 3). Jacobs documented at length the the daily life on Hudson Street in Greenwich
Village and made the point that streets were central in in keeping the rhythm of urban
communal life and, in particular, in maintaining safety of the neighbourhood. From her lived
evidence, Jacobs made a strong case for the multifunctional character of the street as a
social space as well as a terrain of traffic, trade and architectural order. It was polyvalence
that distinguished a street from a roadway argued Jacobs.
If we consider Haussmann and Le Corbusier at one extreme pole and place
Benjamin and Jacobs to the other end, we find a couple of distinct trends of argument
symptomatic of the modern and postmodern urbanisms. For modernists, the street is a
monofunctional spacefrom which to get from A to B. Such a view, prevalent among

mainstream urban planners wishes to displace the street from lifeworld to system (Lash
and Friedmann 1992, 10, cited in Fyfe 2006, 1). For critical planners, Marxists and
postmodernists, on the other hand, the street is a place to promote and accommodate the
complex lifeworld. In the North, the dominant trend of street historiography stemming from
Benjamin and Jacobs seeks basically to understand the transformation of the meaning of
street as the exclusive province of smoothly circulating traffic between mid nineteenth
century and the early twentieth century. To put it differently, the street historiography in the
global North seeks answer to the question as to how and why newer and more abstract
rationalities for regulation, like the right to free use of the street by city traffic emerged in
different cities.
In the US academic circuit, New York street life has received much scholarly
attention following Jacobs. As these scholars point out, until the end of the nineteenth
century, Manhattan Streets accommodated working class culture and social life. Adolescents
were seen to play dozens of footpath games. Pushcart vendors sold vegetables (Goodman
1979, 3-19). The streets could still be considered a necessary extension of the crowded
apartment life. The city boys and girls would find some avenues to supplement their meagre
family incomes by getting incorporated into the networks of street vending, scavenging,
begging and stealing (Ehrenfeucht 2006). City dwellers made their living and found
enjoyment out of street activities. The era in a number of Western cities was marked by
various reform movements and street activities. Often, street hawking was a vocation for
immigrants. In New Yorks Lower East side, for instance, it was the provenance for eastern
European Jews (Ehrenfeucht 2006). In Melbourne, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Chinese
immigrants enjoyed near monopoly in vegetable vending. Usually, middle class city
reformers as well as middle class Americanized immigrants saw in ethnicized street markets a
strange and often abominable continuation of the old-world business culture. Subsequently,
a number of reform movements strove to de-ethnicize and hence modernize vending
activities (Wasserman 1981) and commercial cultures (Bluestone 1992, Ehrenfeucht 2006).
Reform efforts, in addition, touched upon street recreation as well as work. Cary
Goodman (1979), for instance, argued that one of the motives behind the playground
movements in the US cities was to address the street play problem, which ultimately

benefited the upper and middle class settled communities at the cost of the immigrants. The
emergence of organized and planned enclaves of recreation in the forms of parks and
playgrounds enabled the city administrations to systematically eliminate footpath games such
as ball playing and kite flying that drove children off the street into a set of new disciplinary
places and institutions (Goodman 1979, 3-19, Ehrenfeucht 2006).
Christine Stansell (1986) documented how street work (vending and prostitution) for
working class women and children came to supplement their meagre wages. For middle class
reformers, working class womens socio-sexual habits were a direct challenge to the late
nineteenth century codes of female propriety. Arguably, street reforms were aimed at
quarantining women and children in domestic spaces in the name of proper social order. It is
important to note that the street itself gradually developed a rather negative overtone.
Stansell (1986) mentions that street activities and children and women on the street became
synonymous to poverty and moral degradation. Soon, city officials, social reformers, and
trade unionists (Stansell 1986, 218, Ehrenfeucht 2006) joined hands to address the
problem of controlling women and children on the street.
James Winter (1993) and Patrick Joyce (2003), and more recently Chris Otter (2008)
in the context of British cities, argued that a central tension among the civic reformers in the
nineteenth century (especially in the Victorian period) was to arrive at a balance between the
zeal to order, straighten, sanitize and control the street that would inevitably have projected
the face of authoritarianism, and the idea that freedom of the street captured what it
meant to be English under liberalism. In the context of the US cities, Mary Ryan tells us that
the streets defied attempts at segregation throughout the mid nineteenth century (1990,
60, Ehrenfeucht 2006). It can be surmised that more than other spaces, throughout the early
twentieth century, the street, as a site of sociality outside of work spaces, remained more
accessible and inclusive to social classes than other new spaces that hosted emergent forms
of leisure opportunities. Civic reformers and state functionaries were aware that a total
control was well-nigh impossible. It was a site where various spectacles and social norms
developed and transformed as street became a site of display (Ehrenfeucht 2006). Working
class women, for instance, learned bourgeois styles through window shopping and gazing at
middle class women. Such encounters also influenced bourgeois heterosocial norms by the

interwar period, when middle and upper middle class women came out prominently in
public life (Winter 1993, Ehrenfeucht 2006). The emergent street life since the nineteenth
century became marked by the proliferation of free vision. The fact that everybody could
freely see everybody significantly contributed to the emergence of a new public sphere on
the street.
By the 1880s, spatial segregation and zoning of various activities became increasingly
palpable. Streets increasingly began to look different from one another depending on
neighbourhoods and vocations they catered to. In main thoroughfares, new street signs
began to appear that further sharpened segregation of different modes of transportation
from one another. Elevated sidewalks were given permanent railings so that vehicular traffic
remained least interrupted by pedestrian traffic. Overall, new mechanisms of segregation
brought with it a whole pedagogic structure for good civic behavior and safety principles. In
major cities, such developments predated the imminent automobile revolution (Ehrenfeucht
The street hosted spectacle of consumer goods and an emerging mass transport
system. Together, they offered the new subject a sense of mobility and anonymityan
immense source of pleasure amidst a new sense of danger. The contradiction between
unknown risk and pleasure found in the street gave the city to create discourses of order that
sought to ensure what Joyce (2003) called the rule of freedom. Rapid urbanization coupled
with increasingly asymmetric distribution of civic resources between classes in industrial
cities created new zones of blight and prosperity. Population density, congestion, growing
contact with unknown bodies amidst inadequate civic infrastructure to handle epidemics
gave birth to a new generation professionals specializing in distinctly urban problems of
sanitation and public health. Such agents developed new scientific explanations and new
visions of the city as a holistic system. They found in street a method to converge the
concerns of circulation, health, property and civic order. The street carried a mesh of
interconnected infrastructures such as drains, water pipes, gas supply, electricity to
neighbourhoods. Unsurprisingly, to the reformers, ordering the street appeared to be a
solution to the problems associated with urban density and rapid growth. They inflected this

moral imperative: to improve the street was to improve the city at large, assuring a healthy
and productive social body.
James Winter (1993), while studying Londons streets from 1830 to 1914 examined
how urban professionals and reformers began to look systematically at urban problems and
formulate solutions, many of which converged in segregating, widening and straightening the
streets. These reforms, as we have already discussed, came from a variety of perspectives
with diverse purposes and action. They gauged the health of the city through the perceived
health of the street, energizing socialist critiques of industrial capitalism by thinkers such as
Engels, as well as providing impetus for the demolition drives of Haussman in Paris. Andrew
Brown-May (1998) tells us that in Melbourne, Australia, in the second half of the nineteenth
century, the city Corporation emerged as a central agency in matters related to streets. He
examined the regulation of street and footpath construction, as well as uses such as street
hawking and street stalls, procession and parades, and services such as lighting, trees, and

Women on the Street/Street women

In The Uncanny, Freud (2001) describes a moment when, he lost a sense of direction in
the streets of a small town in Italy. He moved in circles through twisting avenues only to
come back to the same location again and again:
Once, as I was walking through the deserted streets of a provincial town in Italy which
was strange to me, on a hot summer afternoon, I found myself in a quarter the
character of which could not long remain in doubt. Nothing but painted women were
to be seen at the windows of the small houses, and I hastened to leave the narrow street
at the next turning. But after having wandered about for a while without being directed,
I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence was now
beginning to excite attention. I hurried away once more, but only to arrive yet a third
time by devious paths in the same place.
Freud claimed that the uncanny, or unheimlich, induced in him horror of a spatial nature
because it involved an encounter with the familiar in a denaturalized way. However, as one
reads the passage quoted above, it appears as though it is the painted women of the street

who had unsettled him, more prominently than the experience of being lost. At the sight of
the painted women who lined the windows, he hastened to leave the narrow street as the
next turning. On his second pass through the same street, he was anxious about exciting
attention which made him hurry off. The painted women in his account are in the
threshold of familiar and unfamiliar. Of course, they are women, yet they represent public
sexuality through spectacle.
This window display of female bodies alone could not perhaps unsettle Freud, for,
street prostitution was quite ubiquitous in early twentieth century European cities. What was
so disconcerting to Freud, then, was the gaze of those women the women reversed the
gaze and identified him as the object of scrutiny, the watcher had become the watched in the
omnioptical field of the street. This reversal of gaze, or, the democratization of vision that
unsettled a perceptive male observer such as Freud, was also implicated in the birth of the
New Woman in the public spheres of the urban Western societies. In keeping with time,
they unleashed a series of reforms to many aspects of their lives, including dress, politics,
and social customs. Much like the women in Freuds red light district, these women made
themselves into something that is simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. The street
appeared to them to be a space full of contradictory impulses. It offered them freedom from
domesticity, yet it was perceived to be dangerous and intimidating amidst what Richard
Sennett described the lonely crowd of privatized freedom.
The increasing presence of women on the streets ignited much discussion and
debates in cities like London throughout the nineteenth century. The discussion began to
hover around the construction of a set of desired womanly behavior in a male dominated
public space. Gradually, hetero-social norms of the street evolved. Such norms constructed
the identity of the civil genteel women as opposed to the bazaar women of the colony. In
an early nineteenth century sketch titled A Bazaar (1816), George Cruickshank mentioned
that the attraction of bazaar could be attributed to the presence of sexually loose women
over and above the display of commodities. (Dyer 1991, 220).

Public Space in India

The academic literature on street described above has many limitations. Most prominantly, it
is tied to an extremely narrow range of historical, geographical and cultural settings and
therefore inevitably fails to engage with the heterogeneity of streets located in different times
and spaces.
Since the nineteenth century, the streets of the cities like Calcutta and Bombay have
been depicted by Europeans as a sign of the citys Otherness due to the varied inappropriate
uses of the street and market places. A number of sketches on Asian bazaar life aggressively
reverse-colonizing the West became popular. Consider, for instance, Thomas Teggs print
entitled Genius of Bazaar Arrived at London (1816) depicting the arrival of a Turkish
turbaned monster in London with the vicious motive of converting all of London into a
huge Asian bazaar. The half goat-half human giant carries with him a rolled newspaper and a
scroll. The scroll enlists the areas of London that he wishes to convert into bazaars. These
include fetish landmarks like St. James Park, the House of Commons, St. Pauls cathedral,
and Russell Gardens. And the Inscription reads, The Monster who is a native of Turkey has
lately made his appearance in London and such is his power that by first appearing in Soho
he got Acquainted with Mr. Trotter since which he has Spread Destruction through all the
best houses in Town to the Great annoyance of all poor shop-keepers (Thomas Tegg 1816,
Genius of Bazaar arrived at London, cited in Dyer 1991, 220). Gary Dyer reads this
inscription as Teggs satire on the paranoia of London shopkeepers in the aftermath of
Joseph Trotters Soho Bazaar to raise money for Napoleonic-war widows and orphans, with
respectable women as salespeople. The sketch was emblematic of the essentialized
European construction of bazaars.
Academic writing on Indian street culture has been limited and unevenly
concentrated on a few cities and a few aspects of urban life (Mazumdar 2007) though often
incisive in complicating the categories like the private and the public, and their overlapping
imbrications in everyday life. While the street historiography in the North depicts how the
public/private binary was inscribed on the streets through a series of reforms in nineteenth
and early twentieth century that disregarded the value of lingering in the spaces that

connected home and the work-place, the Indian street historiography is concerned with the
failed hegemony of such inscription in colonial and postcolonial settings. In this chapter I
will project comparative evidence from a range of cities from the Western world as well as
from cities from the colonial and postcolonial world to complicate our understanding of the
latter in the registers of difference. How is it possible to trace the historicity of difference
without losing sight of larger unifying field of forces? How can we talk of the specificities of
Indias street cultures without essentializing the Indian experience? In the concluding section
of this dissertation, I will reinvoke these issues and map the terms of exchange between
Marxism and postmodern cultural studies to find a plausible political resolution to what
appears to me to be an intellectual impasse. Hence, the review of Indias street
historiography in this chapter serves a larger purpose.
Arjun Appadurai depicts the Indian street as space where India eats, works, sleeps,
moves, celebrates, and worships (1987, 14, also see Mazumdar 2007). Appadurais visual
anthropology of streets traces complex histories of the street in the socio-cultural life of
India, and its state of affairs in 1980s. Appadurai says that the range of events and activities
that streets in Indian cities still host clearly speaks of the fact that the sharp demarcation of
public from private spheres is a recent addition to the Indian consciousness (Appadurai
1987, 12). In India, for instance, footpath shrines and trees are often the sites of intensely
personal acts of worship and meditation. Barbers, ear-cleaners and fortune tellers conduct
intimate transactions with their clients on the roadside. Ppeople wash cloths, take bath and
cook meals in the full view of the passersby (Appadurai 1987). Dipesh Chakrabarty mentions
that the street life in India often challenges the public-private divide, where people washed,
changed, slept out in the open (Chakrabarty 2002, 66, see also Mazumder 2007). Nita
Kumar (1988), in her detailed ethnography on Banaras, depicts the act of ghoomna-phirna (that
can roughly be translated as to wander about, for a detailed discussion, see Anjaria 2008) that
Chakrabarty takes as a uniquely modern urban experience in India (Anjaria 2008). To
Chakrabarty, ghoomna-phirna involves the feeling of a certain pleasure associated with the
refusal to become citizens of an ideal, bourgeois order (2002, 77). The pleasure of ghoomna-
phirna is said to be derived from its negation of domesticity, and its ability to cross
boundaries in the outside world amidst threats for physical violence and symbolic pollution.

In this context, an interesting comparison can be made with Benjamins much used and
abused flaneur. Benjamin finds in the figure of flneurs the pulse of the the sensibilities of
the quintessentially modern city. He writes: Hence, the flneur fully embraced the uneasy,
fleeting lifeworld of the modern city, enthralled by the pleasures and potentialities of a world
removed from the presence, stricture and restraint of tradition, but also from the functional
efficacy of modern rationality (Clarke 1997, 5, also Anjaria 2008, 22). For the flneur, the
street represents a space of detached observation (Mazumdar 2007, xx), where the city
stroller can go on drawing the strangers around him into his private theatre without fear that
those drawn inside will claim the rights of insiders (Bauman 1993, quoted in Clarke 1997,
5 and Anjaria 2008, 22). On the contrary, ghoomna-phirna in the Indian context, it is argued, is
far from being an alienated and anonymous observation (Anjaria 2008). Instead, we are told,
the street in India is a space of interconnected lifeworld and polyvalent practices, a complex
coexistence of selling, eating, sleeping, working, defecating and playing.
Scholarship on Indian street life is particularly invested in unpacking the meaning of
public space in colonial and postcolonial contexts. It is generally believed that despite its
colonial-post Enlightenment import, the evolution of public space followed a different
trajectory in Indian cities. Facilitated and protected by an ensemble of legal, civic and police
institutions, public space was superimposed on preexisting commonly shared spaces as a
new object of discourse (Glover 2007, 3). Glover (2007, 3) points out, colonial government
created both a concept and a corporeal substance public space that had no prior
history in the Indian city. Unlike the Western experience, the superimposition of the public
over the common in Indian cities was far from being organic. As a result, its trajectories
and afterlife in defining Indian streets remained contradictory, ambiguous, and more
importantly, very different from its history in the Western world. In prime colonial cities like
Calcutta and Bombay, the idea of public space consolidated along with the emergence of the
Municipal Corporation as the guardian of the public arena (Anderson 1992, 9), in the
second half of the nineteenth centuryan entity mandated more resolutely to bring about
an overall improvement of the town.
In Europe, the term public had a number of distinct and overlapping meanings
that evolved over time. Jeff Weintraub (1997) found at least four specific senses of public in

European context: as public goods as opposed to those created and distributed by the
private/market forces; as a space (public space) where individuals anonymous to each other
socialize; as a political community outside the state sector and the market sector; as a
principle of distinction between the private domain (of family/household) and the political
order. A much-restricted Marxist position on public in public space tells us that much
like civil society, public is an exclusive category populated by the male, bourgeois, property
owning public. In short, public in its European context evolved as a cluttered category, an
invocation of which does refer to a climate of opinion.
In India, the uniqueness of the notion of public space rests significantly to the legal
distinction between the public and the private. In cities, the public referred to the non-
private and municipally owned lands (Glover 2007). The pre-existing common spaces in
Indian cities did not rest on the bourgeois definition of the private (Kaviraj 1997, 92). The
colonial law in India sought to construct public spaces in Indian cities by means of a series
of exclusion. Examples abound. Prashant Kidambi shows how the Bombay Municipal act of
1888 introduced by-laws that illegalized encroachments upon public streets (Kidambi
2007, 150). Further, 1902 Bombay Police Act made the provision for the police to target
those sections of the urban poor who made a precarious living on the streets of the city:
beggars, barbers, carriage drivers, cart-men, cobblers, hawkers, prostitutes, vagrants and the
like (Kidambi 2007, 149). A new kind of crime public nuisancebegan to divert a
huge amount of the attention of the Police in prime cities like Calcutta and Bombay leading
to a massive intervention in the social use of the physical environment (Anderson 1992, 2,
also see Anjaria 2008, 25). Written in the backdrop of the IPC, Kaliprasanna Sinhas classic
sketch Hutom Penchar Naksha (1863) is replete with the presence of the repressive Police on
the streets. Durgacharan Roys (1880) sketch Devgoner Martye Aaganan (The Gods Visit
Earth) narrates a number of instances in which prevailing socio-cultural practices on the
streets of Calcutta were shown to be curbed by the Police. Prohibition of obstruction made
social and economic activities on the streets objects of prosecution (Anderson 1992). In fact,
during the last three decades of the 19th century, a new offence entitled street offence
became a new penal category. War against encroachment of streets began to be a striking
feature of colonial law enforcement and policing.

Similar developments were also replicated elsewhere in the colonial world (Anderson
1992). Overall, public nuisance, which, between 1870 and 1920 absorbed the single
largest fraction of police energies in most parts of India (Anderson 1992, 9, see also Anjaria
2008, 25), led to a massive intervention in the social use of the physical environment
(Anderson 1992, 2, Anjaria 2008, 25). In addition to this, street demonstrations of religious
festivals such as Muharram, Nam Sankirtan, Charak, etc., were designated as criminal acts,
and codified as miscellaneous offences under the Indian Penal Code. The Calcutta elite
began to keep themselves away from these popular cultural expressions (Banerjee 2009).
Following the establishment of the Society for the Suppression of Public Obscenity by the
educated natives at a meeting in the Calcutta Town Hall on 20 September 1873, which
resolved to aid the government in putting in force the sections of the Penal Code and the
Printing Act which were meant to preserve public purity (Friend of India, 25 September
1873, quoted in Banerjee 2003). The Calcutta police finally prohibited the sawng (pantomime)
performances on the streets during the Charak festivities in 1874. The sawng performances
were treated as indecent behaviour on public streets in the list of offences in the Indian
Penal Code (Friend of India, 25 September 1873, cited in Banerjee 2003.).
As evident, often violent and exclusionary exercise of the idea and the standards of
public space in the cities led to a series of dislocations in the lifeworld of streets. However, it
should be noted that such dislocations could never exhaust the social life of streets in Indian
cities. Nor could they completely annihilate traces of the earlier socio-spatial arrangements.
In fact, it is possible to argue that some aspects of the preexisting social life were reinvented
and repackaged in their encounter with colonialism (Anjaria 2008). Perhaps, in this way,
contemporary debates on urban space in India may be understood as a peculiar
configuration of the modern (Kaviraj 1997, 92). Examples of this peculiarity abound in the
visual world of movies that began to feature paradoxes and contradictions of urban life in
Bombay and Calcutta. The street in many such films appears to host stark features of
surviving rurality in urban spaces, anachronisms, poverty and squalor amidst starkly
westernized lifestyle of the rich and middle classes. The quasi-socialist overtone in many
such films featured in 1950s ends up with chronicles of the unfeeling city: pran hin ei saharer
itikatha, drawing stark contrast between the street life and the city of palaces.

In one of the classic scenes of Raj Kapoors 1954 masterpiece Shri 420, the baffled
protagonist Raju is informed by an elderly beggar: Yeh hai bambai, yahaan building banti hain
cement ki, aur insaanon ke dil patthar ke (This is Bombay, where the buildings are made of
concrete and mens hearts made of stone, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 8). What appears to be
striking in Shri 420 is that the street in films like Shri 420 is far from being a site of
anonymous and detached encounter (Anjaria 2008, Mazumdar 2007). From Rajus
conversation with the beggar, to his subsequent adoption by a motherly banana vendor, it
appears that the Indian street can hardly afford the strangeness of anonymityarguably, the
characteristic feature of the flaneur.
Street hawkers and pavement dwellers provide particular insight into the lived
experience of the peculiar configuration of modernity (Kaviraj 1997). Ethnographic
research on them in India (see Roy 2003, Anjaria 2008) suggests that in forwarding their
claim to the public space of the city, they often draw resources from the very concepts like
the public and the public space, often adding new meaning to the concepts translating and
customizing them according to their need. Thus, while commenting on the transformation
of the area where he vends, Anjarias (2008, 26) informant, Farooq, told him, This is a total
public area and theyre going to make Shanghai here, then what will happen? [Yeh area ekdum
public area hai aur Shanghai banayenge toh?] Another hawker, explains the relevance of his stall to
the surrounding area by saying, Everyone comes here; they cant afford to shop in a store.
This is a real public space [eta to ekdom public space].1 While working with hawkers during
some of the turbulent months of their existence in Calcuttas iconic Esplanade in 2008, I
used to hear a slogan: Jo zamin sarkari hai, wo zamin hamari hai (the government/public land is
our land). Here, the conflation between what is sarkari and what is public gives the latter an
inter-lingual charge that Kaviraj (1997) captures in the word pablik which stands for a
different imaginary of space than what could be arrived at by a global English term spoken
in a different context. Arguably, Farooqs usage public space which is normatively open to
hawkers and their slum-dwelling customers along with other users. Thus, when the other
vendor says that the footpath is a real public space [yeh to ekdum public space hai], he reclaims
publicness from its elite capture.

Anjaria used pseudonyms in order to preserve the anonymity of his informants.
The street in India, thus, can be understood as a spatial complex in association
with the bazaar and the fair creating an unenclosed realm which accommodates a meeting
point of several communities (Chakrabarty 2002). Streets in other words, can be seen as
situated within a cellular structure of sort suggesting a labyrinth, with multiple openings
and passages interrogating the hegemonic modes of the ordering of space.
In the aforementioned literature, scholars used the street as just one of many urban
public spaces to understand the histories of category formation, the nature of the Southern
modernity and its vernacular nature. In such an exercise, the street is the field and not the
subject of research. The present dissertation, on the other hand, seeks to unravel the ways in
which the street plays a meaningful role in shaping how people move, interact, do business,
comprise or negotiate with authority and make claims to urban space. In an era of massive
urban renewal and emerging forms of street discipline and surveillance (including CCTV
surveillance and the mushrooming of ATM counters in every other street corner), and
growing corporate stake in redeveloping streets, how does certain thinking through street
and footpath, not just as the backdrop of processes, but as an active agent affect the
understanding of the city?

The Street World

Across India, the street has been centre-stage in discussions of disputed urban issues such as
transport, eviction drives, new economic settings and emerging forms of public life.
Moreover, streets in Indian cities have historically hosted a range of socio-political and
cultural uses that are integral to urban democracy. As Appadurais (1987) visual
anthropological account of the street life (just before the liberalization of Indian economy)
reveals, the imposing billboards advertising commodities constitute a central part of our
urban experience in India.
Hawkers constitute a central location in the circulation of commodities. They sell
literally everything from food and ballpoint pens and pirated CDs, DVDs, to aphrodisiacs
and calendars. Generally, hawkers set up their stalls either in front of buildings, and use the
walls facing the sidewalk, and opposite buildings and other shops at the kerbside edge of the

sidewalk, forming a corridor in the middle for pedestrian traffic. The ideal site for a food
stall, according to food hawkers, is the mid-point between the municipal water tap and the
drain at the kerbside of the sidewalk. The chances of transaction improve with proximity to
busy transit points and the hawkers access to certain utilities (such as a municipal water tap)
by the sidewalk. Lucrative stall spaces are also traded and rented out.
In the garment sector, shopkeepers often comply with hawkers to extend their shop
interiors to the footpath hawkers sell the shopkeepers merchandise at a lower price to
access a different consumer base and, in return, use the electricity connections at the shops
and store their wares there when the market is closed. But, the established food sellers,
vegetable vendors and fruit sellers usually view hawkers near marketplaces, where they
normally cluster, as potential encroachers upon their consumer base; the authorities too feel
that they usurp ratepayers privileges. This antagonism often leads to small-scale eviction of
hawkers. In Calcuttas New Market area one finds instances of this antagonism between the
shop owners and hawkers. Retail shops (often with glass windows facing the footpath) and
their store fronts, especially in highly commercialized streets like M. G. Road, Rashbehari
Avenue and College Street in Calcutta, give a colourful texture of street culture, with their
objects spilling onto the footpath, pushing their way into the space of the footpath hawker
and the pedestrian (Appadurai 1987).
The cops often go after the hawkers. But rarely very hard. Often, they work in
complicity within a chain of petty corruption. Periodically, if ordered by higher authority, the
police would make a sweep of the neighbourhood, arriving suddenly on the scene with one
or more vans (hallagari), into which they proceed to pack the stuff. In commercial areas, the
access of a large confiscation van means severe disruption of usual traffic. Hawkers can
generally smell such things. They hurry up to call it a day and pack things and deposit large
boxes to the nearby shops where they usually keep things at the close of a normal business
day. To allow the hawkers a bit time to get out of their stalls, and to delay the action
hawker leaders appear and after a few exchanges of words, things are settled. They often
collectively employ informers who roam around in strategic locations to anticipate an
imminent police action. Some groups have taken to using cell phones. They are prepared for
the getaway. They know exactly which street to take, where, at which point there is one-way

traffic, etc. At times (especially in Calcutta), their stalls are made of bamboo structure with
an overhead tarpaulin sheet, their displays are generally collapsible. If the police do descend
on them in force there will be shouts and whistles, and hawkers racing in various directions.
Teamwork as well as good relationship with shop owners who could potentially shelter them
are crucial in such situations. So is having a helper. They function not just to preempt a
police action, but as additional salesmen and relief persons.
At times, established hawkers are not too unhappy about a low intensity eviction
drive. The police action, they claim, thin out competition from the more unsettled and new
hawkers in the area. While hawkers are generally seen to cooperative with one another at
times, the veterans feel a bit unsettled with a lot of new entrants. A police action in the area
impacts on the new entrants with more severity that the experienced lot. A number of
newcomers exit the market not being able to withstand the shock of confiscation and
The Indian streets, Appadurai (1987), tells us shoppers decision is influenced by
minute differences of display, personal style or supply. Shopping is usually a noisy social
activity where the cold forces of supply and demand are still mediated by the human agency
of bargaining, seducing, cheating, cajoling and trusting (Appadurai 1987). The commercial
dimension of street culture, says Appadurai, is thus complex and multi-layered. What is also
important is that streets bring together all such images and products into a single sensory
and aesthetic register for the casual stroller to get exposed to the enchantment of
This is not to suggest that streets in Indian cities are delegated market places where
only buyers and sellers congregate. Streets are also places where people spend their idle time.
As I have mentioned earlier in this chapter, ghoomna-phirna and hanging around are
ubiquitous features of the street culture, and here certain locations, such as the paan and
cigarette shops and tea stalls, have their regular visitors. Here I should quickly mention that
the act of ghoomna-phirna or just passing the time in front of a cigarette shop is mostly a
privileged activity for men. A woman in a cigarette shop asking for a cigarette is still a rare
phenomenon in most of Calcutta. Appadurai mentions that while one stream of human
traffic has a purpose of being in streets, there are people who observe them while not

indulging in strictly speaking economic/commercial activities. In a lazy day, shop owners
spend time mostly outside the shop in the doorway. If a passerby stops, they would move
inside. They are the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood. They are street people too. Streets
and footpaths host peripatetic entertainers, some of whom play trained animals, particularly
bears and monkeys and snakes, yet others perform gymnastics and juggling. Each city
develops places where such players congregate. In Calcutta, the Maidan area is known for a
plethora of such momentary enjoyment. These street entertainers attract a crowd of
spectators, who disappear when once the show is over.
Streets change their moods during festive seasons. During Ganesh Chaturthi in
Mumbai, Durga Puja in Calcutta, and Makarsankranti in Ahmedabad, streets host processions
and pageantry, performances in temporary pandals (some of them display opulence) of
various kinds. During these festivals, streets are often taken over by the claims of various
communities, communal forces and interest groups often leading to violentcommunal
Streets provide bread to the working masses. A visit to a neighborhood with
commercial and official establishments offers a visitor can have a plethora of choice. She can
access items like fried rice, chowmein, rajma-chawal, Matar Polao, aloo paratha, puri-sabzi luchi-
aloo dum, Moghlai parathas and thali from a range of Indian states at an affordable price. In
fact, in early 1990s, a survey on the street food sector in Calcutta by All India Institute of
Hygiene and Public Health revealed that a total 911 consumers were interviewed from
various important commercial areas and transit points, of whom a staggering 80 percent
were male and rest female earning between Rs. 250 and Rs. 10000 (at that point, USD 1=
Rs. 30). The survey further revealed that in some of the prominent business districts of
Central Calcutta about 75 percent office goers obtained at least part of their mid-day meal
from food vendors. On an average, regular street food consumers spent Rs. 250 per months
to procure their food from street stalls. According to the prevailing popular perception,
ready to eat grilled snacks were the most hygienic food. Further, the survey analyzed the
nutritional value of some of the most consumed food items and found that the street food
may be the least expensive means of obtaining a nutritionally balanced meal outside the
home, provided the consumer is informed and able to choose the proper combination of

food. During the period of this survey, Rs. 1 could buy approximately 200 kilocalories, of
which 25 kcal were protein, 144 kcal was carbohydrate and 31 kcal was lipid components.
In office areas of Calcutta, from the Dalhousie to Park Street and Metro Rail
Bhawan at Jawaharlal Nehru Road and in parts of Salt Lake where the new state secretariat
and the IT hub are located, the hawkers make available a variety of cooked food priced
between Rs 10 and Rs 50 (I estimated this in 2008). They are also found in the vicinity of
educational institutes, hospitals and shopping malls. According to the estimates of several of
the hawker unions, in Calcutta food hawkers outnumber other groups with an estimated
figure of 30000 hawkers. Their routine is tied to the office hours. They start around 8 am
when the office goers start passing through them and close shops around 6 pm when their
clients leave the office areas. Their trade is at its peak at lunch time, between 12 noon and 2
pm. Food hawkers near shopping malls share a temporal convergence with the
establishment of shopping malls in an area. They are the new entrants in business. They have
a different schedule. They serve both the workers of the malls and the visitors.
Sambhu Chandra Mukherjee, a veteran daily commuter from Ambika Kalna to the
Writers Buildings recollected that the lunch-providing hawkers first started arranging chairs
and benches in early 1980s. In most of the cases they used rejected furniture from the nearby
offices. In 1984, the Police led an eviction drive to clear the Dalhousie footpaths adjacent to
the Writers Building from the hawkers. The lower level public sector employees affiliated to
the CPI (M) influenced Coordination Committee mediated between the government and the
hawkers and the Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu allowed the hawkers to squat within the citys
highest security zone.
Cities have their special dishes of street food. Delhi is known for its (Punjabi) dhabas
offering items like chola batura, and kebab shops (especially in Old Delhi). Mumbai offers
bhelpuri and vada pao. Calcutta serves rice with lentil and fish, and luchi-tarkari. Strolling
through any of Calcuttas busy thoroughfares one will find vendors conjuring up cart magic
through delicious phuchka, papri chat, jhaal muri, bhel puri, ghoogni, and umpteen other eatables.
A much-coveted item in Calcutta is chaat. The word chaat comes from the Hindi (verb)
chaatna (to lick) after eating a delightful dish. These foods threaten the sanitary

sensibilities of the upper middle-class (Mukhopadhyay 2004), but they central to the aroma
and graphics of street culture (Appadurai 1987).
Some features of street food are spreading throughout urban India at a very rapid
pace (Appadurai 1987). Consider for instance fruit juice. The technology of electric blenders
and the large-scale provisioning of fruits has created this national consumption trend. The
street food vendor is often the harbinger of inter-regional culinary experimentations: in
many streets of Calcutta, some South Indian dishes like masala dhosa, uttapam, idli and vada
compete with traditional Bengali foods. Earlier, such items were available only to
neighbourhoods where there was a concentration of South Indian population like that of the
Lake Market area of Rashbehari Avenue. Similarly, Chinese noodles garnished with turmeric
powder and adorned by seasonal regional vegetables have been very popular among street
eaters at least since the mid 1980s. From early 2000s, some of the North East and Tibetan
fast food items began to acquire much importance in the streets of Calcutta. This way, street
food vendors have added to the cosmopolitan nature of streets. In such food items, regional
taste found their signature as well. The Calcutta Chinese food remains self-identifiable. Their
taste differs substantially from even the taste of food available in Calcuttas China town.
Calcutta is also known for special food zones. One good example of this can be found in
alleys of the Tiretta bazaar. This market operates everyday morning between 6-30 am and 8-
30 am. The vendors here are of Chinese descent living in Calcutta for generations. This
street food court is well known for dimsums, chicken and pork balls in soup. Some vendors
sell normal momos and sausages. Chinese raw vegetables including pokchoy and Chinese
spinach are also sold here.
Streets are also residential settings. A substantial section of Indias laboring urban
poor lives on the streets and footpaths. In Calcutta and Bombay, street dwellers are called
pavement dwellers. They include predominantly single male migrants working as transport
workers, rickshaw poolers, kulis, hawkers and shop keepers who live with the business,
peripatetic traders, performers, holy men, motor parts mechanics, bus boys, cleaners and low
paid employees in a host of street establishments, beggars and so on. This population, for
whom the street is neither a thoroughfare, nor even a spectacle, but shelter, is a complex part
of street ecology (Appadurai 1987). They are ubiquitous at the very late hours of the night

and the very early hours of the morning. Their presence when the city sleeps makes the
street a human space.
Calcutta streets are known for its class of successful beggars. The most skillful blind
beggars can be found active in Esplanade area of central Calcutta. They tend to stick to a
particular site towards the centre of the footpath almost creating obstruction to pedestrians
passage. They hold the traditional tin cup. They generally churn out the cup to create a
metallic sound from within to attract the pedestrians attention. Simultaneously, the more
experienced ones move their bodies back and forth in keeping pace with the metallic sound
of the cup. But, they remain standing in this way in the same location for the entire day.
Maintaining such a posture for hours requires immense control over body. I gradually
discovered that such a posture fetches more donations.
In typical north Calcutta neighbourhoods, golis (lane) and footpaths serve as the
extension of the more affluent house fronts, cleaned every morning by the house dwellers,
where, in the evenings, men and women indulge in neighbourhood addas. In summer nights,
many of the male house dwellers sleep on the footpaths adjacent to their houses. The author
of Sachitra Guljar Nagar (a Bengali farce), long ago, describes one such alley in Pathuriaghata
in the north-western part of the Black Town in this way:
This lane is really a hellhole... Swindlers, forgers, half-literate dissemblers, charlatans
from all over the country have come here to set up their dens. It is swarming with
streetwalkers. You feel like throwing up at the stench coming out from the open drains
and the shit scattered around. There are also a few horse stables in the midst of all this.
The lane is lit up by a broken hurricane lamp which is hanging down from the top of
the door of a filthy little house... (Dutta 1982, quoted in Banerjee 2003)
Street does not accommodate just visual cultures, where bodies, things and
performances are on display. Streets also offer auditory diversity, in which the FM radio and
loud speaker compete with the sounds emanating from car engines, horns, chants of bus
conductors and hawkers (Appadurai 1987). Film music and political speeches, songs of street
performers and the competitive shouts of hawkers form this heterogenous auditory world in
Indian streets. Cars and auto-rickshaws also enable the circulation of music. This way, the
car exceeds its solitary existence and becomes an aural agent. Rather than being indulged in
solitary consumption, many of the auto-rickshaws owners have specifically designed their
vehicles to promote public consumption of the music. Powerful speakers ensure that the
music from a car sound system can be heard at considerable distances. With the steady
arrival of cars and private taxis with AC facilities from the mid-2000s, it appears that the
social role of cars is undergoing a significant transformation. No more does the traveler
needs the passage of air and sound through open windows. The insulated cars offer a spatial
experience withdrawn from the street life. In what follows, the visual experience of the
traveler inside the car is increasingly getting disconnected from other senses as the inside of
the cars offer a kind of sound and smell insulation from the outside world. No more do we
feel perturbed to the extent we used to, in our sight of a beggar seeking to draw our
attention by knocking at the air-tight glass window. Such vehicles insulate the traveler from
the discontinuous ebb and flow of street congestion.
The street is also a significant site of the states direct surveillance. In recent times,
GIS, CCTV and other technologies of mapping and surveillance have started significantly
reshaping how the space of the street is inhabited, regulated and contested. Control over
street is a dynamic process embodying relations of power and resistance. Modes of social
organizations and social practices invested in streets inform us of the forms and techniques
of power that undergird state and social modes of government and control. The boundary
between the state and the community often gets blurred in a chain of mutual dependence
and petty corruption. In the unending cat and mouse game between the state authorities and
the street hawkers, the latter get information of the forthcoming raid by senior police and
municipal officials well in advance from the patrolling traffic police-man who often visits the
nearby hawker for his lunch, for tea, paan and cigarette.
Traffic jams in important intersections create various kinds of interactions between
bus drivers, passengers, beggars and service providers. Jammed space becomes a site of
quick economic transaction and interactions. The hawkers begin to roam around from one
bus to another navigating spaces between standing human bodies in passageways, displaying
and advertising their incredible products like thanda doi (cold yoghurt), cold beverages,
appetizers, and kaviraji (herbal) medicines. Shoe-shiners and beggars also exploit this jammed
moment to earn a few bucks. In Mexico City, I saw another group of service men, who clean
private cars and taxis and demand pesos. A bus driver chatting with his counterpart in

another bus, or a bus conductor descending from the bus-stairs (his permanent location
when the bus is crowded) talking to the white-clothed cop sharing a biri (indigenous
cigarette), are very common in Calcutta. Privileged passengers of the bus, occupying the
window-seat will purchase a few articles from the footpath hawker, may be a lottery ticket to
test their fortune. Suddenly, one will hear the shrill whistle of a pilot car, a ministers convoy
must be approaching, and his car is marked by a red light glowing like goddess Durgas third
eye, drawing a clear margin between a democratically elected ruler and the ruled.
Walking in a packed street is an exceptionally skillful act, for one needs to know the
solution to the problem of too many bodies on so little surface. The skill involves the
pedestrians ability to avoid a potential collision with another pedestrian heading towards
him/her from the opposite side of the footpath. He is a self-contained, self-propelled
vehicle. What is most impressive about the individual pedestrian is the skill with which she
tweaks her moves to the moves of others. Still, sometimes, a collision is inevitable. Then
starts a quarrel, blaming each other ki dada, ektu dekhe cholun, eta public er rasta, apnar babar
jayga noy [elder brother, mind your steps, this is public space and not your fathers property].
Studies on the gendered nature of public spaces has a long tradition. Several scholars studied
enclosed spaces, such as public theatres, department stores and work places (Abelson 1989,
Benson 1986) without paying attention to spaces between the domestic world/home and the
destination. This is why we dont still have a robust literature on the nature of these spaces
focusing on womens changing use of them. Here, Calcutta streets and gendered nature of its
public transport might serve as an important site of observation how women are
perceived by fellow male passengers, how women look at their daily struggles in congested
streets and buses, what social commentaries are made on the governments policy of
reservations (general row and reserved row in buses, ladies compartments in metro, etc.) that
women are entitled to get while availing public transport. Do cities differ in their collective
constructions of commuting women? How do women negotiate with those constructions?
How do class, caste and age matter?
Calcutta streets are also infamous in staging mob violence and spreading rumors
against witch-like women, kid-thieves (neighbourhood allies are more prone to the violence
against these multitudes) and pickpockets. Such an incident took place in 1906, in a north

Calcutta neighbourhood mostly inhabited by the respectable Bengali community. The
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Halliday, in reporting the annual performance of the city police
in the year, wrote to Chief Secretary to the Government of Bengal:
In August 1906, a curious panic arose amongst the Native Community in Calcutta, to
the effect that children were being kidnapped. This scare was founded on some rumour
that Bengali school boys and lads were being carried off to the Tea gardens in Assam,
to the Mauritius, and other colonies against their willThe panic led to several
instances of assault and disorder in the north part of the town. Some Punjabi football
players, a Punjabi traveler were attacked and beaten as kidnappers by mobs of educated
as well as uneducated Bengalis. Two hackney carriages belonging to two Punjabis were
overturned and set fire to in different parts of the townIn consequence of
representations made by some influential Indian gentlemen to the effect that a
ladhad been carried off in a cooly vessel, the Arno, bound for Trinidad, the District
Magistrate of the 24 Parganas stayed the voyage of the vessel at Diamond Harbour.
Search failedand he was found in Puri in a friends house a few days later (West
Bengal State Archive, Annual Report on the police Administration of the Town of
Calcutta and Its Suburbs, 1906, by F. L. Halliday. Home Department, Police B, 5 April
1907, No. 4295).
As the document shows, collective mob fury descending on the perceived wrong-doers often
has ethnic and class dimensions. In this case Bengali bhadralok spread the rumor and
mobilized public sentiments against the Punjabis. The Punjabis were demonized as
kidnappers. The reasons are often deeply rooted in social and economic animosities to
migrant groups in a world of shrinking opportunities.
Pavement dwellers in Calcutta and Bombay still remember the brief but fierce stone
man episode of mid and late 1980s. The stone man is a name given by the Calcutta-based
print media to a serial killer who killed 13 pavement dwellers in a span of six months in
1989. However, it was never established whether the crime was committed by one person, or
a group of persons. The first instance of a serial-killer spotting rag-pickers and beggars in
India came from Mumbai in 1985. The spell continued sporadically for over a couple of
years. A series of twelve murders were reported in the Sion, and Kings Circle localities of
the city (Times of India, 6 July 1986).

The street ecology of Calcutta has some added dimensions due to several historical
occurrences that other cities did not experience and endure. The streets of Calcutta
witnessed a sustained tradition of left political mobilization that radicalized the politics of
claim-making by the hawkers, squatters, refugees, and homeless. The streets of Calcutta
witnessed the Great Bengal Famine in 1943, the Great Calcutta Killing before freedom, the
partition of the country and consequent refugee influx in different phases up to 1971. All
these histories have constituted the hieroglyphics of the Calcutta Street and its vast and
variegated informality that differ from other cities.


What is the future of this street culture in an increasingly globalizing bourgeois city? The sort
of street culture I have described does not appear to last forever in Indian cities. In both the
popular and critical imagination, the issue is marked by the pathos of imminent
obsolescence, as though the relevance of the street as a medium of social life may well be a
thing of the past. Recent experience appears only to confirm this. As we have seen,
infrastructure comes to welcome an ever-growing population of privately owned vehicles:
flyovers and thoroughfares provide ground for unceasing circulation, insulating the
movement of vehicles from the discontinuous ebb and flow of street congestion. Retail and
leisure are drawn in from the street and subject to new forms of ownership, locating the
social life of economic transaction inside closed interior shops and malls,2 while street
hawkers are organized into highly regulated vending zones. Other transformations are less
palpable, but increasingly ubiquitous. GIS, CCTV and other technologies of mapping and
surveillance significantly reshape how the space of the street is inhabited, regulated and
One glaring example of transformation of public space in recent times is the
changing nature of the Calcutta maidans, the vast open space between the Jawaharlal Nehru

It is worth noting that Indian street foods are increasingly finding place in the corporate fast food chain
structures. In Mumbai, reports Anjaria (2008), a corporate chain called Jumbo King started selling vada pao
from small outlets at various corners of the city.
Road and the Strand road, adjacent to the Fort Williams, the Head Quarter of the Eastern
Command of the Indian Army. The maidans (popularly known as gorer math) used to be a site
of popular amusement of all sorts. In Sandip Rays 1984 film, Phatik Chand, there is a vivid
visual description of the human theatre organized in every Sunday beneath the Monument3.
With increasing privatization of public amusement, and the bourgeois concern for the citys
environment, the maidans cease to be open spaces, giving birth to privately managed public
parks where one needs to pay entry fee to have a breath of open air. The change in the
maidan landscape, however, began to take place with the construction of the Calcutta Metro
Rail in the mid-1980s that led to a destruction of several makeshift villages in the maidans
mostly populated by the immigrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
In the context of a gradual decline of the cosmopolitan street culture, the street is
increasingly becoming a thoroughfare for getting people and goods from one place to
another. In the last two decades, many street reforms have taken place in various Indian
cities to make existing street networks better circulatory systems and to connect them with
newly constructed highways, bypass roots, satellite cities, industrial centres, and nearby
airports. Flyovers have become the new emblem of urban modernity. It has been calculated
that in Calcutta the street space occupies only around 5 percent of the total built space. This
has become the justification for the widening of the carriageways, reducing footpaths and
parks in the middle of the streets, to accommodate increasing private transport.
These reform initiatives are often instigated by the citizens associations, and by the
proactive judiciary, and the Election Commission (the bureaucracy that runs the worlds
largest democracys elections, and enjoys more constitutional power than elected
governments during the election process) backed by the media selling the image of the
postindustrial city. During 2006 Assembly Elections, the Election Commission banned
political graffiti, banners, posters and the colourful plywood figures of party symbols
(BBC 2006) in Calcutta using a decades old local municipal law that prohibits defacement
of public and private property (BBC 2006). The usual practice had been that political parties

The Monument was erected by the British in 1848 to commemorate David Octerlonys victory in Nepal
war (1814-16). After independence, the Octerlony Monument was renamed as Shaheed Minar (Martyrs
Monument). The Monument has been the centre of political mobilization, rallies and a symbolic site of
Calcuttas democracy.
would come up with an informal share formula to divide the space on public and private
walls through negotiations at various levels well ahead of the polls. In an influential post-edit
in The Telegraph, Partha Chatterjee (2006) argued that the ban on political graffiti that had
been part of the states political culture for more than half a century, was part of a zeal
among the high up bureaucracy, the Court and the business elite to cleanse and sanitize the
public political arena to rid the space of citizenship of all the noise, smell and gaudiness of a
publicly mobilized plebeian culture that is now being seen as both an impediment to and an
embarrassment for an India seeking to be become a world power.
In Calcutta, sections of different political parties are also selectively complicit to the
process of sanitization. Thus, in 1996, the government of West Bengal along with the
Calcutta Corporation undertook a massive project of evicting all sorts of encroachments on
the city footpath. In a well planned and coordinated action codenamed Operation
Sunshine (Chatterjee 2004) spanning over a week, the corporation and the city police
backed by the well organized machine of the local CPI (M), destroyed thousands of street
side stalls, illegal house fronts, shrines, statues, parking lots, and dwellings of the pavement
people, narrowed down the footpaths and in some places planted trees (Roy 2003, Chatterjee
2004). When the tide receded, the hawkers displayed remarkable organized strength in
reclaiming footpaths and even freshly encroaching some more valuable spaces earlier
occupied by rural-urban migrants. Pavement dwellers also came back, but not everywhere.
They formed clusters on the footpaths away from the key intersections. Operation Sunshine
brought into forefront newer forms of spatial claims, sensibilities, aesthetics,
homogenization, surveillance, resistance and displacement. Thus, in Calcutta, street becomes
a site of contestation between the bourgeoisie, the state, hawkers and other plebian

Footpath Ballets

Footpath is an elevated margin of the street shaped by distinct architectural order and
regulations. At the same time, it is a space shaped by practices. In short, invoking the place,
space distinction drawn by De Certeau, my thesis seeks to write the history of a practiced

place (1984, 101), called footpath. In my account, footpath is not static or inert but is, as
Margaret Rodman has elaborated in reference to other physical spaces, politicized, culturally
relative, historically specific, local and multiple constructions (1992, 205).
As Walter Benjamins observed in his Arcades Project, the street was paved first for
pedestrians: Asphalt was first used for sidewalks (2003, 427). The paved and elevated
footpaths gave the pedestrian a secure walkway sharply distinguishing human locomotion
from faster horse wagons and carriages. The steady growth of the automobile traffic over the
closing decade of the nineteenth century further marginalized the walkers from the centre of
the street. As a result, there emerged two distinctive realms: pedestrians and cars. Cars would
run on the streets/carriageways and pedestrians would walk on the footpaths. In a sense,
pedestrian a motion category and as the legitimate user of the footpath is a much recent
phenomenon. It came from the Latin pedester meaning plain, not versified, prosaic. In the
first half of the 18th century it only had the adjectival function to mean prosaic, dull. From
the late 18th century, precisely in 1791 it also came to mean on foot
(http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pedestrian). The modern usage of the term
refers closely to the birth of a new kind of liberal, right-bearing (male) urban individual who
was classless, nameless, unbound by social ties (Dutta 2007), disconnected from the past,
and engaged in perusal of private ends.
However, the birth of the sidewalk/footpath, or the pedestrian space in general in
European cities in the nineteenth century captures the emergent dynamics of urbanism and
infrastructure far exceeding mere walking and strolling. While mediating between new forms
of urban sociability and the modern retail trade, the history of footpath converges also with a
number of urban developments: the arrival of gas lighting on the streets, underground mesh
of concrete sewers, introduction of new techniques of waste removal, new public health
concerns, metalling of roadways, linking utility conduits with households, popularization of
the sidewalk caf culture, and so forth. Slowly, sidewalk entered the domain of competitive
civic pride. In 1835, a notoriously British chauvinistic travel-writer Frances Trollope would
write the following:
Among many recent improvements in Paris which evidently owe their origin to
England those which strike the eye first are the almost universal introduction of carpets

within doors and the frequent blessings of a trottoir [pavement/sidewalk]. In a few
yearsthere can be no doubt that it will be almost as easy to walk in Paris as in
Londonwhoever remembers what it was to walk in Paris then, will bless with an humble
and grateful spirit the dear little pavement which, with the exception of necessary intervals
borders most of the principal streets of Paris now (1836, 347-348)
Footpath has a discontinuous history. The Romans were certainly aware of raised
pedestrian passages along the edge of streets. Etruscan Marzabotto is reported to have a grid
of wide and paved streets, as much as 50 feet (15m) wide, equally divided between the
carriageway in the middle and a pair of elevated pavements (Kostof 1992). The Romans had
in use the term semita from the third century BC, the meaning of which borders our modern
understanding of the pavement. During the centuries of overall decline of civic
establishments following the decline of the Roman Empire, footpaths lost their utility within
a walled cityscape. They resurfaced first in England in the late eighteenth century and
subsequently, in the early nineteenth century in Paris, precisely to address the problem of
circulation of bodies and things in the fast exploding cities. The earliest (modern) reference
to footpaths appears in Evelyns plan of London after the great fire in 1666. In this, Everlyn
proposed to deploy left-over bricks found amongst the rubbish for the elevation
designed for the foot causeys before the fronts of houses (Evelyn, Quoted in Kostof 1992,
Before the introduction of footpaths, civic authorities used to make functional
distinctions between the carriageway and the pedestrian strips. Kostof quotes the Stuart
pamphlet on London that mentions that for the ease of horses the midway was paved
with huge shapeless rocks, and the footpath with sharp pebbles for the benefit of the feet
(1992, 48). American cities did not lag much behind from England and France to introduce
sidewalks in cities like New York. However, it was only during the mid-nineteenth century
that sidewalk became part of normal civic government in other European cities and in some
of the prime colonial cities like Calcutta, where the first footpath was paved in 1856 in
Chowringhee as part of an ambitious underground drainage scheme (General Report of the
Commissioners for the Improvement of the Town of Calcutta for the Year 1857, Calcutta,
Military Orphan Press, 1858).

In the twentieth centurywith the automobile revolutionstreets were formally
and functionally segregated between travel lanes and the rest. Often, such macro segregation
was coupled with the creation of a number of other spaces. Thus, within a street, one can
identify travel lanes, parking lanes, curbside edge bordering the sewer channel and the outer
footpath areas where one finds the lampposts, water-taps, railings, newspaper boxes (in
some cities), tree-line are placed, outdoor benches and various kinds of doorway displays.
Cities have their own socially evolved codes of permissible activities for each of the spaces.
Over and above that, they have municipal laws to preserve the distinction of the spaces thus
segregated. It appears from the volume of literature on streets and street cultures, less
importance has been given to footpaths, or for that matter, other specific street elements
than to the street as a unity of spaces. In 1987, Spiro Kostof, for instance, mentioned very
little available literature on footpaths as a site of complex sociality.
Both James Winter (1993) and Andrew Brown-May (1998) found that footpath
emerged as a distinct pedestrian area and a spatial and planning category prior to the
automobiles. However, as we have already discussed, auto-mobilization made it a global
urban phenomenon in the twentieth century. Winter (1993) mentions that prior to the
emergence of the elevated sidewalk, there were footpaths, with the same level as the rest of
the street, at times demarcated by posts and a line of continuous chains/threads and
sometimes paved with egg-shaped stones. Winter also documents the emergence of the
raised curb and footpaths in London streets: with the introduction of macadam paving, the
water was directed into side gutters rather than a gutter down the middle, making it essential
to raise the curb of the footpath (1993, 36-37). As streets increasingly became concave, they
needed embankments to direct the storm-water horizontally without allowing it to inundate
adjacent neighbourhoods lying on less elevated surfaces. The change in the forms had
profound influence in the way in which street spaces were understood and used. As a result
of the raised footpaths, the carriageway became larger proportionately, but also more
sharply differentiated from the other parts increasing the amount of legal ambiguity about
what the term street was meant to convey. Pedestrians could still use the entire
carriageway but the centre appeared to be increasingly less convenient and the footways
became dedicated to pedestrians (1993, 17).

As, with the passage of time, spaces became conceptually separate, they acquired
specific social profiles and popular meanings. Winter tells us, with these changes curbside
between the walkway and the carriageway assumed the character of a border territory,
where goods were unloaded, costermongers stood, and water collected:
As for the border area, there could hardly be a good, (positive connotation) since one
of its components, the verge, connoted the problematical and another, the curb,
suggested restraint on unwanted impulse while a third, the gutter, brought to mind
everything that is vileUntil the end of the horse drawn era, men customarily urinated
against the curb wheels of standing carts and wagonsafter the 1830s, sandwich-board
advertises, recruited from the old and destitute, were required to walk in the gutter, and
drivers thought it amusing now and then to give one of those poor creatures a lash of
the whip. Vagabonds, prostitutes, drunks, gambling touts, and beggars sought their
livelihood on the pavements but, according to convention, were continually teetering
on the verge of a descent into that part of the street where, according to tradition, all
immorality and corruption finally end (1993, 100).
Brown-May (1998) also found similar developments in colonial Melbourne. He observed
that footpaths from the beginning had a different regulatory structure and social life than did
the rest of the street. Footpaths were more intimately associated with adjacent properties at a
when the roadbed was sharply separated from the lifeworld.
Arguably, separation of the world of pedestrians from other forms of locomotion
had several long-term consequences. In many cities, this separation allowed the bleeding of
commercial activities into the footpath. By the late nineteenth century, reports Ford (2000)
stores had begun setting up large signs and stacking overflow products (155). The imprecise
margin between the private and the public, now had a buffer zone to make the matter of
segregation more difficult. In fact, it can be shown that in the history of modern urban
government, footpath has remained a much-negotiated category. Various social groups have
contested the mindless criminalization of encroachments and obstructions. As early as in
1903-04, such a contestation took place in the Burrabazaar area of Calcutta. The British
dominated Bengal Chamber of Commerce (BCC) for instance, observed that serious
obstructions took place in the narrow and congested neighbourhoods of the Burrabazaar
due to the loading and unloading of goods from bullock carts to the gowdowns. However,

the BCC also made the point that the loading and unloading of goods in streets and lanes
of Burra Bazaar cannot be prevented without bringing business to a standstill (Report of the
Committee of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce for the Year 1904, Vol. 2:279). The Marwari
Association in the area resisted the active surveillance of the European Inspectors of
Footpath, and kept the entire piece-goods market closed on 31 August 1904. A critical
situation developed as the import trade of the city was suspended for a day. The Corporation
had to intervene to terminate a situation in which the commercial interests involved were
manifestly out of all proportion to the importance of the issue at stake. Hence, the
Corporation decided to temporarily suspend the work of the Inspector (Report of the Committee
of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce for the Year 1904, Vol. 2:281).
As our contemporary experience from various cities (as presented in this chapter)
reveals, the issue of imprecision of boundaries and identities on the footpaths had never
been conclusively resolved, which also suggests that one should not take for granted an
uncritical distinction between the street life in Euro-America and the street culture in India
as something fundamental and immutable. Very much like many South Asian cities, Western
cities too had grappled with this complexity and found that regulations often do not relate
the ways in which people interpret these spaces. In California, for example, state law requires
that alcohol be served only in enclosed, supervisable space. During my fieldwork at San
Francisco and Berkeley, I observed that the space by-laws are claimed, undermined and
disclaimed. Downtown Berkeley and San Francisco currently have many fenced-off business
areas on public footpath, most of which occupy about half of the width of the footpath, as
regulations require an 8-foot seatback from the street.
Designating space for foot passengers also led to new forms of segregation within
certain social fault lines of class, caste, ethnicity and gender. Long back, Richard Wade
(1964), for instance, found a number of street ordinances that applied specifically to African
Americans. Among others, certain byelaws required African Americans to leave the sidewalk
for white pedestrians. An ordinance in Richmond in 1857, for instance, stated the following:
Negros shall not any time stand on a sidewalk to the inconvenience of persons passing
by. A Negro meeting or overtaking, or being overtaken by a white person. shall pass
on the outside; and if it be necessary to enable such white person to pass, shall

immediately get off the sidewalk. (Wade 1964, 106-108, cited in Ehrenfeucht and
Loukaitou-Sideris 2007, 108).

The Footpath Metropolis

Let me now trace the architectural history of footpath in a colonial city. A comparison
between the two simultaneous processes will enable us to understand the specificities of city
planning in colonial context. As Smith points out (1986), colonial societies provided city
planners with problems and data of the utmost theoretical importance. Colonial societies
represented social systems which had been established in different environments and
provided an opportunity for the planners to study not just fundamentally different social
processes, but also, the vernacularization of ideas in colonial encounters. It is often
convincingly argued that the colonial city represents a distinct type: Studies suggest major
differences between Indian cities and models of spatial arrangements hypothesized for
Western cities. The nature, cause and longevity of these differences provide an admirable
field of both theoretical and applied research (Ginsburg 1991, 315).
Much research has already been done on the city planning in colonial Calcutta.
Scholars have developed rich accounts of social segregation between white town and black
town, public health issues, and north-south road construction works undertaken in different
times by the Lottery Committee, Fever Hospital Committee, and Calcutta Improvement
Trust. But scholars have grossly overlooked the footpaths along main streets as if they do
not deserve historical attention. If we pay attention to the initial years when footpaths were
first introduced in the second capital of the empire, a few interesting occurrences come to
the forefront. The earliest footpath at Chowringhee in Calcutta is just a year older than the
Great Revolt of 1857, and about a three year younger than the first Railway in India. It is as
old as the footpaths in many other great cities of Europe like the Haussmannian Paris. The
construction of footpaths in such a historical juncture carries wider implications of how
colonial power sought to order the city in a crucial juncture of its history. In Calcutta,
footpaths were initially constructed primarily not to facilitate the pedestrian traffic, but to
cater to two other important developments: a) to cover the open drains that threatened
public health in the city, and b) to protect the newly introduced fashionable gas light-posts in
Chowringhee (Goode 1916, 254) from aggressive hackney carriages. The footpath was thus
associated with the heightened imperial concerns for public health, and the emergence of
technologies of surveillance (street lights), and the beautification of the city in the second
half of nineteenth century.
As Goode tells us, the proposal for constructing footpaths met with opposition from
the White aldermen many of whom represented the commercial concerns of the White
entrepreneurs of the city. They thought that the buffer space between the street and the
shop front would inhibit the shoppers to come inside the stores. Goode writes, the cynical
declared that the people would always prefer the middle of the road to any footpath, while
the shopkeepers complained that trade would flow to those streets where customers could
still step from their carriages into the shops (1916, 254).
The first footpath in Calcutta was constructed at Chowringhee, which was, as Goode
records, selected for the experiment mainly for the purpose of protecting the new gas lamp-
posts, which had, with the object of diffusing the light, been placed at a distance of 20 feet
from the walls of houses (1916, 254). In 1858, it had been claimed by the Commissioners
that nine tenth of the foot passengers make use of the footpath (quoted in Goode 1916,
254). Goody calculates, in 1858, approximately Rs 4000 were spent to construct footpaths
partly with plain metalling, partly with a coating of gravel, soorki, and asphalt, and partly
with flagstone (1916, 254). According to Goodes calculation, in the three years starting
from 1860, the Municipality spent Rs 6000, Rs 16711, and Rs 13318 respectively in the
expansion of footpaths, the construction of which depended on the progress of the drainage
scheme, and by 1875, it is estimated that about 70 miles of footpath had been laid (1916,
255). The elevation of footpaths from the normal street was made by utilizing the spare
earth excavated in laying the sewers, ashes, building rubbish and broken bricks (1916, 255).
It was not until 1902-03 that a regular programme of constructing footpath was
adopted by the Municipal Corporation. Goode calculates that in 1913-14, more than six and
half lakhs of rupees were spent in constructing footpaths (1916, 255).
The ever-increasing amount of spending the Corporation budget in elevating,
maintaining and constructing footpaths suggest that in colonial Calcutta, footpath
increasingly became a part of the routine public work done by the municipal authority. With

the establishment of the Calcutta improvement Trust (CIT) in 1912, much of the
responsibility of constructing, straightening, expanding, and maintaining city streets was
conferred to the CIT. The CIT undertook and completed at least three massive road
construction projects in the first twenty years of its establishment. The projects include a)
the construction of the CIT road (associated with the real-estate development in Maniktolla),
b) expansion of the Russa Road (now S.P.Mukherjee Road) from Kalighat to Tullygunj, c)
construction of the Central Avenue.
The construction of these roads changed the topography of the city and posed some
larger questions. If Calcutta had to be improved, then large scale demolitions to enable
planned development had to be faced squarely. This was the consensus widely shared by the
colonial administrators and the city elite. Some of the aforementioned roads were laid down
through densely built often insanitary property, and demolition would certainly displace
thousands of people. While property owners could expect compensation and re-allotment of
land, slum dwellers and the poor would be forced to seek shelter elsewhere at comparatively
lower level of comfort and at places distant from their work places. The proceedings of the
CIT show that when European and Indian commercial bodies were consulted on this
matter, they did signal caution, but the overwhelming need of faster circulation meant that
demolition would be favoured even at the cost of contributing to social unrest in the city. It
is in this context that a debate took place in 1914, between the CIT Chairman C. H. Bompas
and the famous urban planner Professor Patrick Geddes who came to India in 1914, and
published reports on the planning of Calcutta (Burrabazar) and Bombay4. The debate was
over the proposal for the expansion of the Russa Road. In this debate, for the first time,
footpath was recognized as a distinct spatial unit integral to the citys circulatory system as
opposed to planning footpath as an appendage to drainage system and street lighting. The
debate was also evocative of many of the contemporary ideas of street planning circulating in
the North. While Bompas represented the widely-circulated idea of street reform in post-
Haussmann Europe, Geddes was in favour of culturally specific planning. The debate is

According to The Bombay Chronicle Geddes was a pioneer in perhaps the most vital and significant of
all contemporary social movements in the West, the reconstitution of cities and the redemption of town
life (Bombay Chronicle, 5 April 1915, cited in Hazareesing 1999, 56)
important for our purpose because it places the footpath in the wider logic of the
contemporary planning discourse.
In the 124th meeting of the CIT, held on 7 December 1914, Bompas placed a long
note, entitled, Note on the most suitable width of Main Roads. Let me quote from the note:
The discussion in regard to the lay-out of the Russa Road has led me to consider the
most suitable width to be adopted for the roads in the central portion of Calcutta.
Roads may serve three purposes. Firstly, they give access to the building sides which are
laid out along them. In a large town the majority of the roads is of this nature and
carries purely local traffic. Secondly, they may form the main arteries used by traffic
proceeding from one part to another and more particularly between the suburbs and
the centre. Thirdly, roads may constitute a very valuable form of open space; a tree
planted strip 50 feet wide along a mile of road only occupies an area of about 5 acres or
15 bighas.The cities on the continent of Europe have paid more attention than has
been done in England to the construction of tree planted boulevards and there can be
no doubt that they are particularly desirable in a tropical climate where the Sun beating
down. If a width of 8 feet is taken as affording accommodation for a line of traffic
and 2 feet allowed on each side of the road as occupied by gutter and sloping edge of
the macadam 32+4=36 feet gives a roadway accommodating two streams of traffic in
each direction and adding two 12 feet footpaths, we have a width of 60 feet. Adding 18
feet to the 36 feet roadway for a double line of trams we get a roadway of 54 feet. This
will accommodate the same traffic as Old Court House Street, where the trams are in
the centre of the roadway, is about 58 feet wide. Adding 15 feet footpath in both the
sides, we get a width of 84 feet and I recommend that this should be taken as the
standard width for the roads which we have hitherto completed making 80 feet wide
I have explained in a previous note my reasons for thinking that for a third stream of
traffic proceedings in a given direction 10 feet and not 8 feet should be added to the
roadway. On a road of this character the footpaths should certainly not be less than 20
feet wide (Proceedings of the 124th meeting of the CIT held on 7 December 1914.
Proceedings of the Board 1914-15, 4).
In Bompass plan, footpath thus emerges as a minutely measured spatial category along with
the other parts of the road. The road, the footpath, the macadam, and the roadside open
space for plantation all constitute a spatial complex in the colonial city. Professor Patrick

Geddes made certain alterations in the plan, emphatically proposing the construction of
wider footpaths, in the context of the expansion of the Russa Road and the construction of
the Southern Avenue (developing a vast tract of malarious marshy land between Russa
Road and the Gariahat Road). The title of his note to Mr. Bompas was, GREAT South
Road, Calcutta (ibid., 6). Geddes writes:
. I know of the malarious reputation of the southern district but of course this will
abate as development proceeds. To develop a large garden village scheme upon this
line may be beyond the scope of your Trust, but surely not beyond the requirements of
the city, or the enterprise of its citizens. I understand that the main body of this great
thoroughfare is to be of 150 feet and the first mile next Maidan of 100 feet. As the
Chowringhee Avenue presents no difficulty, high speed can begin from its outset, near
Government House.If there is any point on which a newcomer to India may criticize
with certainty, it is that engineers tend to imitate the narrow proportions of European
pavements, and are then surprised at the perversity of the natives in out upon the
broad roadway they had planned for vehicles only! In this way the pedestrians hold up
traffic, and I have been much struck in Bombay by the way the broad new roads of the
Improvement Trust are thus rendered almost as slow going as the old narrow streets!
The only course is to recognize the fact that the caste tradition keeps the Indian crowd
a divergent one and the close packed European pavement is here impossible. It must
therefore be widened; and that substantially 17 feet as shown is not too much, and
when possible, i.e., upon the great 150 feet avenue, twenty, including trees, is to be
desired. Another point, too much neglected, is to consider the quality of pavement or
other road surface on bare feet, which are not so horny as we suppose but much more
sensitive. In the hot season a pavement is too hot, in cold weather too cold if Indians
are to be kept out of the roadway, the pathways must be made less repellent than they
often are (I have seen them left finished in sharp red stone-chips, and of course
unused, save by Europeans in boots!). Assuming then, express tramways and broad
footpaths, one can still have a double avenue in the 15 feet portion though only single
in that of 100 feet. The type is that of your figure too, but when expanded to 150 feet it
will admit of a grass strip beside the footways. Finally, the backline of each strip
affords a line of cheap land suitable for dwellings of roadmen, and other labourers,
whose housing, near their work, and upon a better scale than that commonly provided,

is no less a desideratum of the town planning movement in Indian cities than in home
ones (Ibid., 8).
As we see, Geddes brought about correction in the Bompas plan in one significant count to
make the plan more specific to the Indian realities. He favoured a larger space share for the
footpaths which would attract socially divided Indian pedestrians to leave the roads for
motor cars. But he had profound difference with other planners in the philosophy of
planning as well. He was of the opinion that urban planning refers not just new buildings
and roads. To make a difference, he held, one needed to create social spaces where life
could flourish5.

Familiarizing the Footpath

How did the poor on the street receive the new spatial regime unleashed by the colonial
state? To find an answer, we need to see how the state and the city elite recorded the popular
reception of the footpath.
As early as in 1835, Lieutenant Abercrombie complained of numerous
encroachments on public drains, and the blocking of traffic by shambles and booths
erected on roadside (quoted in Goode 1916, 252). The legislation of 1876 empowered the
municipal authorities to remove any wall, fence, rail, post, or other projection placed in, on,
or over any public drain or sewer (Goode 1916, 252). In 1877, however, the Annual Report
of the Calcutta Municipal Administration emphasized on having a suitable preventive legal
provision to abstain unruly natives from eroding the footpath space, indicating the futility
of existing provisions to check encroachment. The report says:
The want of a law to prevent people from performing their daily ablutions, washing
their cooking utensils, and pursuing their trades on the footpaths is much felt. Such
operations are not only detrimental to the surface of the footpath, but render it wet and
very disagreeable to walk upon. The population is so persistent in this habit that in
some of the more crowded neighbourhoods the police are unable to effectively prevent
it (Annual Report on Calcutta Municipal Corporation 1877, 40).

Geddes used the term folk planning which he contrasted with mere place planning (Bombay
Chronicle, 5 April 1915, see Hazareesingh 1999).
The issue of popular encroachment on public drains, sewers, and footpaths is
periodically recorded throughout the colonial period in official documents. Baldwin Lathans
Report on the Drainage and Conservancy of Calcutta, published in 1891, documented
numerous examples of popular encroachment on the footpaths and the municipal
administrations incapability to maintain the order of the public space. The powerful
official discourse of the poor as a hazard in Indian cities was derived more instantaneously
from Victorian England which constructed the image of the urban underclass as possessing
deviant cultures in need of behavioural transformation through a combination of pedagogy
and administrative coercion (Jones 1971).
The flourishing popular life on footpaths received attention from the citys bhadralok. The
Gazette of Calcutta Municipal Corporation published feature articles on street issues from time to time
in the inter-war period. The poor, in these articles, were perceived as a potential source of disorder,
crime. The bhadralok too subscribed to the idea of the poor as the chief impediment to the orderly and
clean urban development and as a prominent impediment to their own security and well-being. Urgent
concern about the decline of public health not only arose as a result of the pressure of population on
urban infrastructure and municipal resources caused by an increase in the number of laboring rural-
urban migrants in the city, but also, and more importantly, emanated from the bhadralok belief that the
poor were inherently insanitary in their habits. The authors of these articles often deployed satiric
language with sketches between paragraphs. A close reading of them reveals the bhadralok anxiety of
losing control over the urban space. In these essays hawkers and beggars were usually portrayed as
non-Bengali migrants and aggressive to the benign pedestrian. Since they earn money occupying
footpaths, it is, in one such article, referred to as a repository of gold. In 1929, for example, one
Kshetich Bagchi wrote in an article entitled Footpaths of Calcutta:
...The costermongers make another amenity of the Calcutta footpaths. They are an
aristocratic race... Rather than incur their royal displeasure the poor pedestrian will risk
a tilt against any vehicle on the open roadway. Then at all important crossings there are
newsmongers. Vendors of spectacles and fountain-pens, ...each flourishing his stock-in-
trade against your nose...The chunachurwalla...With him must be classed the vendor of
sliced and salted cucumber...The fun of it is that all these petty traders hail from outside
Bengal.... (Bagchi 1929, 382-83).

On 18 January 1930, another article came out in the same periodical entitled, The Golden
Pavement. The author, B. K. Roy, gave a graphic picture of the city pavement its charms, life,
occupations, transactions and transgression. The figure of thousands of insignificant people carrying
on insignificant trade on the streets of the townitinerant vendors or hawkers of fruits, sweets, cloth,
aluminum ware and a thousand one articles occupies the central position in the authors
Let us first take the vendors of fruits of the season, whether they are mangoes, juicy oranges or
luscious branches of grapes. With the basket on their hands the prowling vendors go round from
house to house and then squat on the pavement as long as the stock lasts, or until a vigilant
parawalla chivies them away. Sometimes however, it happens that the parawalla saunters
slowly by, and tips the vendor a wink, which is returned. Some coins of the realm change hands,
and the prowler is left in peace to obstruct the footpath as long as he pleases.
Carpenters use the pavement as a rent-free workshop, polishing chairs and other articles of
furniture, can be seen everyday in Bowbazar streetThe itinerant vendors of hot tea is a creature
of the north districts of the town, and can hardly ever be seen further south than Bowbazar.
Come a little further with me, to the region known as College Street and College Square, and you
will see the cast-iron railings surrounding big public buildings festooned with gaily coloured cheap
garments (mostly for children) and the vendor standing quietly by on the pavement; on a regular
art-gallery of oleographs, prints and gaily coloured picture-postcards, at which an interested throng
of passers-by are always gazing. Next you will see a quiet-looking man seated on a piece of mat, a
few books and sheets of paper bearing strange cabalistic signs and figures ranged in front of
himThen there are the old book-sellers, whose happy hunting ground is the region near about
College Square where the pavement is occasionally impossible for their wares. The books are
spread out pell-mell, with a diminutive boy seated beside the heap, shouting in a raucous
monotone two annas, two annas . You will generally find half a dozen people always
squatting beside the seller of cheap and shoddy German goods on the pavement, whose wares
are generally of an uniform price, e.g., six pice each These goods are of immense variety, from
pencils, penholders, knives, scissors, etc, to cigarette cases Another variation of this class of
hawkers may be seen trundling a wheel-barons packed with a diversity of articles. . (Roy 1930,
With the huge influx of migrants from the rural hinterland of the city, before and
after the great Bengal Famine of 1943, the planned urbanism received the severest blow

and footpath life began to draw the attention of serious academics (Das 1949). Famine
victims began to colonize the footpaths, boulevards, parks and all other vacant spaces in the
city. Before the tide of this phenomenal rural-urban migration receded, the streets of
Calcutta were populated by refugees from East Pakistan. While the upper-caste landed
groups, who migrated just after the Partition found place in the citys formal economy, the
low-caste groups migrating to the city in mid-60s clogged every open space of the city often
colonizing relatively less crowded footpaths of the South Calcutta stretching from Dhakuria
in the north to Baghajatin and Garia in south, and often fighting with the existing rural-
urban migrants in the city. Many of these groups began to live on the footpaths and opened
roadside stalls, encroaching public amenities. There is a vivid description of the transformed
city streets and footpaths stretching southwards from Dhakuria, in Amitabh Ghoshs 1988
novel The Shadow Lines. While recollecting a piece of his boyhood memory of travelling
with his parents and the grandmother in a car the narrator of the novel writes:
We turned off Southern Avenue at Gol Park, and found, inevitably, that the gates of
the railway crossing at Dhakuria were down. We had to stew in the midday heat for half
an hour before the gates were lifted again. We spent off past the open fields around the
Jodhpur Club and down the tree-lined stretch of road that ran along the campus of
Jadavpur University. But immediately afterwards we had to slow down to a crawl as the
road grew progressively narrower and more crowded. Rows of shacks appeared on
both sides of the row now, small ramshackle structures, some of them built on low
stilts, with walls of plaited bamboo, and roofs that had been patched together somehow
out of sheets of corrugated iron. A ragged line of concrete houses rose behind the
shacks on the footpaths, most of them unfinished.
My grandmother, looking out of her window in amazement, exclaimed: When I last
came here ten years ago, there were rice fields running alongside the road; it was the
kind of place where rich Calcutta people built garden houses. And look at it now as
filthy as a babuis nest. Its all because the refugees, flooding in like that (Ghosh 1988,
With independence, the footpath life began to figure prominently in popular
Bombay films as an embodiment of the rural residue in the heart of the metropolis
(Mazumdar 2007). Commenting on the representation of the street in popular Bombay
cinema, Ranjani Mazumdar (2007) quotes a few lines from Jan Nissar Akhtar:
On the burning footpaths of the city,
May the seasons of the village accompany me,
May the old banyan tree lay a hand on my burning shoulders (2007, xxiv).
Mazumdar writes:
While Akhtar is simply evoking nostalgia in this couplet, the use of the footpath as
the space that triggers an imagination of the village is significant. The space of the
footpath is the mimic village. In an instant, Akhtar brings the village into the city to
express loss, yearning, and uprootedness. the footpath emerges as a reference point
for childhood memories and homelessness, as a mark of marginality, and as a different
imaginary of the cinematic city (2007, xxiv).
In another context, citing instances from the popular films, Mazumdar tells us the
outside space the street, often referred to in popular Hindi film as footpath is part
village community, part cosmopolitan street, a powerful and mythic space in the city evoking
a whole range of experiences related to loss, nostalgia, pain, romanticism, community and
anger (Mazumdar 2007). According to Mazumdar, in Raj Kapoors 1955 film, Shri 420, the
song Ramayya Vasta Vayya engenders an imagined universe of the village as a counter
space to the harshness of the city. The community of rural people singing collectively
represents the good city on the footpath as they invite the protagonist Raj to join them and
identify with the communitarian spirit (p. 45).
I have hardly any doubt about the persuasive power of Mazumdars broad argument
on the imagination of footpath. But I have a slight disquiet with her reading of the footpath
as shorthand for the outer space in general, in much of Hindi popular cinema. I argue that
there is reason to underscore the conceptual separation between the street and the footpath
as spatial and conceptual categories in the production of space even in many of the scenes of
popular Hindi films. In one of the most popular sequences in the 1975 super-hit film Deewar,
Vijay, the elder brother who becomes a smuggler being detached from his mother Sumitra
Devi and brother Ravi (who becomes a police inspector) for years, invokes the trope of the
bridge which morally separates the identity of both brothers within the city (20). Vijay asks
Ravi again and again to meet him beneath the bridge, referred to in the film as the footpath,
where they spent much of their childhood being displaced from the factory quarter after the
murder of their trade-unionist father. The spatial conflict presented through the focus on

the bridge and the underneath of it (the footpath) addresses the tension between the lived
and conceived spaces of the city (20) in the context of Emergency, argues Mazumdar. The
bridge refers to a conceived space (read abstract) in the gaze of the planner of the official,
while the footpath turns to be the space of real users pavement dwellers, whose
everyday transactions socializes infrastructures. Mazumdar finds that this spatial conflict in
the film finds its human face in the encounter of two brothers (Lefebvre 1997).
It is significant that while the separation between carriage way and the footpath is an
index of architectural modernity, the latter becomes a moral critique of the former. As
streets become exclusive province for circulation, footpath turns out to be the repository of
much of the displaced social activities that once thrived on the street. The dissertation
understands the street culture in a modern city keeping in mind this hiatus between the street
and the footpath. In much of street historiography in the North, as I argued earlier, street is
treated as a unit. In Indian historiography, the meaning of the footpath is amplified as
symbolically representing the open space in general. Both the trends undermine the footpath
as a space of subjective experience and a site that challenges abstraction and objectification.
The dissertation brings footpath to the forefront of analysis.
I started my official field work at the Gariahat intersection, not far away from the
place where the narrator of Ghoshs novel started his journey. One of my informants was a
pavement dweller cum hawker, named Ratan Mandal, who owns a tea stall at Gariahat, the
southern centre of the city. While I met many of my other informants through the formal
introductions of union leaders, I became acquainted with Ratan Mandal, quite by accident.
One afternoon early on in my fieldwork I asked him for directions to a nearby union office
that dealt with hawker issues, and a conversation of far greater depth and intimacy than I
ever could have gotten from the union official ensued. The next day he invited me to sit with
him at his semi-permanent tea stall while he worked. Closely examining his life history, his
everyday negotiation with fellow hawkers, helpers, pavement dwellers and regular, occasional
and anonymous customers, I gradually developed an understanding of what I was to write
on the changing ecologies of streets and footpaths in postcolonial Calcutta. So, before
presenting the structure of the dissertation let me sketch Ratans life history.

Ratan is 69 years old. He had a small house and a few bighas (one-fifth of an acre) of
agricultural land in Canning, in South 24-Parganas (the southern hinterland of the city close
to the Sundarbans). He had to sell his meagre property to pay the debt that he incurred
during a rainless summer in 1965. Ratan, like many of his countrymen came to Calcutta;
clinging to their tin suitcases, they reached the Sealdah station (Mukhopadhyay 2006). As
labour historians and scholars of rural-urban migration often tell us, these people often came
to the city of cash, always not to get inserted into the citys permanent army of the
underclass, but often to make additional incomes during lean seasons, to repay debts, or to
work as cash earner for a big peasant family (Mukhopadhyay 2006, 221). But Ratans
pavement dwelling, austerity and work as a jogandar (helper and supplier) did not help him
much to re-establish his link with his village. He was already a family man with two little
daughters and a wife. They all made up their minds to stay permanently on the city
pavement. They first built a shack on the pavement near the Tipu Sultan mosque at
Esplanade region (close to the Central Business District). But one night, two political bosses
(dadas) of the region came and asked Ratan to evict from the pavement because they were
going to clear it to settle the hawkers. Since then Ratan has been at Rashbehari Avenue. He
had again built a small shack to protect his family.
From 1970, Ratan began to witness how the pavements along the busy streets of
South Calcutta were gradually becoming a highly-thronged market place. He observed that
the region from Gariahat Junction to the Lake Market was occupied by a group of young
men who originally came from East Pakistan as refugees and settled at the nearby Keyatala
neighbourhood. Those who either commuted from the villages close to Ratans, or had
earlier settled in Calcutta, occupied the other half of the pavement stretching from Gariahat
Junction to Ballygunge Station. His small shack fell in the second half. Emulating others, he
started a tea stall in front of his shack. Gradually, he could add a bamboo structure on it.
One day, some of his fellow stallholders objected that he occupied more space than them
since he not only hawked but also dwelled on the footpath. The logic was simple. If he only
hawked there and dwelled somewhere else, then an unemployed youth could get a space to
start hawking. Ratan shifted his place of dwelling to a pavement very close to the Keoratala
Burning Ghat where he found many fellows like him.

Ratans life history attracted me at least for two reasons. First, he is among the very
few of the first-generation hawkers who occupied and used pavement to serve multiple
purposes, but ultimately failed to graduate into a more prosperous, entrepreneurial future.
His life in village as well as on the sidewalk is intercepted by a series of estrangements from
the means of subsistence and physical displacements. Second, his narrative stands in stark
contrast to the heroic refugee narrative that dominates the history of Gariahaat area.
Ratan was one of the many pavement dwellers outside the Keoratala Burning Ghat,
who had the Voter ID Card and a host of other documents that are proofs of citizenship.
His present house is a tent with four logs supporting a black tarpaulin sheet. The family
still sleeps on the floor in temporary beds. He is a witness to everything that we commonly
associate with pavement dwelling: uncertainty, territorial fights between rival rackets over the
transaction of sleeping lots, the collection of tola (protection money) and its bakhra (share)
among contending parties, and so forth. In fact, Ratans uncertain dwelling can be
understood as a specific kind of dispossession conditioned by urban anomie and a chronic
paucity of space which transforms bodies into an inner spaceas ones own housing
(Appadurai 2000, 627-51, Mukhopadhyay 2006). As Mukhopadhyay mentions, Appadurais
notion of bodies that are their own housing, signifies a radical breakdown in habitus in
reference to Benjamins notion of the state of emergency which is not the exception but
the rule (Mukhopadhyay 2006, 224) in the life of the oppressed.
Ratans loss of landed property in the village and his break with his own past had
deregistered his name and designation from the registers of government. He could no longer
be classified as a landless peasant or marginal agricultural labourer. As the state-
produced documents, such as the works of Sudhendu Mukherjee and Jagannathan and
Haldar show, up to the late 1980s the state took segmented interests to document the life
and labour of the pavement dwellers (Chapter IV). But from the early 1990s their existence
began to question the very foundation of the Communist rule in the State of West Bengal, as
their growing number indicated the failure of the much-celebrated land reform project of the
government (Chapter IV). Although they are not registered landless, they are, after all, the
landless and unemployed band of peasants migrating to the city to become absorbed in the
informal economy of the city. As a result, from the 1990s pavement dwellers became an

uncategorized group. But these unidentifiable groups have been given the right to vote. And
from this comes the subaltern notion of rights over the public. While for the state, the
constitutional notion of citizenship provides the notion of equality by which it seeks to
propagate a theory of equidistance, for the urban poor it gives the right (adhikar) to
appropriate something that does not belong to any person but to an impersonal authority
the sarkar (government). As we have already mentioned in this chapter, to recognize such
negotiable and fluid public realm in which occupation translates into tenuous ownership,
Kaviraj coins the term pablik. The move from public to pablik is important to unearth
certain unanticipated forms and spaces of public action, what Holston has called sites of
insurgent citizenship (Roy 2003, 11). Ratans other existence as a hawker relates him to a
more organized domain of mobilizational politics that seeks to project another set of pablik
claims. Ratan recollected a verbal altercation that a local hawker leader had with the cops on
the night of 24 November 1996:
Lets all court arrest. Jails cannot accommodate millions. We vend to feed our families.
Among us are the refugees of erstwhile East Pakistan and landless people from the
South Bengal. Having lost everything, we had come to the city to eke out a living. We
represent a population below the poverty line. It is because we provide services at low
cost that the poorer people of the city and those who commute can survive.
If we analyze the statement mentioned above, we find that refugees, landless, below
the poverty line all refer to certain demographic governmental categories (Chatterjee
2004). This is the ground on which hawkers like Ratan posit their claims to the city. He does
not also forget to point out the value of labour that he renders to the poorer groups of the
city. And it is here, I argue, Ratans justification of living on the footpath gets diluted as the
majority of the pavement dwellers are day labourers and household help. The utility of a day
laborer and a hawker is not the same in the citys political economy that finds its recent
rejuvenation in the flourishing service sector industries.
Again, pointing to his small stall, Ratan told me: We clean the foot, occupy only
small part of it and pay regularly to the police and our organization. So long we are able to
blackmail the political leaders and bribe the policemen we have no fear.

Such organized struggles are strikingly absent in defending his squatting on the
footpath6. If Ratans pablik dwelling is a space where he is eternally vulnerable, I see the
pablik created by the hawkers as more successful in negotiating the notions of public
property and civic law. A reading of Ratans life history provides an opportunity to
understand how, in Calcutta, the footpath, a public space per excellence, has become a site
of pablik claims, and also how, out of so many pablik claims, the hawkers cause has been
privileged so much so that the drive to evict the hawkers began to be perceived by the city
middle-class as a welcome starting point for recovering the public from pablik, re-
inscribing space as subject to civic control (Roy 2003).
Concerns of survival draw the likes of Ratan into a kind of unceasing struggle
marked by what Bayat calls individual direct action (1997, 58). Initially, Ratans
encroachment on the public land appeared to be an insignificant act. His occupation was not
likely to attract the attention of the government, which had been busy in groping with other
macro issues such as the refugee problem (caused by the partition in 1947 that divided the
province of Bengal into East Pakistan and West Bengal), new political challenges with the
emergence of left radical politics in urban and rural Bengal in the backdrop of the food
movement, the war with Pakistan and so on. In this situation, Ratan represented a band of
dispossessed people who occupied and began to use the public space as a matter of moral
right. Migrating to the city had been an empowering experience for Ratan. In an era of a
declining one-party system and a gradual growth of coalition politics the floating populations
of the city became electorally important. Ratan had been successful in using his position as a
rational voter to justify and strengthen his moral claim on the pavement. How to
characterize Ratans individual encroachment?
Although various forces had incessantly disrupted Ratans dwelling, his initial
encroachment had a seemingly insignificant character deemed to be unworthy of policy
attention. Still, Ratans individual endeavour is part of a bigger struggle marked by atomized

The hawkers initially made their stake over a small unit sometimes by evicting some other illegal
occupants who had already reduced the pavements into extended bustees. Without indulging in showdowns
with the prior occupants who were either destitute or seasonally migrant labourers, the hawkers usually
paid a sum of money to them and asked them to go somewhere else. Sometimes they also bribed the police
to clear their chosen site.
and prolonged mobilization with episodic collective action devoid of clear leadership and a
transformative ideology. What the agents of this mundane struggle do is simple and direct.
Gradually they cause molecular changes that in the long run, to invoke Gramsci
progressively modify the pre-existing composition of forces and hence become the matrix
of new changes (1971, 109, also see Bayat 1997). Unlike organized social groups such as the
students or the employees in the organized sector, the floating social clusters such as
migrants, refugees, unemployed, squatters, and street vendors lack the institutional capacity
to exert pressure by withdrawing their contribution to the functioning of the state (Bayat
1997, 58). They are, thus, structurally atomized individuals who, as Bayat (1997) argues,
take part in the street demonstration only if they are mobilized by outside forces. Otherwise,
as Bayat (1997) puts it, everything goes on quietly. But, this slow and noiseless movement of
the informals might turn into an organized collective action overnight when the state begins
to note their concentration (when it becomes sizeable) as a threat to the existing notions of
property and civic law, which it is supposed to maintain. As soon as the threat of eviction
becomes imminent, the threatened groups begin to mobilize their shared moral and material
causes that they have already developed in the course of sharing the same space to form a
consolidation (Bayat 1997). The history of the hawkers movement in Calcutta shows that
they had been able to consolidate themselves (blurring the distinctions of belonging to
different unions) to foil the governmental attempt at clearing the pavement. As I have
shown earlier, they did this by privileging their specific use of the footpath as a veritable step
towards self-employment. The threat of eviction in 1996 brought many hawkers in the city
together under an umbrella union called the Hawker Sangram Committee (Committee of the
struggling hawkers). As soon as the movement achieved success in resettling the hawkers, it
began to change its fundamental character that had been based on exclusivity. The Hawker
Sangram Committee began to project itself as a platform of a wide cross-section of urban
poor the prostitutes, the squatters and so on. Interestingly, it refused to register its name
either under the Trade Union Act or the Societies Registration Act. Rather, it sought to be
identified with a wider anti-globalization peoples movement that developed from the
Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the River Narmada Movement). While trying to understand
this kind of merger of autonomous movements with various claims, one must not forget the

very specific and short-term, target-oriented beginning of the hawkers sangram (struggle) that
sought to displace the pavement dwellers if necessary to justify and consolidate its own
claim. The merger of the hawkers movement with the peoples movement in the post
Operation Sunshine decade gave it greater visibility, vibrancy and publicity in the national
and international levels. But it does hardly explain how the Hawker Sangram Committee has
been able to keep its original support base intact among the hawkers for over more than a
decade and also why governmental and trans-national organizations accept it as a legitimate
platform of the hawkers.

Figure I: A Beggar in Front of Lighthouse Cinema Hall.


Figure II: A Pavement Dweller Near Rabindrasadan.

Figure III: A Footpath Shack Near Calcutta Club.


Figure IV: Late Evening Activities Beneath the Grand Hotel.



Figure V: Measuring Weight is a Figure VI: A Mobile Public Call

Livelihood Option in Esplanade. Office in Jawaharlal Nehru Road.

Figure VII: Chaitra Sale in Jadavpur Station Road.

Figure VIII: Book Stalls in College Street Footpath.


Figure IX: Garment Stalls in Front of a Multinational Outlet.

Figure X: A Brief Transaction in a Footpath Jewellery Stall Before a Jewellery Shop .


Figure XI: A Footpath Transaction in Gariahaat.

Figure XII: Stalls Selling Belts, Watches, Wallet in Esplanade.


Figure XIII: Message of Politics, Message of Capital: Brisk Activities in Esplanade.

Figure XIV : In Front of A Police Kiosk in Esplanade.


Figure XV: Pirate Modernity.

Chapter II

Spatialities of the Act of Selling: Footpath, Mall, Commodities

The chapter makes a case study of a particular commodity1 and its social network with
central emphasis on the hawkers who mediate between its production and consumption. The
act of mediation is the act of selling a commodity, which takes place in the interstitial space
between production and consumption. While an impressive corpus of literature exists on the
production and consumption of commodities, the selling of a particular commodity, and the
spatial and performative dimensions of the act of selling remain comparatively less addressed
in scholarship. Put differently, this chapter seeks to unravel a social process in which spaces,
commodities and hawking (the act of selling) are embedded in complex relationships. In the
previous chapter, I talked about the social life of small urban spaces. This chapter presents
the social life of commodities and perceives the hawker as a double mediator between spaces
and commodities on the one hand, and production and consumption on the other. A
consideration of spatialities of consumption involves thinking not only about places, but
about how processes of consumption are constituted across particular spaces.

While reflecting on commodity fetishism, Marx draws our attention to the social forms that the
commodity embodies such as the social form of labour and the exchange value. He unravels how the
commoditys mystical attributes have always been transferred from the labour of individual humansthe
sole bearer of labour power. In subsequent anthropological works on consumption, scholars have told us
how people look for a triad of three kinds of value: exchange value (quantitative relations among
commodities in market mediated by a common denominator), use value (material usefulness of an object
referring to the qualitative aspects of commodities) realized through the final consumption, and identity
value. Identity value, scholars argue, is derived through conspicuous consumption relating to brand, status
and symbols, which enables the consumer to be placed in an intended social circle (Warde 1997, 59).
Needless to say, advertising plays a crucial role in transmitting identity value to commodities, which Martin
Davidson (1992) provocatively calls added value. While examining social life of commodities by
understanding the meanings of commodities, their forms, uses and trajectories, Arjun Appadurai illustrates
how such an exercise unlocks the political link between exchange and value (1986, 3).
Research on the relationship between space and consumption has of late acquired
theoretical rigor in works on symbolic and material construction of the sites of
consumption.2 During the early years of 1990s, much scholarly attention went to understand
the nature of consumption space as an ideological construct (Jackson and Thrift, 1995). Such
studies took up semiotic methods of approaching landscape trying to unearth the social
socio-cultural embeddedness of built environments within the relations of power. Needless
to say, this corpus was deeply influenced by Marxian traditions, and to some extent, by the
works of Baudrillard on semiotic readings of spectacular spaces of consumption as sites of
commodity fetishism, illusory places of pleasure, leisure, hyper-reality and simulated
elsewhereness (Hubbard 2006, 72, Hopkins, 1991).
From the mid-1990s, ethnographers of consumption started developing an agentic
understanding of the consumer in the commodity market (see for instance Gregson, 1995).
Much labour went to study alternative spaces of consumption, such as car boot fairs,
second-hand stores and discount shops, streets and markets sites of everyday transaction
(Gregson and Crewe 1997a; 1997b). These studies have informed us as to how places and
practices of consumption constitute each other (Miller et al. 1998). One can thus see the fact
that focus has gradually expanded from the study of sites in earlier works to the practices
of consumption and the constitution of meaning across spaces. This meant that scholars
began to appreciate the dynamics of capital beyond the circuits of accumulation and
exploitation. Studying consumer and consumption practices became a legitimate sphere of
scholarship within the fold of the eclectic left. The material culture approach developed by
Daniel Miller (1998) gave this scholarship a new directionality to approach consumption
beyond a hedonistic pursuit of a virtually limitless range of lifestyle choices (1998, 290) of
the cultural studies perspective. However, this corpus of research has been confined to the
limited geography of the West, with an occasional foray into Hong Kong, Shanghai,
Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Cities like Calcutta have so far remained outside the circuit of
such discussion. The present chapter contributes to the literature by simultaneously looking

Daniel Miller views shopping as a notable social investment within a rather narrow set of family and
domestic relationships. For Miller, consumption is generative of diverse personhoods, social relations and
communities than assumed in the standard sociological and economic literature (Miller 1998, 290). Miller
thinks that turning to consumption has fundamentally transformed the discipline of anthropology by
shedding light on our understanding of the process of the disintegration of the local in favour of global
homogenization (1998, 290).
at the commodity chain, spaces of production and consumption, and the act of selling. In
order to highlight different modes of selling and unravel the connectivity between spaces of
consumption, I compare footpath hawking with the practice of trade in shopping malls. In
short, the chapter looks at a set of contemporary specialized practices of selling and of
exchange and consumption in contemporary Calcutta. I will finally provide a life history
account of a hawker in Esplanade area. The hawker whose life trajectories I portray, is
engaged in a range of counterfeit/pirate activities. Although piracy network and business
strategies are far from being representative of the ways in which all hawkers sell
commodities, the narrative presents a picture of how hawkers conduct their trade in Calcutta
in ordinary and extraordinary situations.

A Survey of Footpath Hawking

An amazing variety of commodities pass through the hands of the hawkers of Calcutta (also
discussed in Chapter I): Fresh fruits, cooked staple and fast food items and vegetables to
adulterated baby food; garments of various kinds, shoes to hand printed leather bags and
purses; handloom products and silk to glass and ceramic objects and brassware; hand-made
wooden beads, funeral cots to junk jewelry and cheap Chinese plastic products; pirated
tapes, CDs and DVDs, secondhand books; glass bangles to kitchen ware and household
essentials; herbs and spices to cigarettes and cold drinks and a range of recycled and second
hand articles (Dasgupta 1992). It is possible that this wide products profile has evolved over
the years as hawkers have taken part in competition and kept pace with changing consumer
demand. Moreover, from time to time, they need to relocate themselves because of
overcrowding. Dasgupta (1992) mentions that until the mid-1960s, significant concentration
of hawkers could only be found in three areas around Sealdah (Figure XVI, block 2), and
College Street (Figure XVI, block 1), Kalighat (Figure XVI, block 3) and Bhawanipore
(Figure XVI, block 4), and Park Circus (Figure XVI, block 5). In addition, when I
interviewed hawkers, I tried to get a sense of the spatial expansion of hawking over the years
in different regions of the city. Many veteran hawkers were good at remembering things like
the time when they started the business, and nuggets on surroundings of the unit at the
initial moment. I then crosschecked my findings with Dasguptas field observations taken in

1980s. This helped me develop a temporal understanding of expansion of hawking in the
city. Further, a comparative engagement with Dasguptas work enabled me to develop a
sense of certain developments which are no more alive in peoples memory. In what follows,
in this section, I will make an attempt to draw a social map of the areas of the city in which
hawkers are clustered, organized by the era in which they arrived and the products they
started vending. It appears that there were a couple of significant moments of proliferation
of hawking units on the footpath in 1966-67 and 1971-72. I describe each of the three areas
The Sealdah station (Figure XVIX) is the biggest terminus of long distance and
commuter trains. Its importance lies in its accessibility by road and rail. The adjoining market
is one of the largest centres for wholesale and retail trade in vegetables and fish (Kolay
market and Shishir market). A large number of small and medium sized hotels and
guesthouses crowd the immediate hinterland of the station (Dasgupta 1992). In addition, an
important government medical college, a dental college, a hospital, a degree college and a
number of schools in the vicinity make the area always crowded. Taking advantage of this
nodal location, there are a large number of shops selling a wide range of consumer goods
and cooked food items. In addition, the largest centre for the transaction of second-hand
and stolen goods is situated in the same neighbourhood. Thus, Sealdah attracts a motley
crowd. During the Great Bengal Famine and the Partition, the platforms of the station
housed thousands of homeless refugees from uncountable numbers of villages and towns.
No wonder, it was one of the first areas where hawkers began to settle. Dasgupta (1992) tells
us that initially there were two major group of hawkers, one sold fruits and vegetables and
the other sold items like water-bottles, lunch-boxes, umbrellas and a host of other items like
key rings, cigarette lights, etc. which the daily commuter or the long-distance traveler could
easily pick up before catching the train. After the second influx of refugees in the early 1970s
following the Indo-Pak war, several hundreds of individuals took to street hawking in this
area enhancing the product base, and pushing the frontiers of vending along some of the
roads away from Sealdah.
Taking us a little West towards Bowbazar and into College Street (Figure XVII),
Dasgupta finds a gradual thinning out of the hawkers concentration. Compared to the
neighbouring areas, Bowbazar still has a few hawkers (Dasgupta 1992). In College Street,

thanks to the concentration of several educational institutions, one finds product
specialization along with some basic food stalls mostly inside the College Square. Here, most
of the larger shops sell books. The hawkers sell less expensive books, books for competitive
examinations, second-hand books and old, often out of print books that one might not find
in established bookshops. Though booksellers still predominate, several hawkers in the last
25 years have switched to selling garments, shoes and other leather products. Around the
College Street Market, which is the second largest retail market of the city owned by the
Corporation, one finds the usual range of products being sold by the hawkers.
Kalighat (Figure XVIII) has a significant concentration of hawkers around the
famous Kali temple. Hawkers, here sell items connected to temple rituals sweets,
ornaments, utensils and so on. The adjascent Chetla area hosts some of the most crowded
slums of the city, along with one of the biggest cremation grounds. Footpaths close to the
Keoratala Burning Ghat are clogged with kiosks selling items required for the rituals of
The third and according to Dasgupta, the most recent group of hawkers in this
cluster have settled in Bhawanipore (Figure XVIII). Located in an area between Kalighat and
S. P. Mookherjee Road, the hawkers have developed fairly permanent structures along the
sprawling sidewalks of the neighbourhood. The initial occupants came nearly 35 years ago to
sell garments and saris (Dasgupta 1992). The hawkers in the vicinity of the main market
place of Bhawanipore sell fruit and vegetables, household materials, etc. They target the
middle-income groups populating the area. The hawkers in Chetla largely cater to the huge
slum establishments between the rail track and the canal and along the canal side. Some of
the hawkers live in those slums and had work experience in now extinct rice mill industry
clustering in the adjacent Sahanagar area.
Park Circus and Beniapukur cover a considerably large area between A. J. C. Bose
Road to the West and Sunderimohan Avenue to the East. These are predominantly
residential areas for Muslims and Anglo-Indians3. This is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic
area with palpable economic segregation among each ethnic group. The poorer Muslim

In colonial period, this area formed the edge of the white Town that urban historians of Calcutta term as a
heterogeneous intermediate zone (supplying services to the white Town), mostly inhabited by poor whites,
Euresians, large number of Muslim service groups, and small communities of Jews, Armenians and
localities bordering in Gobra for instance usually attract Muslim migrants from Bihar and
Uttar Pradesh. The middle class quarters provide a considerably large and diverse market for
the hawkers. The Eastern margins of the area merge into shacks stretched along the railway
tracks. A large number of hawkers come from these slums and squatter colonies to avail of
the market in Park Circus and Beniapukur. Dasgupta notes that the product-mix along the
Eastern fringe is limited to leather, leather goods, hardware and cheaper articles.
Many of my respondents could remember the period between 1962 (Indo-China
War) and 1971-72 (Bangladesh War) when there was a significant influx of hawkers in the
city.4 The expansion led them to address needs of the groups in the neighbourhoods, which
in turn, led to product diversification. They continued to change the product-mix with
changing consumer demand. The spatial variation in the quality of commodities and in the
product-mix that they offered depending on local condition speaks of the hawkers
adaptability to market conditions (Dasgupta 1992). It also suggests how, over the years,
hawkers were able to develop certain relationships with the communities at large, so much
so that, during a coordinated demolition drive in Calcutta undertaken between 1996 and
1997 (see Chapter III) residents from various quarters helped the hawkers to store their
wares in private residences.
Most of the goods entering the market through footpath hawking since the early
1970s are products of workshops and karkhanas situated in Calcutta, Howrah and some
other adjoining districts in West Bengal. The slums and squatter colonies of the city are also
known for hosting small-scale production units. Larger firms also sell through hawkers their
low-end products. Another source of bulk purchase for hawkers has been the dock area
where export rejects are being sold through local mahajans.
Between 1966 and 1972 hawkers began to move occupy footpaths at Esplanade
(Figure XVI, block 6), Burrabazaar (Figure XVI, block 8) and North into Hatibagan,
Shyambazaar and Sovabazaar (Figure XVI, block 7), and also across the canal into Paikpara
(Dasgupta 1992). Paikpara, located north of the canal and the East-West running railway

This can be attributed to a series of political and economic events that took place in the city and its
hinterland propelling huge rural-urban migration such as droughts (leading to famines) in Bihar and Orissa
in early 1960s, serial occurrence of droughts and floods in the Southern parts of 24 Parganas in West
Bengal (now South 24 Parganas), a further shrinking of the manufacture and jute industries surrounding the
city, decline of the port economy, riot in East Pakistan in 1964 leading to a fresh refugee influx (mostly low
caste peasant groups known as namasudra), two Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971.
line, used to be an industrial area with working class and other low-income groups occupied
a substantial section of land adjacent to the canal and the railway track. Here, hawkers until
recently, used to sell food, tea, vegetables, fruits, household items made of recycled plastic
and scrap manufactured in small karkhanas or household units in the slums. In the last ten
years, the demographic character of this area has changed. The real-estate boom has given
birth to high and middle-income housing enclaves in the area in the last decade. To cater to
this emerging middle-class group, hawkers are now diversifying their products. South of
Paikpara are Shyambazar and Bagbazara quintessentially a middle-income Bengali area. The
footpath hawkers sell items that include garments, saris, toiletries, accessories, kitchenware,
wooden, plastic and metal hardware, pirated tapes, books and magazines, and of course fruits and
vegetables (Dasgupta 1992).
The second major hawking area, which developed in predominantly in late 1960s-1970s,
was around the wholesale areas of Burrabazaar where retail sector developed to complement
the wholesale trade. Here, the hawkers are observed to be tied with the wholesale units by an
intricate credit relation. As we will see in course of the next chapter in the dissertation, the
complementary relation between the wholesale sector and street hawking ultimately resulted
in the citys commercial class protecting the hawkers in the alleys of the Burrabazaar at a
time when some other adjacent areas saw a series of police action against the hawkers. Like
all wholesale centres Burrabazar thrives on product specialization. It is the centre of trade for piece-
goods, glass and ceramics and essential household goods (Dasgupta 1992). This wholesale and
speculative commercial centre of the city is dominated and inhabited by Marwaris, who had
settled there as early as 1860s. Beginning in 1870s, Marwaris started buying up land in the area,
pushing out wealthy Bengali landlords.5 Each narrow lane in Burrabazaar specializes on a
particular range of products. Street hawkers generally sell the same products as the larger shops, but
target a different customer profile. As one slowly gets out of the mesh of lanes that characterizes
Burrabazaar and enters Brabourne Road to the East and Strand Road to the West, one observes
the return of a greater variety of commodities being sold by the hawkers. Inside Burrabazaar, I
roughly estimate that nearly 50 percent of the hawkers, like wholesalers, sell textile and piece goods.

By 1911, the Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) had instituted a clearing up programme in which
cleared slum lands were sold to Marwaris for the building of shops and mansions. A large number of poor
Muslims lost their homes to make way for the gentrification, a situation that led to the communal tension
between Muslims and Marwaris in Burrabazar (Das 1993, 61-62, Birla 2010).
More than 30 percent of hawkers run food kiosks selling predominantly various milk
products and popular fast food from Gujarat and Rajasthan, tea stalls, and paan and
cigarette shops. Nearly 25 percent of hawkers sell fresh fruits (seasonal) and the rest deal in
glass and ceramic, paper and stationary items.
The third area to see an inflow of hawkers in late 60s and early 70s was Esplanade6, one
of the most important node in the public transport network, a major terminus for long distance
buses and a major Metro station. The shops lining the main road hardly cater to the large mass
passing through this area. Many shops still flaunt their colonial past and their goods are directed to
the higher income group. Arguably, this area the commercial and political center of the city.
Constituting the heart of the white town of the colonial era, this area at present houses
large commercial buildings, hotels, retail markets, malls, the largest market of electronic
goods of eastern India, the head office of the city Corporation, and a vast and variegated
informal economy bordering the administrative headquarters of the state of West Bengal,
and the famous maidans (the vast open fields for which Calcutta is well known). Like other
Calcutta districts, the Esplanade area juxtaposes the extremities of wealth represented by
institutional banking structures and middle- and upper-class office workers, and one of the
major five-star hotels (the Grand Hotel) with the beggars and hawkers who may live and
sleep in Calcuttas streets.
Esplanade has a large number of garment hawkers. Besides Burrabazaar and Howrah
Haat, they also collect material from the garment karkhanas run by North Indian Muslim
Ostagars7 (master craftsmen) in Kidderpur and Metiaburuj areas at the Western End of the
cities. These parts of the city are known as the dock areas. Much of the counterfeit industry
of the city is located in the serpentine alleys of Kidderpur and Metiaburuj. In Esplanade, the
major concentration of the garment hawkers is between the Peerless Inn Hotel to the South
and the Chadni chawk Metro Station to the North. The other side of the footpath along the

Till 1860s Esplanade used to be a very large open retail market at the heart of the White Town owned
by a Bengali business family. Goode (1916) gives the following description of the area: The latter
[Dharamtola Market], situated at the junction of Chowringhee and Dharamtola Street, belonged to Babu
Hira Lal Sil, one of the wealthiest men in Calcutta. The market was surrounded by houses on all sides, its
accommodation was quite inadequate to the crowd which frequented it, and its ventilation and conservancy
arrangements were most defective (Goode 1916, 289).
Their forefathers came with the deposed Nawab of Oudh in the second half of the 19th century. In
Calcutta, they are still known as the North Indian/up-country Muslims as they still speak largely in Urdu.
The Urdu and Bengali divide among the Muslims in Calcutta seems to assign them some sort of a status of
the permanent migrants.
Jawaharlal Nehru Road is relatively sparsely populated by the hawkers. Their investments are
also smaller and the prevalence of a particular caste/religious group thin out here.
Historically, this side of Jawaharlal Nehru Road has been populated by refugee hawkers who
came in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Some of them found rehabilitation in the Bidhan
Refugee Hawkers Market situated between the Jawaharlal Nehru Road and the Esplanade
Bus Terminusthe largest bus transit point of Calcutta. The new hawkers, who occupied
once the earlier group was rehabilitated, were generally diverse in their caste and religious
profiles. There is another major concentration of garment hawkers in the vicinity of the New
Market. These hawkers are generally (West) Bengali-Hindus, belonging to various lower and
middle castes or the second or third generation of the East Bengali namasudras. In terms of
settlement histories, these hawkers occupied the footpaths in the late 1970s and the early
1980s. Before their coming, there were food hawkers and hawkers selling stationeries, bags,
etc. They are still found in this area.
Like in Esplanade, roughly during the same decade the hawkers had spread along Lenin
Sarani and towards the Chandni Market in the North-East of Esplanade. Chandni Chowk sells heavy
household goods such as mattresses, kitchenware etc., the hawkers sell items like utensils, textile
and garments, fruits, tea, cold-drinks, paan, cigarette and cooked food. There is a huge concentration
of hawkers in this area who sell low quality cellphone accessories, electrical products, CDs, DVDs, etc.
Another important area to attract hawkers in the late 1960s and early 1970s was Gariahaat (Figure
XVI, block 9). It started as a cluster around the Gariahaat municipal market. At an early stage,
there were two distinct groups of hawkers. The fruit and the vegetable sellers clustering around
the market were all migrants from the neighbouring districts of Calcutta or from Bihar while
migrants from East Pakistan took to trade in textile, predominantly in traditional handloom saris
(Dasgupta 1992). Those who are found between both sides of the stretch of Rashbehari
Avenue from the Gariahaat intersection in the East to Basanti Devi College in the West are
exclusively from various Bengali middle caste groups (such as Tanti, Sadgop and Tili)
occupying the footpaths in the late 1960s. They come from the established weaving, artisanal
and peasant communities. They are inserted in various networks of weavers spreading
mainly in Nadia and the two 24 Parganas. They buy products in bulk from the wholesale
garment traders who assemble every week in Burrabazaar and Howrah Haat. These
wholesale traders have fairly stable relations with thousands of weaving houses in Nadia and

24 Parganas. Some of the hawkers have good understanding with large retail stores in
Gariahaat. They often receive commission and credit from these stores to sell low-end
products that these established shops could not sell in their outlets. In some cases, they also
act as just an extension of a large store selling the same product in lower prices. The hawkers
who occupy both the edges of the Rashbehari Avenue between the intersection in the West
and the Sen Mahasay sweet store in the East sell lower end garments. Their investments are
lower and they generally commute from the southern hinterland of the city belonging to
various lower castes of West Bengal. The largest concentration of the namasudra (the largest
dalit caste in West Bengal, who migrated from the East Pakistan successively and
continuously between 1962 and 1981) garment hawkers is in the Gariahaat Road between
the intersection in the North and the Golpark in the South, in the opposite side of the Axis
Bank. Their investments are also lower compared to the hawkers who are found between
the intersection and the Basanti Devi College. The namasudra garment-hawkers do not
generally sell saris. They keep export reject trousers, under-garments, dopattas, and various
other garments for everyday household use. They also sell woolen garments every year
between November and February.
The growth of refugee populations in this area in the first two decades following
independence also coincided with the ongoing rural-urban migration, mainly from the
southern districts of the state of West Bengal. The migrants from the rural hinterland of the
city occupied lands along the railway track between Tollygunj and Ballygunj. With the
growth of a substantial lower class and lower middle class population in the vicinity of the
Gariahaat crossing, a parallel economy of low end products started developing on the streets
and footpaths. By the 1970s and 1980s, the number of street vendors had grown to a few
thousands within a hundred metre radius of Gariahaat crossing, as had the diversity of
commodities. Now, on the footpaths along all four directions from Gariahaat crossing, stand
innumerable vendors peddling the most disparate array of goods one can think of from
glass and ceramic items to mill and handloom textile products, food to pens, and envelopes
to lottery tickets. The flow of a diverse range of goods in Gariahaat makes it a part of several
larger and complex commodity cycles. To the primary producers, street vendors often act as
an alternative to the organized chains of powerful intermediaries that mediate between the
multitude of primary producers and the vast and variegated army of consumers.

Going further West from Gariahaat along the Rashbehari Avenue, one reaches a
busy intersection where Rashbehari Avenue from the east meets S P Mukherjee Road
(north-south road). This intersection is a major trading area in the South with the Keoratala
Crematorium in its vicinity, the Lake Market, a Metro Station and large refugee areas around
Tallyganj. This intersection is populated by hawkers selling food, vegetables, electronic
goods, and the necessary things for cremation rituals. According to the residential patterns,
the catchment of the Rashbehari junction is mixed. While in Chetla, Kalighat and Tallyganj,
there are massive slums and squatter colonies along the Tally Nullah, the residents of the
Southern Avenue (between Gariahat Road and the S P Mukherjee Road) are known to be
the uchcha madhyabitta (upper middle class) in the citys popular parlance. Until the late
1990s, the Lake Market Area used to host a sizeable section of the lower middle class South
Indian, especially Tamil population. As a result, earliest instances of hawkers selling dhosa,
idli and vada could be found in this area before these food-items had been nationalized along
with Punjabi food in the early 1990s. As one moves, further east along the Rashbehari
Avenue, the concentration of stalls thin out until one reaches Deshapriya Park area. Sudipta
Kaviraj (1997), the political theorist, who grew up in this area gives us a vivid account of the
transformation of the Deshapriya Park in the mid-1960s with the coming of hawkers and
squatters as a long-term effect of the Partition. The part of the article from which I am
quoting Kaviraj is titled The Plebian Process:
By the mid-1960s, the pressure on the city in simple demographic terms was so
immense that enterprising shopkeepers who could not afford rents in proper built up
shops constructed temporary shacks along the pavements of main streets to vend their
slightly cheaper waresThe small shops gradually established themselves and were
regarded, by a combination of economic pressures, as part of the neighbourhood.
Roads around Deshapriya Park used to have wide pavements, too wide for the parks
good. Because of their width, it was possible to build relatively small shacks right next
to, and backing against, the beautiful ironwork railings. In a few years, the park railings
entirely disappeared from view, and the entire outside perimeter became an unbroken
row of shops backing onto the park, hiding it completely from view from the tramway
and from pedestrians walking on the main road (1997, 105).
The office and the commercial areas of the central city from the Dalhousie to Park
Street and Metro Rail Bhawan at Jawaharlal Nehru Road have, for long, attracted the street

food hawkers. The predecessors of the hawkers whom we find near the Writers Buildings
today must have been in place at a very early period in our temporal scale starting from the
1950s. Their settlement to such a spot must have to do with the growing trend of daily
commutation among the mid to low level public sector workers with the gradual
improvement of transportation system between Calcutta and its suburbs in 1960s. These
were the people who needed lunch at a cheaper price on a daily basis. Gradually the shops
changed hands and their looks. By 1980s, the lunch-providing hawkers in this area first
started arranging chairs and benches in early 1980s. In most of the cases they used rejected
furniture from the nearby offices. In 1984, the Police led an eviction drive to clear the
Dalhousie footpaths adjacent to the Writers Building from the hawkers. The lower level
public sector employees affiliated to the ruling CPM influenced Coordination Committee
mediated between the government and the hawkers and the Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu
allowed the hawkers to squat within the citys highest security zone.
Until the late 1960s many of the vendors offering meals in this area were from the Oriya Brahmin
communities living in the catchments of the Bhawanipore area. Earlier, they used to serve to the large
upper-middle class households at Bhwanipore. With the break- up of these families, the professional Oriya
cooks started finding livelihood here. Namasudras were late entrants to the area. Amidst the green belt
between the walls of the Fort William in the West and Birla Planetarium in the East and
Rabindrasadan in the South, one finds numerous food hawkers selling both fast food and
lunch comprising rice, sabji and fish. Here, one finds a number of Bihari and UP vendors
offering North Indian food. These hawkers operate from late afternoon to late in the night.
Initially they were attracted by the potential market created by a large number of visitors to the
In Kidderpur, the main concentration of hawkers can be found at the crossing of the
Diamond Harbour Road and Khidderpur road. Here also, as Dasgupta (1992) mentions, one
finds the clustering of hawkers in the vicinity of the main retail market of the area. While the
hawkers in Kidderpore were largely Muslims from other provinces living in Calcutta for
generations, the hawkers in Diamond Harbour road are largely namasudras and ex-
agricultural workers belonging to various caste groups, but more numerously to the Paundra
(in West Bengal, Paundras constitute a dalit constituency) community from the South 24

The spread of the hawkers in the refugee areas from the south of Jadavpur to Garia
station and in Tallyganj areas took place largely between the last few years of the 1960s and
continued to spread until the end of the 1990s. It often so happened that the refugees started
opening shops on the roadways which then ultimately converted into marketplaces.
Alternatively, the sellers were given allotments to the marketplaces once they were in
existence. Most of the early sellers were from the refugee residents of the neighbourhoods. I
stayed in such a neighbourhood at Bijoygarh between 2000 and 2009. Even within a decade
I observed a profound cultural transformation in this area. I can still remember that in early
2000s, while approaching the Bijoygarh bazaar I used to hear the chants from the roadside
stalls: aidikeaashen (come this side) and koyenkilagbo (tell, what you want) with an unmistakable
East Bengali tone. They are still heard inside the marketplace, or even around a small
mudirdokan(kirana store) situated deep inside the colony area (often as an extension of a
residential building), where the progeny of the first generation still continue the trade. Their
formalisation happened in phases between the late 1980s and early 2000s that paralleled the
expansion of the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation in Jadavpur and Tallygunj areas.
The hawkers in the refugee areas of the catchments of Tallyganj and Jadavpur started
emerging since the early 1980s once these markets got saturated. By the 1980s, these
neighbourhoods also experienced profound transformation. The second generation of the
refugees were progressively absorbed in the citys middle class and lower middle class
neighbourhoods and following the formalisation of the land rights, these neighbourhoods
started attracting middle class citizens from various parts of West Bengal. The hawkers who
emerged in the 1980s were no more the earlier refugee residents of the same area. The main
street has been converted to just an extension of the market where I used to hear chants in
mixed tones: East Bengali as well as the tone familiar to the vendors coming from Baruipur,
Lakshmikantapur and Diamond Harbour.
Generally, hawkers set up their stalls either in front of buildings, and use the walls
facing the footpath, and opposite buildings and other shops at the kerbside edge of the
footpath, forming a corridor in the middle for pedestrian traffic. The ideal site for a food
stall, according to food hawkers, is the mid-point between the municipal water tap and the
drain at the kerbside of the sidewalk. The chances of transaction improve with proximity to
busy intersections and transit points, and the hawkers access to certain utilities (such as a

municipal water tap) by the sidewalk. Sometimes, lucrative stall spaces are also traded and
rented out. Usually, stalls have a bamboo framing with a tarpaulin roofs. The hawkers use
elevated wooden slabs to place their wares. Food stalls use more elevated tables with
multiple drawers rather than slabs. When hawkers gather their stalls, new spaces between
bodies and stalls are created whose internal dimensions and consistencies are vital for a
collective living. To give an example, in Gariahaat and Shyambazaar, hawkers collectively
buy mini generators and place them between two sets of continuous stalls. Electric wires
move between stalls, producing a very different play of light and noise on the street. Usually,
they manage the supply of electricity from nearby shops. In many streets, hawkers make
rental arrangements with nearby shops and store their wares at the end of a business day.
Let me now say a few lines about social organization of street hawking. While writing
this dissertation from a host of fieldnotes, I found a number of important trends.
First, the survey of the neighbourhoods suggests that hawkers could equally be
found in the richer neighbourhoods of the city where the hawkers serve the army of
commuting daily labourers. In fact, it can be said that it is the bourgeois city that needs the
hawkers the most. If the valorization of rent in the metropolitan space needs the poor to
leave the city, then the everyday commutation of the poor from the fringes to the city
necessitates the existence of a low-circuit service economy in every transit area, every
intersection and in every bourgeois neighbourhood. Therefore, it is the calculated spatial
management of the hawkers through law and toleration and not their total extinction which
enables the city to maintain a huge non-hawking service population with lower wages. Then,
it is not just the slum, but the slum free bourgeois city that needs the hawkers. A simplistic
understanding of the perceived warfare between the middle class and the hawkers where the
state acts as the instrument of the bourgeois needs qualification (Fernandes 2006).
Second, as one can see from the above survey of street hawking, the distribution of
the hawkers across the city reflects religious and ethnic patterns of settlement. Thus, in the
alleys of Burrabazaar, it is difficult to find a sizeable section of Muslim hawkers. In the
Central Avenue and Esplanade areas, there are places where Muslim hawkers have numerical
dominance. In much of central Calcutta, a sizeable section of hawkers speaks Hindi and
Urdu. In North and South, Bengali speaking hawkers dominate the scene. The exchange
relations between the mahajans and their clients developed following ethnic and religious

lines. We have also seen that the ethnic and religious lines are clear in terms of the hawkers
selection of commodities. But, when it comes to the caste question within each group, one
fails to find a consistent pattern or numerical dominance of a particular group according to
caste lines. My evidence reveals that the institution of untouchability played an important
role in the deferred entry of the dalits in certain trades such as food vending. On the other
hand, certain services such as shoe-making and cobbling remained with the untouchable
chamars and Rabi Das (settled mainly in Nadia) caste groups coming from different districts
and also from other states. The dalits are often found to be in pockets where they could
practice trade with a lower investment level and uncertain and often non-existent sources of
credit. The dalit question is often observed to be submerged in the questions of ethnicity,
religion and refugee rights (Chatterjee 1997). It could never become an issue of mobilization
in this sector.
Of course, this hardly means that caste does not matter in the hawkers politics. It,
for instance, mattered substantially to determine how several vocations within footpath
hawking have historically been arranged and classified. Nor does it mean that the gradual
entry of the dalit hawkers in food vending reflects a decline of caste in popular
consciousness as caste as an institution of difference is not a function of untouchability. What
follows is that the reconfiguration of untouchability may not change caste relations. In
addition, I would argue that if the institution of untouchability has declined through the
entry of the dalits in the food vending sector, it has been reinvented elsewhere, i.e., in the
scientific deployment of use-and throw utensils8, and inculcation of clean habits (using
gloves and aprons) in the Indian context so enthusiastically mobilized by the bhadralok food
researchers, their foreign funding agencies and also the hawkers unions9.
Third, unlike other industrial cities, where the formerly industrial working class
constitute a substantial segment of the street hawkers, in Calcutta, except for a few places,
the majority of the hawkers came as migrants and refugees with agricultural and artisanal
background. In the next chapter, I will probe into how the older social ties, rural

It is worth mentioning here that use of the use-and-throw earthen utensils known as matir bhar in
Calcutta predates even any discussion of good scientific behaviour of the hawkers.
See the project description of the Analysis of Street Food Vending in Kolkata: Analysis of Livelihood,
Health and Environmental Issues; P. I. Prof. Joyashree Roy; Coordinator, Global Change Program, and
Professor of Economics, Jadavpur University and Natural Resources Institute, UK,; Sponsor: Natural
Resources International, U K. (NRI), 2005-2007.
connections and their spatial and legal redefinitions following the geographical reshuffle of
these communities with the Partition influenced the hawkers modes of articulating claims to
the city.
Fourth, in her socio-economic survey of the hawkers of Calcutta Nandini Dasgupta
(1992) found that there existed a mismatch between the number of hawkers on the
footpaths, and the number of existing stalls. It was then found that the stalls kept two to six
persons employed. Clearly, such an evidence revealed the existence of a sizeable section of
labourers in the sector whom the owner hawkers employed. When I started my research
on hawkers in Calcutta in 2006, I found that the existed an employment cycle in the sector.
During two festive seasons (one during the Pujas between August and November, and
another during the Chaitra Sankranti/ Bengali new year between April and May) the hawkers
tend to employ a significant number of labourers especially in the stalls selling garments to
attract and manage buyers. I also found that a significant portion of these labourers were not
related to the owner hawkers through blood and family relations, which implied the
existence of a wage relation among those who sell on the footpath. The stalls hardly
appeared to be an extension of the hawkers family enterprise with a perfect collapse of
the employers and the employees in the figure of the hawker.
Fifth, spatial organization thus established in Calcutta during 1970s remained stable until
Operation Sunshine in 1996-97. They also entered into the local economies of power through
several neighbourhood clubs, and social and cultural events. The Youth Congress leaders of
1970s such as Subrata Mukherjee in Gariahaat and Somen Mitra in Sealdah and their sub-
contractors in other places played a crucial role in forging links between the Congress
sponsored clubs and the street economies. In some areas, hawkers converted their make-shift
stalls into structures of a more permanent disposition replacing bamboo structures by concrete and
brick. Gradually, a bond between the householders and the hawkers developed, the traces of
which could be found in the post-Operation Sunshine Gariahaat in 1996-97 where the
hawkers returned with baskets of goods claiming that they had the moral support of the
residents, the traders and everyday visitors of the crossing.
A couple of factors at work since the late 1990s played a significant role in augmenting
change in street hawking. First, series of demolition drives and the arrival of the networks of flyover
in some of the most congested intersections of the city between the last few years of 1990s and the

first few years of 2000s changed the look of street vending in some of the major intersections
mentioned above. In Gariahaat for instance, the sprawling boulevard that used to host thousands of
hawkers was buried under a massive flyover that changed the visual texture of the area beyond
recognition. Earlier in early 1980s, the construction of a multi-route flyover covering three sides of
Sealdah station led to a massive restructuring of small trade in the area. The construction of the A. J.
C. Bose Road flyover in early 2000s provided a massive roof to a great part of the road. The flyovers
were constructed to generate vehicular speed bypassing the mundane squalor of intersection. In the
name of producing differential mobility, the flyovers destroyed much of the roadbed underneath
them with pillars permanently obstructing traffic at the centre of the streets, throwing vehicular traffic
towards the margins of the roadbed. This in turn led to the thinning out of the width of footpaths in
favour of vehicular traffic. Thus, the arrival of flyovers and a systematic abolition of tram-track
boulevards in many streets of Calcutta gradually restructured the street economy that flourished along
with the early twentieth century layout of streets (we discussed the arrival of avenue-style streets in
Calcutta at the behest of the Improvement Trust in the last chapter).
A second factor that contributed greatly to the transformation of street hawking in the inner-
city region was the arrival of shopping malls since early 2000s marking the beginning of a retail-chain
era in the city. In the next section, we will discuss this particular aspect of change in some detail. In
the intervening period between early 1980s and late 1990s major expansion of hawking took place in
three disparate clusters along Raja S. C. Mullick Street between Selimpore in the North and Garia in
the South, along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass between Ruby General Hospital in the North and
Patuli in the South, and in the vicinity of the new administrative and business centre at Salt Lake. I
have deliberately kept these more recent developments out of the scope of this dissertation as
dynamics in these fringe areas of the city are still in the stage of active formation making it difficult for
me to identify stable patterns. It appears that ever since the failure of the Operation Sunshine, the
state government and the Corporation are more calculative about hawker eviction in the inner-city
areas. Future moves of eviction are likely to be undertaken in these fringe areas, where hawkers are
yet to develop a long-term relationship with newly emerged housing societies. These societies appear
to be more organized in their collective opposition to street hawking, and more self-sustained in
terms of their need to access everyday services. In these areas, hawkers are yet to be organized under
a powerful union like that of the HSC. They also lack a collective memory of fighting the government
to claim a stake to the city. The history of municipal government in these erstwhile villages is rather

new. Considering all these factors together, it seems, we need a new research project to appreciate the
development of street hawking in the eastern frontier of the city.

Footpath and the Mall

Bhajahari-babu stares at the tomato-wala (the vendor selling tomato). There is a visible
change in his facial expression. His face turns dark, eyes narrow with the flaring of nostrils.
He remains still for a while, while others transact around him. Bhajahari carries his own
scales and weights, looks at a fellow customer and finally says, Moshai, Bajar koratao ekta art
(Going to the market is an art too, Gentleman).
The scene of bajar kora (shopping) from Shirshendu Mukhopadhyays (1978)
Manojder Odbhut Bari (Manoj and His Strange Family) is a common bhadralok passion. In the
familiar market place, he finds immense sensory pleasure of touching, seeing and smelling
his objects of desire. It is also the site where his uncertain class privileges, at least for a
moment, find social expression as he prevails over the vegetable and fish sellers. When he
bargains over the price of his chosen products, the apparently vanquished hawker strikes out
a deal with him. Once in a while, the vendor will crack jokes inviting light laughter from the
crowd around him/her. Bhajaharibabu would not shift his allegiance to that particular
vendor. Thus, reciprocity between the seller and the buyer would be established. The buyers
would also know each other in the process of sharing a large Katla (name of a fish) between
three buyers.
It is important to note that though bargaining is an established institution in the
informal market, and hallmark of informal social transactions, not all commodities are
subject to bargaining; for example, the price of cigarette would vary only according to the
brand, or will depend on the scale of buying. Also, bargaining is not equally important for all
products. It tends to be very sharp for seasonal and perishable products, and in fancy
decorative products, cosmetics, shoes and leather products, and in the garment sector. The
owners of food and tea stalls, as well as paan and cigarette sellers have a system of fixed
prices. They generally tend to rely on a set of regular and hence stable customer base. The
pressing need for liquid cash often compels the hawkers to sell some of their stocks in

distress price, especially before an intense shopping season arguably to catch up with the
emergent trends in that particular segment.
Bhajaharibabu apparently faces a challenge now with some of the recent
reformatting of the spaces of the street economy as discussed in the last section. In both the
popular and critical imagination, the question is marked by a sense of impending
obsolescence, as though the importance of the street as a conduit of social life may well be a
thing of the past. If street markets are replaced by malls (as many predict), then
Bhajaharibabu and his vegetable vendor will perhaps remain as a living anachronism. We are
increasingly getting a sense that the world, including Calcutta, is apparently being divided
into those who go to the bazaar and those who go to the new retail store to get things of
everyday use off the shelf. The latter is the globally mobile, yet locally disconnected
community of the new Calcuttan whom many scholars identify as the new
middleclass.10 With the Indian as well as international corporate houses entering into the
Indian retail scenario, there has emerged a trend to understand that the market has been
divided between ongoing the street economy and the emergent mall economy. In the mall,
the social interaction between the buyer and the seller is no more governed by price
negotiations. As Rosalind Williams tells us: active verbal interchange between customer and
retailer [has been] replaced by the passive, mute response of consumer to things (1982, 67).
Unlike Bhajaharibabus exchange of words with the vendor and other buyers, it is more of a
self-supporting shopping experience. As a spectacle-in-itself, the mall also gathers people
and invites habits of familiar and anonymous encounters that vary from place to place.
A number of questions crowd our mind when we think of this new mall moment in
not just the metropolitan cities, but also in small district towns of India. Is the relation
between the mall and the sidewalk always invariably antagonistic? How does a mall affect the
economic organization of a neighbourhood? How does it transform the architectural layout

Fernandes (2006) powerfully argues that the steady emergence and visibility of the new Indian middle
class represents a political moment of the resurgence of support for economic liberalization. This middle
class, according to Fernandes, is not new in terms of its structural or social basis. To put it differently,
its newness does not refer to upwardly mobile segments of the population entering the middle class.
Rather, its newness refers to a process of production of a distinctive social and political identity that
represents and lays claim to the benefits of liberalization (2006, XVIII). Arguably, this group is
constituted by the English-speaking urban white-collar segments of the middle class who have accrued
privileges from new corporate sector employment opportunities. The new middle class is increasingly
becoming ubiquitous both in traditional Bollywood films, and in new genres of films such as Mira Nairs
Monsoon Wedding.
of busy streets and affect the flow of traffic in the area? It is often argued sharply that the
new middle class consumer citizens do not like the messy world of the bazaar. Rather, they
like to visit the mall to collect products of everyday use. Does this mean that the
relationships between the new middle class and the hawkers are always informed by class
antagonism? Is Calcutta becoming bourgeois at last (Chatterjee 2004)? These are important
questions to engage with, especially when the battle-line between the mall and the street is
drawn so sharply, often mobilizing nostalgia for the bygone.
Inaugurating the new outlet of the Spencers at Gariahaat, the RPG Vice Chairman
Sanjiv Goenka said:
Large format is currently driving modern retail in India. It promises to be a superior
shopping experience for the current day discerning shopper who values time and
money and also looks out for choice before making a purchase decision. The large
formats, being essentially multi-category and multi-brand, successfully cater to this
buying behavior, while being a family and entertainment hang-out as well. The south
city store stands testimony to this with the huge footfalls it has recorded since launch.
We are confident of a similar success with the Rashbehari store as well (The Telegraph, 5
July 2008).
Note the comparison between large and small, modern and the past invoked in the above
text. The large format has been deemed modern and therefore automatically a much
superior shopping experience in relation to the premodern, anachronistic, small and
informal retail practices of the street. The consumers freedom of choice from the shelf is
then juxtaposed with the economy of time and a basket of family leisure (of walking and
eating together) that come with the shopping in shopping mall as a package. It offers you
relief from the dust, noise and heat of the street for a while and gives you world class
experience in toilets. Together, they constitute the selling strategy in the mall. In this way, the
mall itself becomes an object of consumption. I will return to this issue later in the chapter.
Even a cursory look at newspapers can convince us that the new fever of mall in
Indian cities has invited much activism, protest, euphoria, and scholarly research in the last
few years. One reason for this could be that nothing compared to the mall was more
spectacular about the recent phase of liberalization, and the resultant recycle of the city
space. Its arrival made difference between the mall and its neighbourhood stark in
unprecedented ways. Often, they came up in ex-industrial quarters, replacing slums and
squatter colonies. At times, they emerged from crumbling residential properties. The sudden
increase of foot fall in the mall area often add pressure on the existing narrow navigation
channels. Their increasingly imposing glass architecture towering over the neighbourhood,
and glowingly multi-colour lighting impose new forms of darkness and blight to the
neighbourhood. It is thus understandable as to why there is so much in contemporary public
discourse about the transformative potential of the mall. Many of my friends in the
corporate sector, for instance, appeared to be convinced about the impending death of the
bazaar with the emergence of the mall. The HSC leaders were also very apprehensive of the
advent of the organized retail in Indian cities. The year 2007 witnessed numerous sporadic
incidents of violence in the big cities by the retail traders and the street hawkers protesting
against the governments decision to invite corporate capital to invest in the retail chain
the lifeline of some millions of Indians both in rural and urban sectors. The movement
against corporate retailing was conducted and controlled by an umbrella organization called
National Movement for Retail Democracy (NMRD) with occasional support from regionally
influential political parties. In Calcutta, the HSC became the nodal organization of the
NMRD and spearheaded a violent campaign on the shopping malls, blocking their passages,
breaking windows and intimidating potential customers. While doing the field research I
noticed how the mall loomed large in the perceptions of hawkers especially among those
whose vegetable shops bordered the mall. The HSC retaliated politically by making the city
Mayor mediate between the Spencers and hawkers to arrive at the agreement that Spencers
would not sell less than three kg of vegetables, six kg of potatoes and onions, less than one
liter of oil and 500 gm of masala (spices) and only branded and packaged rice and
pulses"(Economic Times, 7 July, 2008). In addition to its purported role in encouraging
police harassment, hawkers are also critically aware of the different kind of exchange that the
mall stands for.
Anjaria (2008) reports from millennial Mumbai that his hawker respondents often
articulated the alternative social reality of the mall through the word showroom. For
vegetable hawkers such as the one with whom Anjaria once visited a shopping mall to
compare the quality of vegetables there and on the street, the showroom signifies a sterile
store in which stale, refrigerated vegetables are sold by a man sitting behind a computer
(2008, 183). The ways in which Anjarias hawkers used the term, it conveyed to him the

sense that perhaps, the hawkers had also internalized the imagined hierarchy between the
mall and the street in which the former represented a more advanced and forward
mechanism of marketing commodities. At the same time, to them, showroom represented a
false consciousness of sort through which it convinced a certain section of people to buy
decimated fruits and vegetables over their fresh counterparts being sold on the street. Joshi
(2004) gives us a useful estimate which shows that the volume of the sale of fruits and
vegetables comprise of only 30 percent of the total sale of commodities in some of the
leading Indian corporate retail chains, while in some of the advanced Western countries, the
volume goes up to 70 percent. This shows, the street can in fact offer successful competition
to corporate retail.
As it was with writings on globalization in the late 1990s (Mazzarella 2003, Anjaria
2008), the literature analyzing the mall phenomenon in India tends to either celebrate or
denounce their introduction. Those who celebrate the mall, take it as a symbol of Indias
liberation from the regime of import substitution in favour of consumer choice. The sharp
opposition to this view comes from activists and left-wing scholars who find in malls the
victory of global corporate capital over small economies.11 Both the sides however appear to
be convinced that the mall is an antithesis of the street economy (Anjaria 2008) being
involved in a zero-sum game with the street. What is perhaps needed is a nuanced and
critical ethnographic approach to the subject. One also need to see if the mall operates in the
Indian contexts exactly the same way it did or does in the West. In what follows, the chapter
seeks to complicate the opposition between the corporate retail and street vending. Contrary
to the view of the mall that it radically transforms retail aesthetics and consumption, serving
as a panacea to unruly street practices, I show how at times there can be a synergistic
relationship between hawkers and the malls, both of which coexist in the same space. The
chapter shows how the corporatization of retailing has not uniformly affected the hawkers.

The latter position is represented by the activist groups who have recently been formed to protest new
laws allowing greater FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in Indias retail sector. In the past few years,
recognizing that organized retail represents a small percentage of overall sales, a number of foreign retail
companies such as Wal-Mart and Metro have pressured the government to allow them to open stores in
India. In 2007, broad coalitions of national trade unions of shop owners, traders, municipal market laborers
(mathadi workers), and hawkers organized large protests in Mumbai and New Delhi against multinational
retail. This coalition argued that these companies will, as happened in the United States, lead to the
elimination of small neighborhood shops and thus radically restructure the nature of retail in India.
Their responses to global market forces depend on the type of trade they conduct and their
It is in this context that I started understanding the relationship between these two
spaces of consumption. Precisely, I performed three tasks: a) looking at a broader history of
consumption in Calcutta that would enable me to locate elements of continuity in recent
developments exemplified by the mall, b) unraveling the economic strategies of the hawkers
to answer whether they are able to keep pace with the new wave of consumerism, and c)
examining the possibility of writing a cultural biography of a particular commodity that is a
recent introduction in the list of commodities sold by the hawkers. What does it say about
the future of the street economy? Let me proceed to answer this question by presenting
results of the three tasks that I performed.

Contemporary Consumption in Historical Context

The visual landscape of Indian cities like Calcutta and Mumbai has undergone significant
changes since the economic reforms of 1991 ended strict restrictions on imports and foreign
investment. Returning to Calcutta in 1994 after a long stay in UK, one of my thesis
supervisors was surprised for a while by noticing the transformation of the cityscape. As she
recollected while discussing an earlier draft of this chapter, imported cars appeared on roads,
amidst a population of Fiats and Ambassadors. While passing through the Eastern
Metropolitan Bypass, she said, she was surprised to see huge billboard advertisements for
foreign products. For the urban middle class, the moment of the liberalization of the
economy was much welcome as it gave them an opportunity to enjoy foreign products
without depending on relatives living abroad. A number of scholars have in the recent past
tried to understand the wider implications of this change in the formation of a new middle
class identity in Indian cities.12 Falzon (2004) finds that the changing lifestyle of the middle
class brought with it particular perceptions of space and organization (159) that resulted in

It is important to note that many of the South Asian cities experienced the current form of globalization
long before Indian cities started having a taste of it. Hence, Indian cities do not speak for the entire region.
Naveeda Khan writes, such elements as wide roads, the culture of the car, strip malls, and fast-food
restaurants were evident in Pakistani cities much earlier than in neighboring India or Bangladesh long
before one heard talk of globalization and its effects (2006, 89).

certain significant changes in the citys landscape. Leela Fernandes (2004) also finds similar
trends of visual reconfiguration of the city at work in Mumbai.
This literature takes us to the question as to how one can forge a link between
certain transformations in the visuality of the city and changes at the level of everyday
quotidian life in the city of the twenty first century (Anjaria 2008)? Does the former imply
that the latter has definitely undergone a fundamental change? In fact, a closer look at the
life of the newly imported commodities suggests, argues Anjaria (2008), only few of the
predictions made in the 1990s actually materialized. Much to the dismay of some of the
high-end brands, the middle class spending on foreign goods turned out to be much modest
than anticipated (Varma 1998). Indeed, other than cars and high-end electronics like cell
phones, only a small segment of the newly imported products is regularly consumed by the
middle class.
I suggest that the assumptions about the radical rupture in Indias consumer culture
since liberalization often overlooks history of the long acquaintance that some prime
colonial cities had with globally circulating capital, wish images and ideas. As a result, the
moment of the opening of the market only at the backdrop of Indias postcolonial history
appears to be a moment without president and lineages. Although a rigorous study of the
subject is beyond the scope of this project, even a cursory look at English newspapers such
as The Statesman gives a sense of the nature of nineteenth and early twentieth century
consumer culture in the city. Front-page advertisements in 1890s newspapers, for instance,
list a variety of imported foodstuffs including French champagnes and cheeses products
which are still not widely available. Indeed, these advertisements reveal that the conspicuous
consumption of expensive imported goods is not a phenomenon unique to the late twentieth
century. Let me quote from a few representative advertisements published in The Statesman in
1880s. By 1885, the famous American Eagle Brand Cigars were pretty common among the
colonial and Indian elite. H. W. Newton Co. had been the sole importer of the brand in
Calcutta. The advertisement tells us: Cigars manufactured of the best leaves of Havana seed
tobacco, packed in boxes, each containing 25 cigarsRs 100 (The Statesman, 1 February
1885). Again, in 1888, the Pisti and Pelekanos Tobacconists published a notice with a sketch
of the Great Sphinx of Giza (Figure XX) in the background. The notice says:

We beg respectfully to inform our customers and friends, that we have lately made
arrangements for a continuous supply of improved Egyptian cigarettes of the best
quality, and are ready to invite comparison of our RS 3-8 per 100 cigarettes with those
any other house in India at similar prices (The Statesman, 9 May 1888).
Official and unofficial descriptions of nineteenth and early-twentieth century
Calcutta and Bombay markets also demonstrate the extent of the sale and consumption of
imported goods. The famous Hamilton and Co. (Figure XXII) used to import tins of Fern
Leaf biscuits from France (Advertisement published in The Statesman, 20 June 1881).
Whereas contemporary newspapers celebrate imported fruits as an exciting new
development, in 1935, Calcuttas Hogg Market was stocked with a wide range of imported
fruits, including oranges from Palestine, apples from the United Sates, and lemons from Italy
(Calcutta Municipal Gazette 1935, 80-81). In fact, imported, non-perishable goods were
widely consumed in the city at least since the early nineteenth century. As an observer of life
in Bombay wrote in 1839, [China bazaar] contains all sorts of curiosities with storerooms
full of China satins and tea-boxes, [and] the second [Thieves Bazaar] is crowded with
warehouses, filled with European articles, to be disposed off at a small profit (quoted in
Anjaria 2008, 167).
Writings on contemporary transformations in the urban order of things thus often
fail to appreciate the traces of Calcuttas connection with imperial globalization of the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Kidambi 2007, 1). The Hogg Market in Calcutta
was built in 1874 at the behest of Sir Stuart Hogg, who felt it necessary to institute a new
market aesthetic for the city to replace the existing dilapidated, congested and unhygienic
markets. Hogg Market was Calcuttas first covered market, and also one of the first to rent
out stalls to vendors as a means to regulate and organize their activities (Goode 1916). Like
the shopping malls of the twenty first century, this market was justified on the grounds that
it represented an imposition of a global trend (Williamson 2005, 3, Anjaria 2008) of
market design that would transform the nature of public consumption in the city.
Arguably, just the availability of of Pizza and Burger could hardly transform the
eating practices of the city (discussed in Chapter I). Similarly, the mall which one of several
attempts to reformat retailscape in the city does not automatically swallow other practices of
retail. In fact, evidence at hand also suggests that introduction of malls created the possibility

for a new concentration of street hawking in its neighbourhood. What do these new hawkers
sell? How do they survive?
I noticed that malls generated a desire for luxury goods that ultimately promoted the
counterfeit goods sold by many street hawkers. A number of people in fact go inside the
mall to see commodities. But, the come out empty-handed and by similar non-
branded/counterfeit goods from the adjacent footpaths. In addition to this, shopping malls
create pedestrian traffic on the streets. This led to new demands for fast food in the
neighborhood. It is interesting to note that before the advent of the South City Mall, where
Spencers is located, there were only a few low-cost eateries in the adjacent sidewalk, mostly
selling staple food to transport workers. This was the site of a former factory,2 and a few
mini buses were garaged there. People used to defecate in the in-between spaces of the
factory boundary wall and the stranded buses. Durga-di, who makes paratha-sabji (a type of
bread fried on a griddle) during the day at this spot, told me that the hawker boom in the
area started after the coming of the South City. She also mentioned that her routine was tied
to the operation of the mall. She has a steady customer base from the workers at the mall,
though due to the fast food nature of her product she receives more buyers from young
folks who visit the mall. Thus, she has an incredibly busy time between 6 pm and 9 pm
when she needs assistance from her son, Anil. Durga-di comes from a nearby Tallyganj
slum. Her experience echoes those of hawkers who work outside the City Center at Salt
Lake, who like Durga-di target the mall visitors offering fast food, tea and cigarette. The
workers of the malls are always their regular customers (bandhakhoriddar) who usually display
very strong brand loyalty to particular shops. Durga-di knows her regular customers by
name. Sunil, who has a tea stall bordering Durga-dis stall maintains a register book for his
regular customers as many of them have a subsidized monthly agreement of payment with
him. Sunil says that shopping malls create increased pedestrian traffic on the streets
breeding demand for fast food in the area. Sunil, who used to be a vegetable seller in the
nearby Katjunagar bazaar, remembers that before the advent of the South City in Prince
Anwar Shah Road, there were only a few low-cost hotels in the adjacent footpath, mostly
selling staple food to transport workers. It was just the boundary line of the Usha factory. A
few mini buses taking passengers from Usha Gate to Howrah Station and back, were

garaged there. People used to defecate in the in-between spaces of the factory boundary wall
and the stranded buses.
Thus, the experience of Durga-di and many others around the South City mall
suggests deeper structural relations between the mall and the street. While certain hawkers
had to make an exit because their principle clients such as the workers in the factory, and
bus drivers and conductors moved to other places and also because many of them did not
have the means to customize themselves with changing time, some new players emerged in
the filed with the mall coming to replace the factory. I could locate a street vendor who now
runs a magazine shop near the entrance of the South City mall, actually grew up in the
factory premises as his father used to work in it. Rajus initial capital for the stall came from
the meagre compensation that his mother (a widow) received when the factory authority
transferred the land to the mall authority. The stories of Durga, Sunil and Raju suggest that
the arrival of the mall created a new rental geography in the area which enabled some to
become hawkers, encouraged some others to switch from vegetable vending to food vending
and disabled the rest to remain hawkers in the vicinity of the mall.

Malling and Copying

Let us have a quick look at the spatial-economics of shopping malls. The proponents of the
shopping mall culture often argue that the mall offers the customer an economy of
convenience, which, from the consumers perspective entails a number of things. The mall
for instance offers a basket of things under one roof. Such things include the privilege of
converging various aspects of shopping. Once you reach a shopping mall, you can buy all
kinds of things at one go. You can also mix shopping with a movie watching and chatting
with a friend with a cup of coffee, and so on. Such a convergence takes care of your cost of
travel. It also saves your time to move from one shop to another to buy various kinds of
things. In short, shopping mall refers to an economy of convergence (Sarbadhikari 2007).
We have seen in course of the dissertation that hawkers compete with each other for
plots that are close to the crossing because transactions depend on proximity to traffic
signals. The routine suspension of automobility at intersections gives the vendors an
opportunity to target customers in buses. Some people get into buses, while some come

down. Yet, some others wait for another bus. They buy essential things from vendors while
making such transitions. Romesh, a street hawker in Gariahaat pointed out that vendors
would not open a stall between two intersections where buses and cars did not stop. This is
the reason why, Romesh speculated, that one hardly comes across a street vendor on
flyovers. Vendors always gravitate towards congested spaces like intersections of streets,
hospitals, schools and office areas. The same law of proximity applies to shopping malls. In
a paper, Sukanya Sarbadhikari (2007) has effectively shown how shopping malls in Calcutta
are typically located near key intersections. Consider a few names from Sarbadhikaris
compelling description. Ballygunge AC Market, the oldest mall in the city, is conveniently
located between Gariahat Junction and Park Circus Junction. The mall is well connected
with the city due to its proximity to two main outlets of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass
(via Bijan Setu in Ballygunge, and via Park Circus Connector). Moreover, The A. J. C. Bose
Road Flyover and the Gariahaat over bridge have made the market more accessible to the
car owning consumers. Close to the Gariahat intersection, there is a huge Spencers outlet
and the Gariahat Mall in the approach of Bijan Setu that connects Rashbehari Avenue with
the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. I heard from a PWD engineer that the South City Mall
invested money to open a new connector (Triguna Sen Sarani, the Eastern extension of
Prince Anwar Shah Road) between Jadavpur and the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. In
addition to this, says Sarbadhikari, malls are observed to adapt a few common design criteria:
visibility (they must be visible from a nearby major traffic artery), safety (shoppers must
always feel safe, dry, and comfortable while finding their way from store to store within the
mall environment), and navigability of parking space (parking must be easily accessible while
forming a direct connection between the street and store). Indeed, the last one is crucially
important for the car owning citizenry of the city. The malls proximity to intersections also
gives them the benefit of the public transport network (Sarbadhikari 2007).
Shopping malls, thus, offer an ensemble of economies of convenience to attract
consumers. Certainly, all this is to tap and channelize a particular section of society with
disposable income. Conspicuous consumption transmits status anxiety to other aspirational
social classes. It is these emulative groups who crowd the counterfeit market and finally
strike out a balance between the up market and the down market. They colonize the mall,
window shop, enjoy the air-conditioning, use the toilets and wait for friends. But they hardly

make a purchase there. During my numerous visits to Calcutta malls, I thus noticed that
most had a mix of all kinds of peoplemany of them just come there to loiter with family
and friends and thus participate in the spectacle of modernity and enchantment of
consumerism, some sit with a cup of coffee for a whole day and make use of the mall
infrastructure to prepare for examinations, or to read books, only a few actually buy from
branded stores. The bulk of the buying crowd concentrate in the Big Bazaar outlet where the
goods kept for a range of consumer classes.
Like the street, the mall is also a social space in the sense that it is also produced in
the intersectionalities of gender, class, caste and race. A number of researchers have pointed
out that at least for a certain section of women, the mall often turns out to be more
liberating and secure site of sociality than the public streets (Phadke 2005, 47-48). The mall
appears to allow a different morality of public space (Anjaria 2008) that nurtures a sense of
belonging to a cosmopolitan movent away from the city and its parochial cultural contexts
(Phadke 2005, 51). As a result, the malls turn out to be safe places for young heterosexual
couples to engage in public display of love, which is highly improbable in other public spaces
such as parks, where cops and the self-employed guardians of moral order rule the realm
(Anjaria 2008).
Similarly, upon close examination, the class content of the mall turns out to be far
more complex than generally assumed. In my multiple research visits to a number of
Calcutta malls I encountered lower middle class families roaming around in corridors
without a certain and explicit purpose to buy things from format stores. Some come from
the immediate neighbourhoods, while a large number of them are from faraway placesas
far as Diamond Harbour in the South and Naihati and Bandel in the North. They come to
the city on week-end trips and end up in malls. An international literature exists on how
people use the malls infrastructures for purposes other than shopping.13 Viewed in this light,
it should be accepted that various social classes have successfully invaded the malls despite
the fact that the malls spaces appear to be intimidating and far removed from their social
A number of works on the social life of shopping malls in the US have informed us how youth visitors
derive pleasure out of the mall in complete of mall authorities (Hannigan 1998, 82. As Elizabeth Chin, in
her work on African-American girls in New Haven writes: This was their mall: a large, open, interesting,
exciting space, full of cute boys, though dotted with inconvenient security guards and disapproving
grownups They were not there only or even primarily to shop, but to explore, to go boy hunting as
Natalia said and to generate a safe yet thrilling excitement (2001, 109, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 174).

realities. Anjaria (2008) quotes a newspaper report that mentions that slum and squatter
dwellers constitute a significant percentage of mall visitors:
Nineteen-year-old Yousuf M, a resident of Sonapur slums in Bhandup, waits for friends
outside R Mall in Mulund. They are regular visitors, but have never shopped there. We
don't have that much money, says Yusuf [sic], Every weekend, we just take a bus to R
Mall or walk it to Nirmal Lifestyle We hang around for two-three hours. Its
absolutely free. (Purohit 2006, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 174).
As I have already mentioned, most of the mall visitors do not purchase goods from
the mall. It is to cater to the emulative demands of luxury goods sold in malls that we find
the emergence of new groups of hawkers in the hinterland of malls who sell counterfeit
commodities that look like the branded originals. What I am trying to say, would be clear, if
one takes a walk down Gariahaat footpaths. One will observe many copies of the mall
items (these may range from clothes, cell phones and jewelry to shoes). Of course, there are
quality differentials. But what I am trying to argue is that these products definitely cater to
the demands of particular groups, and the cause for the demand of these copies is
hopefully clear from the preceding discussion.
The proliferation of counterfeit commodities especially in the garment sector has
significantly minimized the difference in dress code between classes. The shopping mall
authorities appear to be aware that people belonging to lower economic backgrounds often
visit and crowd malls. They often instruct the security personnel at the reified gates to block
the entry of such unintended populations. However, as one manager explains to me, due
to the increasing similarity in dress-code among various social classes, the blocked remains
highly porous. Thus, malls in Indian cities could hardly prove to be impervious to the forces
of vernacularization. As in the UK (Miller et al. 1998, 29), only a few in Calcutta visit malls
for regular shopping. Those who do so, do so without forgetting the experience of the
bazaar. In what follows, Bhajaharibabu need not worry too much as he will continue to shop
in the bazaar in the coming decades.
That Calcutta, or for that matter Indian cities, have changed in the past two decades
is hardly a matter of dispute; yet, when we use larger frameworks of globalization,
neoliberalism, post-Fordism or late capitalism, and so on, we lose track of the dynamics of
everyday life in the city. Often, scholars take the street, the footpath, the bazaar for granted

as sites of major transformation without paying attention to how such spaces and
transformations are experienced and inhabited. With great frequency, well-meaning writers
attempting to challenge dominant models of urban reconfiguration (in Mumbai, and
elsewhere) nevertheless take for granted that constituent elements of the city, such as streets
and markets, are undergoing transformation. As Anjaria (2008) points out, it is necessary to
bring the ontology of shopping malls in conversation with the ways in which the built form
in question undergo cultural mutation and acquire culturally specific meanings through a
diverse range of use. At times, it is important to track how the street and the mall come to
produce a spatial complex where the difference in their built forms actually enables a certain
continuity of experience possible. My ethnography of the street and the mall hinges on the
contemporary genealogies of this spatial assemblage. In cities like Calcutta, the arrival of the
mall in itself was not a very new phenomenon. From at least the late nineteenth century, the
city knew of fancy and enclosed shopping areas and arcades with many features that
correspond to todays mall. What is perhaps starkly new (among many other obviously new
things) to the recent mall fever is the spatial explosion of this phenomenon in various
intersections of the city.

Counterfeit Capitalism

In the novel Da Vinci Code, Swiss Banker Vernet sheltered Sophie and Professor Langdon
inside the cargo of a truck to escape the gaze of the Interpol. Intercepting the cargo a few
meters ahead of a roadblock, an officer asked him to open the cargo for a search. Vernet
replied that the wretched people for whom he worked did not give him the key to unlock the
cargo, and said: you mind? Im on a tight schedule. The suspicious officer looked at
Vernets wrist and quipped, Do all the drivers wear Rolexes? Vernet responds: This piece
of shit? Bought it for twenty Euro from a Taiwanese street vendor in St. Germain des Pres.
Ill sell it to you for forty. The answer appeared to convince the officer. He replies, No
thanks. Have a safe trip. Vernet withheld his breath until the truck was at least fifty meters
away from the site (Brown 2003, 194).
The brief conversation reveals how counterfeit commodities today have become part
of our commonsense. The pirate is an agent of capital who obeys all laws of capital and yet

she/he undermines its basic order of things by threatening the regime of property and law.
She/ he clones the original and undermines its monopoly in circulation. The state loses its
share of revenue as all such transactions are generally off the record. A number of scholars
find reasons to celebrate the counterfeit capital, as it subverts capital from within its logic of
accumulation. Yet, there are some scholars who think that counterfeiters act as the vehicle
for the original brand to capture other constituencies in the mixed markets (Choi 2006).
Without going into the details of this debate, the present section will present how counterfeit
media industry works in Calcutta in the mediation of footpath hawkers. The previous section
enabled us to understand the existence of a thriving counterfeit market in Calcutta. Although
counterfeiting is an old institution, the globalization of cheap technologies and the
technological genius of the third world street level entrepreneurs have made counterfeiting
a global phenomenon. This section presents a local story of this global phenomenon. I will
do so, by tracking the life-story of a pirate hawker who has a garment stall near a five-star
hotel in Esplanade.
As we have already discussed in one of the preceding sections, Esplanade area is
situated at the border of the colonial white and black towns. The history of street
hawking in this area dates back to a time when the area hosted a massive bazaar of fish, meat
and vegetables. In fact, one of the first police records on the hawker problem comes from
the Esplanade area. As early as in 1867, the regular vendors of the Dharmatolla bazaar
submitted a memorandum to the Commissioner of Police Stuart Hogg, reporting several
instances of encroachment of public spaces by hawkers in the vicinity of the bazaar,
diverting potential and regular clients of the bazaar vendors ((Circular Order of the
Commissioner of Police, No. 97 dated 19 November 1867. Annual Report on the Police in
Calcutta, 1868, Appendix).
The Dharmatolla bazaar was subsequently acquired by the city Municipality (Goode
1916). The bazaar was kept open after acquisition, and in 1891 the construction of a huge
new building was completed, with much of the rest of the surrounding land auctioned off.
The building hosted many of the old retailers of Dharmatolla Bazaar, but the fact of
enclosure excluded many of the traders of the old bazaar. The market was named after a
British Police Commissioner, Sir Stuart Hogg (Goode 1916). The walled and roofed Hogg
Market imported several new dimensions in the retail culture and market aesthetics of the

city. As in the case of the shopping malls of the twenty first century, this market was
advertised and justified on the grounds that it represented the global trend of market design
to transform the nature of public consumption in the city (Goode 1916). The Hogg Market
soon became an important retail node in the global commodity chains and of the aesthetics
of retail organization.
Gradually, the Esplanade area became the centre of commercial, transit and
administrative activities. As we have already noticed in one of the preceding sections of this
chapter, between 1950s and 1970s, this area began to host numerous hawkers offering a
mind-boggling variety of commodities and services. The list includes fresh fruits, fruit juice,
garments and shoes, leather bags and purses, handloom cotton and silk, glass and ceramic
objects, junk jewelry, CDs and DVDs, and secondhand books, glass bangles and kitchenware
and household essentials, herbs and spices, cooked food, cigarettes and cold drinks, and
recycled and secondhand articles (Dasgupta 1992). This wide diversity of products has
developed over the years as hawkers have adapted themselves to greater competition and
changing consumer demand. Diverse commodities and services and billboards advertising
new movies, political parties, and loud sloganeering constitute the central part of the
experience of street life in Esplanade. Shopping in Esplanade, as in any other bazaar street,
involves a series of micro maneuverings from the part of buyers and sellers. Here, the degree
of selling depends on the particularities of display as well as the sellers ability to convince
the customer.
I first met Abdul four years back, in 2006, when I started working on my Ph.D.
Abdul appeared to be a middle-aged man with vast experience in street hawking. He had
originally come from a rural district, 200 kilometers northeast of Calcutta; his family had a
garment shop in Murshidabad, a town known for illegal garment trafficking between India
and Bangladesh. Some of Abduls kin worked as semi-skilled assistants in Calcutta to ostagar
unitstraditional guilds of tailors. Abduls father worked as a middleman in Murshidabad to
traffic garments prepared in such units to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). When Abdul was
12, he was sent to an ostagar unit along with his elder brother, Parvez. Ismail, who will appear
shortly, was the son of Parvez.
When Abdul was 20, he was given an option by the head ostagar of his unit to open a
retail garment stall on the Esplanade sidewalk; Abdul has been there ever since, selling his

products, collecting orders from his clients and observing the changing market trends. He
acquired a degree of freedom when his supervisor, the head ostagor, died, sometime in the
early 1970s. Abdul then began to search for new opportunities to expand his trade. This was
also necessary for him because the ostagor units in the area were already in decline due to the
coming of cheap garments of synthetic cotton produced large-scale in mills. Around this
time, Abdul came in contact with a moneylender who agreed to give him a week-long loan at
high interestbetween 75 and 150 percent. The rate of interest would decrease and the
duration of the loan would grow if the hawker had a good reputation in the credit marketa
good credit history could act as collateral in the informal credit market, as eventually
happened with Abdul. In the absence of the institutionalized banking system, for traders like
him who had no initial collateral, this seemed to be the only viable option to continue and
expand the business.
Towards the end of my field-research, our friendship grew deeper, and I began to
refer to Abdul as Chacha (uncle). The bond grew even stronger when Chacha came to know
that I came from the same village where he used to visit frequently to see his maternal
grandmother; he could even vaguely remember my father, who would be of his age. Chacha
gave me a vivid account of the network that produces cheap and often counterfeit garments
that he sells. The atlas of the network covers Ludhiana in Punjab that supplies raw cloths,
workshops at kidderpore in Calcutta where the cutting, iron finishing and packing is done
and rural-urban areas in the adjoining districts of Calcutta where sewing is done (Ganguly-
Scrase 2006). Chacha holds that the recent spurt of brand names in the garment industry
and the greater availability of high-end products through established retail chains have
created a greater tendency of emulation by those who cannot afford those products.
Showing me several Levis Jeans trousers in his stock, Abdul confessed that he belonged to a
network of counterfeiters who took part in producing and selling the copies of the branded
garments. There are several middlemen in the business who supply the copied tags that are
further processed in the ostagor units; a dying craft thus finds an avenue to survive. Precisely,
the units undertake the work of stamping the brand logos. The stamping is done as per order
as this is mostly a wholesale trade. The prices of the articles move between Rs. 60 and Rs.
150. For every T shirt, according to Abdul, the cost of branding comes to Rs. 4-5.

Drawing a longer genealogy of the counterfeit garment trade, Chacha told me that
when he was young, illegal cross-border exchanges between India and other Asian countries
made available for Indian manufacturers cheaper fabric from Korea and China (via Nepal
and Darjeeling district), and from Bangladesh across the porous land border of 24 Parganas,
Nadia and Murshidabad, and river borders with Padma and Jalangi. Further, Chacha claimed
that yarn and saris were also part of the cross-border garment traffic (see Ganguly-Scrase
2006 for a greater details of this garment trade network).
A fellow garment hawker informed me that Abdul owned another stall somewhere in
Chandni Chawk (a huge electronics market adjacent to Esplanade). I returned to Chachas
stall and requested him to tell me something about his second stall. I found Chacha a bit
embarrassed and reluctant to comment. Only after I convinced him that I would not write a
newspaper article on the matter did Chacha reveal that the stall at Chandni Chawk was
looked after by his nephew, Ismail, who produced and sold pirated music CDs. From my
previous experience of trying to conduct ethnographic research on the production and
circulation of pirated music at Chandni Chawk, I could understand why Chacha was not
willing to share the secrets of the trade. My failure to generate a good amount of data on the
subject back in 2004 taught me a lesson: secrecy is the secret of survival
With much hesitation, Chacha called Ismail to his shop and introduced me to him
and began to talk about how he got into music piracy. Chacha said that the garment supply
chains depended on a series of international as well as inter-border factors, making his
clothing stall increasingly difficult to run. Moreover, it was getting increasingly difficult for
him to keep pace with the changing registers of fashion. Around 1990, Chacha became the
local agent of T-series cassettes. As it is well-known from the work of Peter Manuel (1993),
by the late 1980s, the steady availability of these cassettes from a wide array of distribution
channels comprised of hawkers, kirana (grocery) stores, paanwalas (traders selling betel leaf),
and teashops, altered the structure of dissemination of music as it became available to a very
wide section of people at a much cheaper price.
When I asked Chacha how he justified copying as a livelihood option, he said: I
never attempted to prosper in other peoples wealth. I never sold drugs, and poisoned
people. I never put the gambling money into my pocket. But I do imitations and allow my
family members to copy music. Im a devout Muslim and copying is sanctioned in Islam.

Chacha does not have a high opinion of the act of making copy CDs though it
fetches good money. He calls the production of CDs as simply a machiner khela (game of the
machine). Contrary to this, what he himself does in his work requires a higher sense of art
and technical skill, he says. An understanding of not harming people, not pouring gambling
money into the business, an invocation of Islam and a celebration of personal skill constitute
the moral universe in which Abdul and Ismail work. They have differences of opinion, but
they violate the law of the state without a sense of guilt.
One day, I asked Chacha to take me to his home, to observe the CD production
process. Ismail initiates the process by gathering the covers of CDs that he wanted to make.
He would usually buy a master copy of the CD, and then photocopy the cover in color
printer. He already has the supply of blank CDs and cases. Two of Ismails sisters help him
minutely fold the covers and make them ready to be inserted in the CD case at the final stage
of packaging. Folding the cover is done while watching a popular Bengali serial in Star Jalsha
TV. Encasing refers to putting covers and inlay cards into the cases. According to Ismail,
this is a tricky game involving some skill and labour in the process. Abduls daughters do this
in the afternoons after the completion of household work. While encasing is going on, Ismail
is unceasingly burning CDs which is, indeed, a time-consuming process. He creates a heap of
copied CDs with paper flaps between the different titles indicating the next person in the
process where the CDs belong.
Ismail described the business of copyright piracy as a slippery and risky game. He
told me that whatever I had seen in his house had just been a part of a very complicated
chain. He said that earlier, music piracy had been a very profitable business: CDs that you
could get from me for 20 rupees, five years ago, would cost 150 rupees in Music World. It
was not something you eat; it was something you listen to.
Facing huge losses, the music companies decided to cut the prices of music CDs and
DVDs. Today, they still cost more than what one gets from the pirates, but it may be a more
difficult decision for the shopper to decide whether he would purchase a collection of
Hemanta Mukherjee (a well-known singer) from a pirate paying Rs 200 or an original version
that cost Rs 250. Ismail said that a slump in the profits of music piracy had led him to look
for illegal collections of recently released films and, more importantly, pornography of
different categories. Ismail rents out these CDs and charges customers depending on the

demand and quality of the recording. Ismail does not know who copies these films and from
where these products come. A group of runners comes every week to supply whatever the
retailers want. The anonymity of the supplier makes it difficult for Ismail and other pirates to
control the price of the product. Ismail and a few others had planned to do the work of
copying themselves. They rented an apartment and established a high-speed broadband
connection to download films; one of them even used his brothers visa card to purchase
pornographic films online. Nevertheless, a raid by the police destroyed the project at its
inception. Ismail has a hunch that the agents of the anonymous supplier might have
informed the police about the workshop. Since then, Ismail depends on the runners for his
supply of the latest Bollywood films and pornography.
As Ismail informed me, most pirates in Chandni Chawk are commissioned agents of
big music and electronic stores. Due to the fear of a possible raid they cannot risk stocking
pirated copies in their shops. They would rather outsource the risk by providing necessary
infrastructure to the hawkers. The hawkers sell pirated goods competing with the retail
stores, and get a daily commission on the sold product while the owner of the stall
receives the rest.
The pirate CD and multimedia hawkers in Chandni chawk have to know how to sell
their products without being caught. They usually maintain a plywood display on the
footpath with a host of empty CD cases with inlay cards placed in such a way so that they
attract an interested pedestrians attention. They make displays in such a way that the
potential customer gets a sense about the hawkers stock of the day. Customers are also
encouraged to flip through the inlay cards on display. The hawkers keep the CDs in a
portable kit placed hidden beneath the table. Standing next to the display the hawkers would
continually as the passersby whether they need movies, games, software and music.
Negotiating the price, again, is a tricky affair in this sector. However, the goods sold
by the hawkers should cost far less than the amount that they would cost in their original
forms at a retail store. In 2008, depending upon a variety of factors such as the relative
bargaining skills of the customer and hawker, one could reasonably expect to pay RS 25 (50
cents in USD) per CD regardless of the content of the CD: a single CD filled with MP3s
would cost RS 25, while an entire Hindi film would cost RS 75 because it consisted of three
CDs. The hawker is likely to charge a slightly higher price if the customer is in search of a

rather rare movie. Usually, English movies cost more than Bengali movies. The sale of
software has a slightly higher per CD premium than VCDs. However, regardless of the
original value of the software in a retail store, the pricing of software reflects the cost of the
medium and not the content.

Mall and the Street

Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith (2000) hold that economic, political and
cultural interconnectedness augmented by globalization is not unquestionably beneficial for
the elite and perilous for the poor, though it is not class neutral. They accept the fact that
the rich and powerful have shaped globalization in their interest thus far, but point out that
there is a counter-movement that seeks to reshape our interconnected world in the interests
of people and the planetwhich they call globalization from below. As Gustavo Riberio
has pointed out, the globalization from below school has thus far been almost exclusively
focused on political resistance movements (2006: 233), refracting our eyes from the on-the-
ground reality of the small-scale economics of the poor in their efforts to negotiate
globalization. In this chapter, I have tried to develop a perspective that seeks to recognize
the structural relations between the mall and the street that often remains off the map in
globalization studies.
A core thread running throughout the different sections of this chapter is that in
cities like Calcutta, globalization is an ambiguous and indeterminate journey. The continuing
and in some cases invigorated presence of hawkers in the shadow of the mall shows how
modernity and capital are irreducible to a particular theory of historical development (Sanyal
2007). As we have seen in this chapter, the bazaar beneath the mall does not pertain to the
moment of transition from pre-capital to capital. Nor is it an initial condition which capital
transforms. Rather, contemporary capitalism is a world of difference and heterogeneity in
which the corporate economy lives in harmonious relation with other forms of capital. While
to the hawkers in the hinterland of the South City mall, the corporatization of retail sales
emerged as a new field of contestation, to the hawkers in Esplanade, there was historically
very little that was new to them. Amidst this, corporate capital extends its hegemony over
other forms of capital, and the consent to the neoliberal regime is produced and renewed.

Analyzing the contemporary globalization of capital from the vantage point of the
binary of the street and the mall is fundamentally misleading, and may fall into the neoliberal
populism that sees the Third World as populated by heroic entrepreneurs.. The peoples
economy is the new site of this millennial hopethe much celebrated bottom billion (see
de Soto 2002) whose poverty-stricken collective entrepreneurship would produce and
enliven corporate capital through the circuits of microfinance (see Chapter III of this
dissertation). In such a narrative, the hawker economy is represented as a revolution from
below. But, of course this is not necessarily the case. The non-accumulation economy of
street hawkers is far from being a sphere separate from the accumulation economy
represented in our case by the mall. High-end globalization needs a quarantined low-end
globalization to continuously provide for itself the conditions of its hegemony. Thus, the
mall and the street are analytically inseparable, with the latter setting the terms under which
the former must operate. This chapter, exploring the symbiosis of street hawkers and malls
in Calcutta, has given one illustration of how exactly this is the case. This is the reason why a
thesis on the transformation of the footpath cannot only study the footpath and the street. It
needs to attend to the changes taking place in adjoining properties and also in other spheres
of life.
The chapter maps a series of tension between spaces, practices, and consumptions.
In the last chapter of The Politics of the Governed Partha Chatterjee (2004, 131-48) raised the
question: are Indian cities becoming bourgeois at last? His own answer was mixed,
expressing skepticism as well as hope over the legendary south Asian vernacular practices
that would inevitably corrupt the forces of urban globalization and resultant
embourgeoisment of the city space. The story of counterfeiting in Calcutta rejects the
existence of a pure vernacular that might be able to negotiate a controlled and a negotiated
transition of the city to the bourgeois revolution. Media piracy in Calcutta rather reveals an
enmeshment of the global and the local already embedded in the capitalist order of things.


Figure XVI: Base Map Showing Major Concentration of Hawkers in Calcutta.

Figure XVII : Map Showing College Street Intersection.
Figure XVIII: Map Showing Kalighat, Chetla, Bhawanipur.
Figure XIX: Map Showing Sealdah.
Figure XX: Advertisement of Egyptian
Tobacco, The Statesman, 9 May 1888.

Figure XXI: Advertisement of Dry Elite Figure XXII: Advertisement of Biscuit

Champagne, The Statesman, 28 April 1889. Casket, The Statesman, 20 June 1881.
Chapter III

Governing Footpath Hawking in Calcutta: The State-Union Complex

Attacks on street hawkers by civic governments are often viewed as part of a larger
reformatting of urban space associated with neoliberal policies which call for a shift in state
priorities from developmentalism to entrepreneurialism (Harvey 1989, Anjaria 2008). As
Rajagopal tells us in the context of a series of eviction drives undertaken by the
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in India, the radical shifts under way in the
restructuring of the economy might be symbolized in the figure of the pheriwala [read
hawker], against whom a furious campaign is currently being waged in the press and by the
BMC (2001, 94). Thus, in this backdrop of global restructuring of policy and economy, street
hawkers have emerged as political subjects, who, we are often told, much like slum residents
and squatter dwellers, are capable of claiming subsistence resources and entitlements that
governments refuse to make available for them. For some scholars, street hawkers thus offer
a collective resistance (Stillerman 2006, 511) having the prospects to emerge as emissaries
of transformative politics of sorts actively contesting the overwhelming sway of global
capitalism (Davis 2004).
One major problem with this literature on street vending appears to be that it
downplays elements of historical continuity and local contingencies in ongoing campaigns
against hawkers, or for that matter, urban poor in general, or in the patterns of contestations
developed by the hawkers, while paying often undue weightage to radical shifts in political
economy and structures of governance in its fascination for everything new new
communism (Roy 2003), new middleclass (Fernandes 2005), and new forms of elite
spatial activism (Chatterjee 2004). Ananya Roy, for example, in an otherwise very richly
documented paper, compares two hawker eviction drives that took place in Calcutta in two
historic moments: one in 1975, called Operation Hawker (OH), and another in 1996,
codenamed Operation Sunshine (OS). Roy compares these two drives to exemplify how
the official attitude of the CPM regarding the citys informal sector has changed over time.
The two moments are also marked by the fact that in 1975, CPM was still in the opposition,
while in 1996, it made a record of heading the longest serving Communist government in a
democratic system. Roy writes:
Site One, Moment Two. In the winter of 1996 the city of Calcutta was remade. In the
watery light of winter, the citys caretakers launched Operation Sunshine. Officers of
the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and cadres of the dominant local Communist Party
of India Marxist (CPM), along with police battalions, demolished the sidewalk stalls of
thousands of petty traders, commonly known in the city as hawkers as they
progressed, hawkers staged daily protestsmobilized by opposition leadersthey also
tried to return to the sidewalks with baskets of goods. But the CPM, as leader of the
regions ruling coalition, the Left Front, remained firm in its opposition
Moment One. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation and Calcutta metropolitan
Development Authority launched operation Hawker, a demolition drive meant to
eradicate hawker problem. The hawker, however, are organized in active protest by the
CPM then an opposition party. This, and other mobilizations, ensure the CPMs
electoral victories against the Congress Party a few years later, and as the left Front
consolidates power, hawkers continue to be an important source of political support,
while party coffers fill with revenue extracted from them through a complex web of
police, unions, and cadres (Roy 2004, 147).
Here, Roy seems to be influenced by the logic of the competitive electoral mobilization of
the urban poor, which shows how urban poor as rational voters collectively exert pressure
on regimes and play vital role in bringing about regime shifts.1
The subsequent sections of the present paper will reflect on these two sets of
assumptions (entrepreneurial poor and suddenness of everything). While my ethnography in
archiving will seek to unpack the production of the image of entrepreneurial poor within the

While tracing the origin of political society in Indian cities, Partha Chatterjee writes: Competitive
electoral mobilization of the poor in the 1970s and 1980s afforded them a new strategic resource. They
could now exercise, or threaten to exercise, a choice. If one leader or party could not get things done for
them, they could threaten to switch sides and vote for the rival party in the next election. This, in fact, has
happened on numerous occasions in the big Indian cities Chatterjees account well describes the politics
of the slum and squatter settlements. Veena Das (2007) also arrives at similar conclusion while discussing
squatter politics in Delhi. But, it hardly helps us understand the dynamics of the politics of street hawking.
state-union complex, my archival reading of street hawkers mobilization in Calcutta in two
distinct moments of history (Operation Hawker in 1975 and Operation Sunshine in 1996-97)
will historicize street vending in Calcutta.
Let me begin with the second set of assumptions. I will develop the following
propositions: first, state-led anti-street hawker drives are contingent upon the operation of
local economies of the streets, and complex relationships between different economic and
political actors; second, these drives are often manifestation of factional rivalry between
different mid to low ranking regime functionaries of ruling parties and their personalized
calculations (Roy 2003); third, street hawkers resist such operations by virtue of a complex
patronage network involving the local state functionaries, ruling parties and the opposition
and these relationships can hardly be reduced to electoral calculations as street hawkers do
not form a clustered urban vote bank like slum dwellers and squatter groups; fourth, in many
cases hawkers operate in a particular street on mutual agreement between the
neighbourhood political actors, and commercial interest groups. These agreements are often
contextual and have nothing to do with another set of agreements on another street. This
explains why drives like Operation Hawker and Operation Sunshine did not encompass the
entire city. Who decides where to launch an operation and when? In understanding the
geographies of Operation Hawker or Operation Sunshine, I argue, it is more helpful to look
at small histories of such transactions. The story of a radical transformation of the citys
political economy and policy reversal of the ruling party do not answer the particularities of
such drives.
I have developed the narrative of the present chapter by triangulating the archival
records of the Special Branch of Calcutta police on hawkers issues over the years,
newspaper reports on the subject, and my own field notes. I make use of Roys informality
perspective to understand the regime of illegibility that governs the informal sector, and try
to extend the framework by taking into account the activities of the citys largest hawker
union that participates in such a regime as parastatal while uniting hawkers in a sangram that
never ends. The result is the emergence of a state-union complex. The chapter ends with a
brief discussion on the National Policy on Urban Street Hawkers, 2009. I view this
document as the statement of the formal state to institutionalize the state-union complex.

Hawkers and the Colonial State

McGee, in one of the earliest works on street hawking draws our attention to the anti-
hawker bias in colonial laws governing public spaces in cities like Hong Kong (1973, 22). In
colonial India too, hawking was viewed as causing disorder blocking the proper operation of
the citys streets and footpaths. As early as in 1909, hawkers were found to be engaged in a
running battle with the policeat frequent intervals throughout the day the whole street is
occupied by petty hawkers These men do not wish to go anywhere else and could not be
induced to squat in special stands (quoted in Kidambi 2007, 152, see also Anjaria 2008). In
1935, a Bombay municipal official records that the pedestrian prefers to use the carriageway
because the footpaths are either occupied by hawkers or are otherwise uninviting to
pedestrians (Monak 1935, 66, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 32). In Calcutta, also we get some
early reference to the problems of governing street hawking. In 1914, for example, Sir F. L.
Halliday, the city police commissioner reports with much disgust that in a number of areas
[of Calcutta], obstructions inflicted by hawkers prevail despite our sincere efforts to clear the
pavements for pedestrian traffic (West Bengal State Archives, Calcutta, Judicial
Department, Abstract of Proceedings, F. L. Halliday, Administrator, Calcutta Municipal
Corporation, to Secretary, JD, Bengal, 15 September 1914, GOB, December 1914, A 49, p.
1432). In 1923, another exasperated police commissioner writes, such traders brought with
them small baskets of either already prohibited cheap German products, or kulphi-baraf, or
of seasonal vegetables. When they were brought before the Magistrate, he took the issue
lightly and fined minimally (West Bengal State Archives, Calcutta, Judicial Department,
Abstract of Proceedings, Sir Charles Tegart, Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, to Municipal
Commissioner, Calcutta, 20 June, 1923, GOB, July 1924, A48, p. 1543, para. 5). Interestingly,
Kidambi (2007) quotes very similar expressions from Bombay around the same time, which
suggests that by 1920s, the problem of street hawking began to cause similar responses from
the colonial government. In some cases, hawkers were reported to be adept in producing
evidence to show that they had indeed paid certain fees to the municipal authority to occupy
footpaths, leading the hapless magistrates to finally set them free (West Bengal State
Archives, Calcutta, Judicial Department, Abstract of Proceedings, Chief Presidency

Magistrate, Calcutta, to Undersecretary, JD, Bengal, 19 February 1931, GOB, July 1931, A
44, p. 1498). The issue of how to deal with hawkers would continue to remain largely
unresolved, for, even after the payment of fines they would come back with baskets of
goods, treating the fine to be rent to occupy the footpath. Thus, in 1922, the Bombay Police
Commissioner writes, [t]hey know fully well that the police cannot spare time to arrest
everyday and they look on fines as merely rent for the use of road and footpath which can
easily be paid out of the profits (Kidambi 2007, 153). With regard to beggars (which can be
well applied to hawkers as well), in 1921, the police commissioner of Bombay conceded that:
There can be no doubt that the present machinery for dealing with beggars is quite
inadequate. Their numbers are so enormous that the police can give them only partial
attention and the results of prosecution in most cases hardly justify the time expended
in arrest and putting up cases before magistrate (Annual Report on the Police in
Bombay, 1921 Para. 14, quoted in Kidambi, 2007, 153).
However, it is not intended to suggest that the relations between the police and the urban
poor such as the hawkers came to be defined solely by evasion and conflict. Sir Stuart Hogg
wrote in 1867 in the Commissioners Circular Order:
In most streets of Calcutta, constables are to be seen calling in shops, smoking, eating
sweetmeats, chatting with peddlers on the adjacent footpath, or occupied with some
such way, in short the Commissioner does not remember having ever noticed a
constable earnestly endeavouring to his duty (Circular Order of the Commissioner of
Police, No. 97 dated 19 November 1867. Annual Report on the Police in Calcutta,
1868, Appendix).
Chandavarkar (1998) shows how cops of lower ranks in colonial India shared the same social
world as the working classes and how both came to be mutually implicated in relations of
reciprocity (see also Anjaria 2008). Even the low ranking White officers were often a part of
the process. A. H. James, who became Calcuttas Police Commissioner after John Lambert,
wrote in his 1899 circular:
From the information received and from the enclosed letter supposed to have been
written by one Narain, a gambler and informer, I drove down at 6 pm. To Gorachand
Mela and found gambling flourishing in the most open way. One table in the main
street, just inside the gate, and the owner was quite ready to play with me with rupees or
pice. I found no police inside except the one just at the gate, but there were several

outside. I noticed one of the constables running trying to get ahead of me whom I
stopped in time before he gave notice of my arrival and I was able to see several other
gambling tables in full play with ground round them. I directed the two constables,
whom I kept with me, to take the table and the owner of one set of gamblers to the
thana. From the information I received of this gambling and what I saw at the Mela, I
am satisfied that the gambling was sanctioned by the police for which they are well
paid. Superintendent Davis and inspector Sarat Kumar Ghosh are responsible for
allowing gambling to go on at the Mela which has been going on for several days
(Circular Order of the Commissioner of Police, No. 40, 26 February 1899).
Social networks of reciprocity among the urban poor and cops could be one of the
reasons why it remained notoriously difficult for the colonial government to order the low
life of the bazaar. It seems probable, writes the Police Commissioner of Bombay, that
the subordinate police occasionally accept house money to turn a blind eye on the gamblers
movements; for otherwise, it is difficult to understand why men, who are known to have
been running gambling reunions for years should have successfully evaded the law...
(Edwards 1924, 118-19, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 31).
In 1931, the Government of Bombay unleashed a massive eviction drive to rescue
the city from the hawkers. As is evident from the contemporary print media, this move was
definitely backed by the citys middle class trying to establish control over the municipal
government through the nationalizing Corporation (Anjaria 2008). In the aftermath of the
raid, a number of letters to the editor of Bombay Chronicle encouraged its readers not to
sympathize with the affected hawkers reminding readers that footpaths fully monopolized
by ranks of hawkers, who spread out their merchandize and shout their rancorous cries
into the ears of the people [the taxpayers] who have paid for the pavement (Letter to the
Editor, Bombay Chronicle, 13 May 1931, quoted in Anjaria 2008, 32). But, in Calcutta, there is
no record that shows that the colonial state undertook any massive drive against hawkers to
an extent comparable to Bombay. The efforts were rather localized and piecemeal in nature.

Operation Hawker and Operation Sunshine

I started my archival research in National Librarys Newspaper Reading Room (NLRR) at

Esplanade East, Calcutta. I systematically studied the Calcutta Municipal Gazette (which was
a weekly magazine of the Corporation published between 1925 and 1978), Amritabazar
Patrika (AP), The Statesman (TS) and Anandabazar Patrika (AP 1). These Newspapers and
magazines have an old publication history. I also studied The Telegraph (TT), Times of India
(TOI), Ganashakti and Bartaman along with the older newspapers for a more contemporary
overview of the hawker situation. AP 1 (the highest circulated Bengali daily), Ganashakti
(the organ of CPM) and Bartaman (known for its anti-government stand) are Bengali
newspapers while the rest are and were published in English (AP has not been in circulation
in the last two decades). I also got sporadic references to the presence of the hawkers2 and
cat-and-mouse game between the police and the hawkers on the streets in colonial
administrative correspondences. In the post-partition years, the city footpath provided a site
for the refugees to settle and start hawking. Management of hawking began to emerge as an
important affair (involving eviction drive in select streets and rehabilitation) both for the
state government and for the Corporation. I came across more frequent newspaper reports
on hawker nuisance in 1950s and 1960s. As a part of the general politics that emerged with
the post-partition rehabilitation and resettlement movements in the city and its suburbs, any
eviction could spark off strong public sentiment and political support in favour of the
victim, who could claim rehabilitation to the state by claiming his refugee identity.
Hawking also appeared to the government as a prospective way to rehabilitate refugees.
Several refugee hawkers corners were subsequently opened by the government. Chief
Minister Bidhan Roy declared, in 1951, that his government had constructed 384 stalls for
the hawkers out of which 276 had so far been allotted to refugees3 (quoted in Calcutta
Municipal Gazette, 12 May 1951). In 1950s, the usual way to rehabilitate hawkers was to

I got frequent references to the hawker nuisance during the colonial period in contemporary newspapers
magazines and more importantly in the Circular Books of the Commissioners of Police and in the Annual
Reports of Calcutta Police. Due to the space constraint, I restrict my temptation to present them in this
dissertation. Let me just refer to a particular report. Sir Stuart Hogg wrote in 1867 in the Commissioners
Circular Order: In most streets of Calcutta, constables are to be seen calling in shops, smoking, eating
sweetmeats, chatting with peddlers on the adjacent footpath, or occupied with some such way, in short the
Commissioner does not remember having ever noticed a constable earnestly endeavouring to his duty
(Circular Order of the Commissioner of Police, No. 97 dated 19 November 1867. Attached with Annual
Report on the Police in Calcutta, 1868).
This did not however, mean that the sanitizing zeal of the state completely disappeared due to the refugee
wave. Early, in 1952, Bidhan Roy endeavoured to evict the book-hawkers along College Street so that
magnificent colonial architecture of Presidency College and the University of Calcutta could be visible
from a distance. In order to keep a constant flow of books at cheap price, the teachers of Presidency
College requested the chief minister not to evict the book hawkers. The stalls thrived under middleclass
patronage (Amritabazar Patrika, 21 July 1952).
convert erstwhile stables and wayside vacant public lands into hawkers corners without
compromising the traffic. Thus, replying to a question in the state assembly, Bidhan Roy
stated that hawkers should be confined to certain parts of the city and to specified locations
where there might be no interference with the normal flow of traffic. Replying to a question
raised by many of the members of the mayors council, Alderman Satish Chandra Ghosh,
chairman of the standing town planning and improvement committee announced that the
Corporation had appointed a sub-committee to consider the question of proper localization
of the refugee hawkers corners in the city (Report of The Calcutta Municipal Administration
1953-54, 39). The committee said Ghosh, is expected to submit a report shortly (Ibid).
In 1955, Roy gave permission to build a refugee hawkers corner adjacent to the Jogubabur
Bazar and the residence of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, in Bhawanipore. The large stable
opposite to the Greek Orthodox Church in Russa Road (now S. P. Mukherjee Road) was
very soon converted into Kalighat Refugee Hawkers Corner. It is interesting to note that
even after having rehabilitation, a permanent structure, and a trade license, these markets
continued to bear in their names their past identities of being rehabilitation corners of
refugees and hawkers, though the stalls changed hands on numerous occasions in the
last five decades and owners hardly identify themselves with todays street hawkers. I argue
that this is indicative of a twin process: first, this shows that the government continued to
view certain populations as refugee hawkers (those who took refuge to the city in a
particular conjuncture of history and deserved official rehabilitation) as distinct from other
hawkers (belonging to different ethnic groups bearing different histories of migration, or
belonging to a different generation of refugees who did not deserve the patronage of the
state), and second, the traders in those markets find it useful to operate in the governmental
space as refugee hawkers, As I will show, claiming a refugee identity to justify street
hawking became a part of the hawkers sangram in the next two decades when the
government was no longer willing to recognize fresh refugee populations to the city.
Eviction and rehabilitation of the hawkers became a routine act for the Corporation
during the sixties with the coming of fresh refugees from East Pakistan. Immediately after
Roys death an eviction drive took place in the Esplanade Tram Depot (adjacent to the
Central Business District). But the evicted hawkers were soon rehabilitated near the location
they had occupied (Anandabazar Patrika, 11 April 1962). The new rehabilitation market was

named after Bidhan Roy (Bidhan market)4. As this drive was backed by a sound
rehabilitation scheme it did not provoke much fracas in the city. Bidhan Market was the last
legalized rehabilitation corner for the hawkers. Interestingly its name does not contain the
two earlier terms: refugee and hawker.
In 1969, during the short tenure of the United Front Government, Deputy Chief
Minister Jyoti Basu ordered the police to evict the hawkers at Gariahat Junction. But this
drive did not materialize due to the intervention of Ballygunge Hawkers Union dominated
by the Workers Party which happened to be a constituent of the ruling coalition. Drawing
on the post-partition history of hawking in Gariahat, its leader, Jyoti Bhattacharyya pleaded
that Gariahat hawkers should deserve a sympathetic treatment from the United front
government which claims to be pro-poor and banks on refugee votes (The Statesman, 29
November 1969).
In 1972, Congress came back to power in West Bengal with a powerful band of
Youth Congress leaders in the cabinet, legislature and in Pradesh Congress leadership. Many
of these leaders had strong neighbourhood bases in Calcutta. Subrata Mukherjee, for
example, the new Minister of State of Municipal Affairs, in 1972 S. S. Roy Cabinet, was
already known for settling hawkers in Gariahat. Another Youth Congress leader Somen
Mitra was influential in Sealdah. These leaders used to rope in strong neighbourhood
support through local clubs and cultural associations.5 The hawker unions had much to do
with these leaders who used these unions to establish and increase their control on the street
and the street economy. Much of the expenses of the leaders neighbourhood control
initiatives were financed by the tola (bribe) that these leaders extracted from the hawkers.
The eviction of hawkers in different localities must be seen as a manifestation of a change in
this equilibrium or as an effort to establish bases in new areas or as a means to increase the

The construction of the market started in early 1950s. Quoting The Statesman, the Calcutta Municipal
Gazette recorded: One such market is now being constructed on the Maidan, opposite the Grand Hotel by
the Works and Building Department of the government. On this site during the war there were some army
hutments. These were demolished about two years ago (Calcutta Municipal Gazette, 14 March 1953).
Later on CPM also followed the same path. Capturing Clubs was politically important as through these
organizations, it was possible for leaders to establish clientele in the neighbourhood, distribute benefits,
organize cultural programs and pujas, involve unemployed youths to voluntary services, and so on. Rivalry
between two neighbourhood bosses was often manifested in neighbourhood competitions in organizing
more spectacular pujas, more dazzling pandals, more organized processions etc. Durga Puja in Calcutta
was democratized by these neighbourhood and club-based initiatives in the shadow of the old North
Calcutta zamindari houses. All these contributed to the vote bank of the leader. These were also the popular
mechanisms of elaka dakhal (neighbourhood control).
value of the footpath. Many eviction operations were incomplete because the leaders just
wanted to increase their share first by evicting the hawkers and then allowing them to
resettle with a new set of agreements. These are some of the traits of the politics of eviction
that are still evident in small, neighbourhood-based, piecemeal operations. But, since 1972,
three major eviction drives took place that could not entirely be described only in terms of
neighbourhood equilibriums. While the first two operations in 1972 and 1975 targeted the
places near to the central business district, away from residential quarters, Operation
Sunshine exceeded its precursors in scale and intensity. It included two areas, Gariahat and
Hatibagan that were adjacent to residential areas.
In dealing with these major operations, I have triangulated three kinds of evidence:
newspaper reports, field notes, and most importantly, the archive in the Office of the
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Branch), Calcutta.
The voluminous Daily Notes files of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police (Office
of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta. Government of West
Bengal, Daily Notes of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police. SW 630/72) recorded the day
to day activities of these unions on the city streets. Frequent entries were made between 5
March 1972 and 11 June 1972 under the subtitle, West Bengal Hawkers Associations, on
six hawkers unions, whose titles and affiliations were also asserted. The unions included, the
Nationalist Hawkers Association (Congress-R), Ballygunge Hawkers Association
(Congress-R), Chowringhee Hawkers Association (Congress-R), Bengal Hawkers
Association (Forward Block), Calcutta Hawkers Congress (Socialist Party), and Jai Hind
Calcutta Hawkers Union (Congress-R). These entries were also reproduced along with
some more documents pertaining to the political activities of these associations in a file titled
Copy of SB Secret Report Dated: 29.7.72 on West Bengal Hawkers Associations, It is
interesting that there is no entry on the activities of the CPM labour Union, the Centre of
Indian trade Unions (CITU) on the matter of the hawkers issues. One possible explanation
might be that affected hawkers found it more convenient to negotiate with the government
by expressing allegiance to the ruling party or at least to a party which was not the staunchest
opponent to the ruling party. Even many local hawker associations shifted their allegiance
during the drive. We have already noticed that During the United Front Government, the
Ballygunge Hawkers Association operated through the Workers Party which was at that

time a part of the ruling front. This association successfully resisted the anti-hawker drive at
Gariahat in 1969. However, as the Daily Notes of Special Branch (Office of the Deputy
Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta. Government of West Bengal, Daily Notes
of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police. SW 630/71-72, Serial A-4, ORS 4513-518) on its
entry on 8 April 1972 informs, the leaders of the aforesaid unions met at a katra opposite to
Gariahat Market on the afternoon of 6.4.72 where they decided to merge with the
INTUC.6 Facing serious difference of opinion within the party, the government soon took
a soft stand and hawkers returned to their original locations. But the operation led the
hawkers to be increasingly dependent on unions.
In February 1975, the administrator of the Corporation, Sivaprosad Samaddar
ordered a cold drink seller Pabitra Sarkar to shift his stall from the front gate of the New
Market to the backyard of it (Anandabazar Patrika, 20 March 1975). Sarkar, who claimed
himself as an ex-army man (subsequently denied by Samaddar), had been operating in the
location since 1973 securing a temporary occupancy order from Samaddars predecessor
(Samaddar 1978, 49). Having assumed the chair of the Administrator, an enthusiastic
Samaddar noted that Sarkars occupancy right had been terminated long ago and he was still
operating in the site taking advantage of the ignorance of the Corporation officials.
Samaddar asked Sarkar to relocate his stall in the backyard of the New Market. But, Sarkar
declined. Samaddar ordered the Corporation staff to destroy the stall. On 19 March,
Samaddar received a telephone call from a Corporation staff who informed him that Sarkar,
along with other hawkers of Esplanade area had reconstructed the stall with full support
from the police. Being infuriated by the news, Samaddar went to the spot and started a
satyagraha on the footpath. He was soon joined by senior officers of the Corporation.
Samaddar declared that his satyagraha was against the powerful network between the hawkers
and the police. On 20 March, all the city newspapers made it a front page story.7 Samaddars

Katra means market. INTUC is the abbreviated form of Indian National Trade Union Congress.
The print media supported Samaddars brave endeavour to protect the public space. The Statesman in
its Third Leader, published a feature titled A New Gherao: For its administrator and senior officers to
gherao Calcutta Corporations own premises is indeed an unusual eventYet there probably will be, and
certainly should be, a good deal more public sympathy for Wednesdays developments in front of the Hogg
Market than for what more frequently goes on in Surendranath Banerjee Road. It was high time that
somebody in authority took a strong line about the disgraceful manner in which every open space in the
city, and many not so open, is flagrantly encroached upon by unauthorized peddlers and other
obstructions. No administrator combining competence with self respect will consent to work for it long.
satyagraha that he himself called the melodrama caught the attention of the Writers
Buildings. It was apparently because of the incident, that the PWD, the Corporation and the
CMDA coordinated among themselves to lunch a massive anti-hawker drive in March-April
1975. The drive was named Operation Hawker. As the operation progressed it was evident
that the drive had been crafted to fulfill some long-term strategies catering to some
extremely powerful interest groups active within the state machine. The Corporation had
nine retail markets in its ownership at that time. These markets were scattered in different
pockets of the city. Revenue records of the municipal markets provide some clues.
Samaddar, in one of his later justificatory essays provides an account of the financial
condition of all the municipal retail markets between 1965-66 and 1975-76. Samaddars
account shows that right from the year 1965- 1966 the profitability of the markets was
declining. From 1971-72, these markets began to face revenue loss. The downward trend
was equally visible in the College street market (the second largest municipal market in the
city). The situation of the small markets like that of Entally, Lansdowne, New Alipore and
Allen was more precarious. Only the Gariahat market could earn a decent profit of Rs. 1
Lakh in 1975-76. Samaddar attributes this revenue loss of the markets to the hawker
menace. In 1975, the situation of the Hogg market (New Market) deteriorated further. The
plight of the market (which contributed 50 percent of the Corporations total income from
markets) might have enraged an activist administrator like Samaddar. During his tenure as
CMC administrator, CMDA came up with a plan to upgrade and extend the municipal
markets. Although there were some minor differences between the two agencies in the
matter of the plan, both of them agreed that before the expansion of the markets it was
essential to identify and quantify and if necessary to evict the hawkers especially in front
of the legal retail markets (Samaddar 1978, 48).
Nandini Dasguptas (1992) careful observation reveals a pattern in Operation
Hawker. She shows that the eviction was planned in two phases. The first phase would cover
Chittaranjan Avenue (from Madan Street Crossing to Lenin Sarani Junction), parts of
Bentinck Street (from its crossing with R. N. Mukherjee Road to the junction of Lenin
Sarani and Jawaharlal Nehru Road), parts of Jawaharlal Nehru Road (from its crossing with

As to open spaces, it will probably be the equivalent of goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square
(The Statesman, 21 March 1975).
the Lenin Sarani up to its crossing with Lindsay Street), and also certain portions of the
Esplanade East (from the crossing of Lenin Sarani to Old Court House Street). The
geographic area for eviction in the first phase corresponded to the bulk of the major
commercial areas of the city bordering the wholesale markets of Burrabazaarthe Mechua
Bazaar and New Market area. The majority of the hawkers in these areas were non-Bengali
It was decided that a second or third phase of the operation would be undertaken
in the Gariahat-Ballygunge, Sealdah and Shyambazar region respectively that had been the
strongholds of the Bengali Hindu refugees (Anandabazar Patrika, 24 March 1975). It is
important to note that the operation in 1972 targeted these three regions first and faced stiff
resistance from the hawkers (Anandabazar Patrika, 21 April 1972). Although theoretically OH
again targeted these areas, evidence shows that these regions had not been touched again
taking into consideration the existing political expediencies (Anandabazar Patrika, 27 April
The coordinated drive to clear footpaths was more successful in areas around the
Dalhousie Square area bordering the wholesale area of Burrabazaar. It was also carried out
successfully around the New Market area of the Esplanade. (Anandabazar Patrika, 26 March
1975). Dasgupta (1992) draws our attention to the fact that establishments located along the
lanes and alleys inside Burrabazaar were kept out of intervention. Hawkers establishments
around some prominent hospitals remained largely untouched. It was also remarkable that
even though stalls along Rashbehari Avenue, Shyambazar and Sealdah found mention in the
previous plan of action, they were not destroyed (Anandabazar Patrika, 8 April 1975,
Dasgupta 1992). Thus, the method of selection as to where the operation was to be, and
more importantly, could be carried out encourages us to pose certain interrogations.
If we closely look at the operation of the local economies and networks of
reciprocity among ethnic groups in Calcutta, we get a sense as to why in some regions legally
recognized shops and highly organized commercial groups extended their patronage to some
groups of hawkers, while in other areas, such groups provoked police action on hawkers. In
the lanes of Burrabazaar, for instance, the stalls were not destroyed as the hawkers there
generally sold commodities on behalf of the mahajan or the large retailer. Even in
Shyambazaar and Gariahaat, Dasgupta (1992) found that the hawkers often acted as

commissioned agents to the shopkeepers (discussed in Chapter I). A contemporary survey
by the police department attested to the fact (Anandabazar Patrika, 7 April 1975). For such a
mutual dependence and clash of interests between the established traders and the hawkers it
was difficult for the government to generate equal incentive to clear the footpath everywhere
in a similar fashion. In the absence of industrial enclaves within the municipal area of the
city, the commercial capital was the lifeline of the citys economy. For any government, it
was difficult to undermine the pressure of such groups. Thus, a close visit to sites where
Operation Hawker was carried out, even thirty-two years after the incident, reveals that
those areas and neighbourhoods are also the major retailing quarters of the city, where shop
owners perceived that the hawkers stalls blocked the shop frontage, and thereby reduced the
rental potential of the shops.
Again, where the civic authorities decided to operate the Mina Bazaar (a kind of
makeshift market, blocking the roadway for a few hours at regular intervals) in select streets
such as the Southern Avenue and Russell Street, to temporarily rehabilited the affected
hawkers, severe resistance came from the established shops, wine shops, boutiques and
restaurants (Samaddar 1978, 51). The petitioners earned a High Court injunction, in their
favour, to hang the programme of instituting Mina bazaars in the afore-mentioned avenues
for an indeterminate period of time. With this, Operation Hawker came to an abrupt end.
The chief surgeon of the operation noticed with a docile look how the post operative
hazards became unmanageable (Anandabazar Patrika, 11 April 1975).
As the numerous entries in the Daily Notes of Special Branch of Calcutta Police
between 10 March and 30 April (Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special
Branch, Calcutta. Government of West Bengal, Daily Notes of the Special Branch of
Calcutta Police. SW 636/75) on the activities of the hawkers associations suggest, hawkers
were united in locality based hawkers associations that organized protest rallies, press
conferences, fasting in public spaces, and submitted letters, memoranda and alternative
proposals of resettlement on behalf of their client hawkers. Finding it difficult to negotiate
with an organized state machine hostile to the hawkers, many of the associations very soon
came together and formed an umbrella organization called Coordination Committee of
Calcutta Hawkers. The first entry of report on the activities of the said committee in the
Daily Notes occurred on 24 March (Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special

Branch, Calcutta. Government of West Bengal, Daily Notes of the Special Branch of
Calcutta Police. SW 636/75, 253, ORS 3988-90) in which the organization is cited as
consisting of the labour cell of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee-R and the
Socialist Party. The second entry on 2 April in the Daily Notes indicates the addition of a
third organization called National Federation of Independent Trade Unions8 (Office of the
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta. Government of West Bengal,
Daily Notes of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police. SW 636/75, 18, ORS 4398,). A third
entry on 5 April however indicates a further addition of the Muslim League to the
Committee (Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta.
Government of West Bengal, Daily Notes of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police. SW
636/75, 55, ORS 4679-80). This shows the increasing tendency among the hawkers to
unionize themselves undermining caste, ethnic and religious cleavages. As records indicate,
the Coordination Committee developed a very effective strategy to resist eviction. It selected
its main venue of political protest in Esplanade Old Tram Goomty beneath the statue of
Lenin. The members of the committee started public fasting beneath Lenins statue that
continued for more than two weeks. A Gandhian technique of blackmailing the state
machine was thus observed beneath the statue of Lenin that might be indicative of a growing
Marxist inclination of the unions. In the politically polarized environment of Calcutta in
1975, in the context of Emergency, such a combination was itself politically suggestive.
Secondly, the Committee in its rallies raised two slogans: Sara prithvir hawker ek hao (hawkers
of the world unite), and Goriber devi Indira Gandhi amar rahe (Long live the goddess of the
poor, Indira Gandhi).9 This combination was also politically indicative. While the first
sermon invoked the popular left jargon of internationally united struggle of the poor against
class oppression, the second one declares the Committees conformity to the Congress and
the Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi who personified the Indian state during the Emergency.
Thirdly, the Committee developed a critique of the secularist claim of the Indian state by
indicating that the Operation Hawkers deliberately targeted the Muslims and the Scheduled
Caste groups10 (ORS 4679-80, SW 636/75, 5 April 1975, 33). Addressing a rally organized by

NFITU, a break-away group of Congress trade unionists established by Naren Sen in 1967.
For a detailed discussion, see Bandyopadhyay (2009C)
In a pamphlet issued by the Muslim League titled Chawringhee Elakar Hawker Uchchheder
Poriprikshete Janasadharaner Nikat Muslim League Er Abedan (The submission of the Muslim League to
the Committee on 5 April the prominent Muslim League leader and the member of the
legislative assembly Sikandar Ali Molla asked the hawkers to start a crusade (jihad) against
the government (ORS 4679-80, SW 636/75, 82). On 9 April, the Calcutta District
Committee of the Muslim League organized a meeting at the crossing of Tantibagan Lane
and Cantopher Lane where the speakers criticized the state government, as the Daily Notes
records, for allegedly showing step-motherly attitude towards the Muslim hawkers, while
other non-Muslim hawkers in Sealdah, Gariahat and Kalighat area were not yet disturbed
(Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta. Government of
West Bengal, Secret Report of the Special Branch of Calcutta Police. OR 4982, Communal
Groups: Muslim Affairs, 160 Muslim League, 114).
A successful combination of the three aforementioned strategies of fasting, of
indicating a shift in political allegiance wrapped in the language of conformity, and of raising
the minority question enabled the Committee to successfully reinstate the hawkers to their
original locations. Thus, from the point of view of Samaddar, Operation Hawker ended in
colossal failure. But, it left a few enduring marks in the practice of hawking: a) in
continuation with the 1972 operation, Operation Hawker vigorously politicized the act of
footpath hawking (Dasgupta 1992), b) as one of my informants (Masud) in Esplanade
revealed, the unions began to completely control the allotment of the vacant plots on
footpaths and the exchange value of those plots multiplied very soon, c) many hawkers
across the city converted themselves into food hawkers, not only because food hawkers get a
more stable income but also because in the areas where organized retail lobby was very
strong, this conversion could convert antagonism into reciprocity.11
It is commonly held that hawkers constitute a very important vote bank. As we have
seen, Ananya Roy has read the electoral success of the CPM as its ability to successfully
mobilize hawkers and other such groups against the Congress Government. On the

the general public in the context of Hawker eviction in Chawringhee), it was claimed (translated by the
Police) that the majority of evicted hawkers belonged to the Muslim and Scheduled Caste Communities
among whom the problem of unemployment had been more acute (ORS 4679-80, SW 636/75, 82).
Interestingly, recent anti-hawker campaigns specifically target the food hawkers. It has often been argued
that food hawkers do not abide by the public safety norms and what they sell are detrimental to public
health (cut fruits, foods made of spurious oil etc). Since they cook on the footpaths, it precipitates in more
environmental hazards and destroys sanity of the public space and harms the heritage buildings (The
Statesman, 31 May 2006 and 19 June 2006). To save Victoria Memorial from degradation, the Corporation
has recently banned food cooking in three square kilometers radius surrounding the building.
contrary, I suggest, mobilization in the informal sector show more inclination to retain the
existing network of patronage rather than risk a new set of arrangements. This explains why
anti-eviction initiatives in 1972 and 1975 were almost exclusively led by the groups within
the ruling party. During Operation Sunshine, as I will show, the HSC relied more on the
dissention within the left front than on the opposition. Secondly, although hawkers in
Calcutta are very powerful in organizing protest rallies and union activities, they can never
pose a serious threat to the ruling party by switching allegiance to the opposition as they do
not exist as a consolidated vote bank like squatter groups, slum dwellers or even the
pavement dwellers. Rather, they are voters of different constituencies in adjoining districts of
the city. In the hawkers case, therefore, the patronage networks are not electoral but
In the initial years of the Left Front government, the strategy of the CPM in Calcutta
was to establish and consolidate the incumbency by strengthening and re-structuring the
patronage network in the informal sector. The party sought to achieve this without risking a
further radicalization of the urban poor. Being in the government, the party had begun to
understand the difficulty involved in satisfying its heterogeneous clients. So the realistic step
for the party was to consolidate benefit distribution through its affiliated labour unions by
restricting new membership after 1977. Consequently, the government declared that no
hawker, who had occupied the footpath after 1977, would be given the vending license. The
implication of such a declaration was that if somebody violated the norm then he would not
be granted a resettlement when an eviction would take place in future. In other words, the
new strategy of the government and the party was to tighten control over the existing
mobilized groups by giving them patronage but restricting their proliferation further. All the
policies relating to the hawkers up to 1996 undertaken by the government of West Bengal
took 1977 as the benchmark year (Sur 1978, XVII). In 1983, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu
ordered the police officials to take necessary actions to identify and evict the post-1977
entrants on the footpath (The Statesman, 8 July 1983). In 1986, the Committee on Petition
presented in the ninth Legislative Assembly a Report in the Matter of Framing Suitable
Laws for Controlling and Regulating the Unauthorized Occupation of Public Lands and
Thoroughfares by the Hawkers and Others in this State (West Bengal Legislative assembly
1986). The Committee then sought not to evict the hawkers but to chalk out a proper

regulatory/control mechanism to check their further proliferation. The proposal of reform
included the recommendation of creation of hawking and non-hawking zones in the city.
The report also recommended the rehabilitation of the hawkers in low-cost market
Again, in 1989, the Municipal Consultative Committee emphasized the need to have
some sort of a realistic solution. The minute of the said committee resolved:
Hawkers are there on the streets and footpaths of Calcutta and possibly they will
remain.... To have a practical solution on the subject, it is considered that at best we
think of maintaining some discipline in this affair so that minimum disturbance is
created for pedestrians or carriageways, keeping the existence of hawkers and shops.
(Minutes of the Meeting of Calcutta Municipal Consultative Committee, 18 September
1989, II-III).
In the first two decades of left rule, thus, hawking was seen as a means to manage urban
poverty (note that the above mentioned statement recognizes that hawking is not a transitory
phenomenon). Each of the petitions and policy reports thus relates to hawking as an
inevitable fall out of urban poverty aggravated by the refugee influx.
In the mid-1990s, however, the tide turned as commented by Ananya Roy (in the quoted
text in Section I) and other scholars like Partha Chatterjee (2004). In a well-planned and
coordinated action spanning over a week, the Calcutta Municipal Corporations bulldozers
destroyed thousands of street-side stalls, and CPM party cadres and employees of the
Calcutta Municipal Corporation and the Public Works Department widened the streets in
many places by cutting down the width of footpaths. In some other places, they planted
trees and reclaimed space (Chatterjee 2004). The government and the party spokespersons
justified Operation Sunshine by drawing a correlation between the concentration of hawkers
at busy street crossings, traffic congestion, and air pollution. The twin logic of circulation
and sanitization was deployed to reclaim the streets from the decadence of quotidian
practices, restoring it to its proper usepedestrians would walk on pavements and
automobiles would run relentlessly on streets.
In 1997, the State Legislature amended the Calcutta Municipal Act 1988 and
declared any form of unauthorized occupation of streets and footpaths by hawkers a
cognizable and non-bailable offence (The Calcutta Gazette, 19 November 1997). But,
within a few months the hawkers began to reclaim their previous positions mobilized by
their unions, opposition parties and more importantly by the smaller constituents of the
ruling Left Front (Newsweek, 28 July 1997).
As I have already mentioned, one of the major differences between 1975 and 1996
was that of the scale and intensity of the operation. While Operation Hawker was centred on
the Central Business District (CBD) and its outskirts, Operation Sunshine was
comprehensively undertaken in 21 major intersections of the city. While Operation Hawker
sought to pacify the discontent among the politically powerful retailers, Operation sunshine
was designed to privilege traffic over all other street issues. Thus, the transport minister and
the chief architect of Operation Sunshine, Subhas Chakrabarty, wrote in a publicity volume
of the drive titled Operation Sunshine, rasta diye cholbe gari, pothik hantben footpath dhore (the
street is meant for the vehicle, while pedestrian will freely walk along the footpath).
Operation Sunshine was thus conceived as the administrative activism to restore order on
the street. Many old cultural vanguards and the city whose who supported Operation
Sunshine. Operation Sunshine published articles penned by famous literary persons like Annada
Sankar Roy, Arun Mitra, and Sunil Gangopadhyay, academics, vice-chancellors, artists,
footballers, activists, and prominent opposition leaders and so on. In Operation Sunshine,
Sandipan Chattopadhyay, the poet, compared the street with the baithakkhana in a middle-
class household that needed to be kept in proper manner to host the atithi (the guest). And
who was the atithi of the bhadralok city in the winter of 1996-97?
As Ananya Roy (2003) argues, behind Operation Sunshine was a middle class
revivalist movement seeking to realize the bhadralok city and to reinvest new meaning to
Calcutta as the heart of the Bengali Diaspora, and also a potential centre for eastern capital.
In fact, Calcuttas home-grown ethics of neoliberal urbanism and its voyage with Indias
economic liberalization drive in mid-1990s, during the Rao government were intimately
associated with Indias Look East policy which invited capital investment in West Bengal
from the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, it was not just a matter of chronological coincidence that
Operation Sunshine was undertaken just before the visit of the British Prime Minister, John
Major, with whom came a major DFID (Department for International Development of the
United Kingdom) funding for the citys infrastructure development. The Congress Legislator
Saugata Roy (now in Trinamool Congress and holds a ministerial position in the Second
UPA Government) openly charged the state government for concluding a hidden pact

with a Japanese Farm that wanted to build flyovers in the city for which an Operation
sunshine was essential.
Operation Sunshine was thus different from its predecessors in its bhadralok
connection and in its neo-liberal context. But, it was not solely the new middle class
discourse or the new communism that made it different. The post-Operation Sunshine
hawkers politics was also significantly different. With the official declaration of Operation
Sunshine, the non-CITU hawker unions (then thirty-two in number) decided to form the
HSC. The Calcutta Street Hawkers Union being an offshoot of CITU (CPM labour union)
remained away from the federation. HSC and CITU took two different strategies to counter
the operation. For obvious reasons CITU could not directly confront the government. Its
leaders used to make intimidating comments against the transport minister (The Telegraph, 4
October 1996). Again, when they found it threatening as the high command backed the
operation they used to flatly deny the charge (The Telegraph, 24 December 1996). The HSC
on the other hand took a confrontational path. As the operation progressed, the HSC staged
daily protests stopping traffic at key intersections, burning buses, gheraoing police posts
and moving to the Court seeking redressal (HSC 2006, 1-7).
In the decade following Operation Sunshine, which saw no major eviction-operation,
the HSCs sangram has transmuted into a new form in which the state and the HSC have
come to constitute each other. Keeping administrative and electoral necessities in
consideration, the state and the ruling party have come close to the organization. The HSC,
today, is to be kept in full confidence before implementing any regulation on hawkers. It
enjoys enormous authority in managing the informal labour market and other informal
transactions related to hawking and issues of governance. To establish the point let me
identify how the HSC serves its clients:
Ensuring credits from informal bankers (see Chapter I for detailed account). The
HSC acts as the guarantor (Interview of Shaktiman Ghosh, General Secretary, HSC,
recorded by the author on 20 January 2006).
Negotiating with the lower rung of the city administration. The HSC, in connection
with the lower rung of the bureaucracy fixes the amount of weekly bribe that a
hawker is required to pay. The settlements can be anything ranging from Rs. 50 per
month to Rs. 150 per week, depending on the location, size of the stalls and
products sold. In Jawaharlal Nehru Road, for example, a Cigarette stall holder usually
pays Rs. 55 per week to the police, Rs. 10 per month to the Corporation sweeper, Rs.
2 per day to the HSC and an additional Rs. 12 per month to the HSC as subscription
renewal fee (Interviews of hawkers in various parts of the city recorded by the author
between January 2006 and March 2007). A police sergeant in the city has recently
reported to have said to a Newspaper that hawkers contribute around Rs 72 lakh a
month to the state. In return, they are assured of business security at the cost of the
pedestrians right. We are a part of this game because that is how the administration
wants it to be (The Telegraph, 27 October 2009). A member of the Central Hawkers
Union, a constituent of the HSC, has further confided to the The Telegraph that
Official records show that hawkers are taken to the police station and challans issued
against their names. The police even draw up a fake list of items seized from them.
In reality, no hawker has to leave his stall even for two minutes (The Telegraph, 27
October 2009).
Settling conflicts among the hawkers themselves and other users on the footpath.
Regulating the number of hawkers who can operate in a given area. While it prevents
the entry of newcomers in order to ensure that business-profitability is not
endangered, it also accommodates fresh entry if business is doing well in a particular
However, it is important to note that the functions described above are not
historically unique to the HSC. At least from the late 1960s various associations in the sector
have been performing such things on behalf of their clients. The eviction drives are
important moments for historians because during those conjunctures, bulk of the archive of
the state on the subject is created. Operation Hawker and Operation Sunshine are the
exceptional moments in the history of the sector. In normal times there exists a perfect
understanding between the agents of the state and the hawkers. The difference that the HSC
has made with the earlier formations is that it has been able to hold together several
associations over a decade by commemorating the Operation Sunshne throughout the year
through a series of public events, and by emphasizing the fact that Sangram is a never-ending
process. It collaborates with the state by regulating hawking while projecting the state to its
affiliates as eternally hostile to the hawkers. Its leader, Shaktiman Ghosh, has mastered the
craft of operating to the governmental space as a mediator. To the hawkers affiliated to the
HSC, many of whom gave me interviews; Shaktiman Ghosh had proved to be more adept in
dealing with the state. As he told me how he secured leadership of such a consolidation of
several associations Shaktiman attributed his ability to deal with new community problems to
his earlier job as an agent of a big life insurance company which had propelled him into new
kinds of experiences. He learned how to hold his own in conversations with his educated
clients, to persuade them in taking new policies of the company, and also how, as he put it,
to hold head high. He was very successful in his job which in course of time made him the
team leader of agents operating in the eastern zone of the country. As he told me, by the
early 1990s he was able to save a lot of money and was also able to unionize the agents
working under him. As early in 1975 he joined the CPI, but subsequently left the Party while
retaining his affiliation with its Trade Union wing. His CPI identity gave him the opportunity
to negotiate with both the CPM leaders in the government and the opposition Congress
leaders. In 1981, when the government sought to evict the Sealdah hawkers to construct a
new flyover, Shaktiman floated a new Hawkers Union named the Calcutta Hawker Mens
Union and was able to resettle hawkers under the flyover. This act gave Shaktiman prestige
in the eyes of the hawkers. As Shaktiman told me, he used his organizational experience, his
repute as a sangrami neta (struggling leader), and his money to organize different hawker
associations to join the HSC while retaining their own local identities. The Calcutta Hawker
Mens Union has been the major constituent of the HSC which has roughly 30 thousand
affiliates. Shaktimans office maintains a complete digital and paper database on them.
The second important thing that the HSC did in the last decade by organizing
numerous rallies, conferences, press meets, publications and so on, is that it has been able to
create a powerful discourse on the hawker as the entrepreneurial poor deserving a stake to
the city space. In the next section I will take up this issue more elaborately.
Operation Sunshine shares historical continuity with its predecessors at least in two
significant ways. First, both Operation Hawker and Operation Sunshine displayed the
existence of ambiguities at the administrative level. I have already narrated Samaddars
satyagraha in connection with Operation Hawker. It showed that the police and the civil
administration lacked a common platform. During Operation Sunshine, the Mayor of the
Corporation made a public statement that he knew nothing about the architecture of the

operation which was solely planned and dispensed by the Transport Minister and the Mayor-
in-Council (Conservancy), Kanti Ganguly. In Operation Sunshine Kanti Ganguly wrote at
length how Subhas Chakrabarty and he framed the plan of the operation. It was the party
machine that empowered Chakrabarty and Ganguly to frame the operation without a
necessary administrative coordination with the Mayor. Many contemporary newspapers
reported that the operation was solely conducted by the party cadres rather than the
corporation employees or the police.
In the post-Operation Sunshine period, these mid-level regime functionaries began
to control the rehabilitation of the hawkers. As Ananya Roy (2003) has shown, only a
selected group among the evicted hawkers qualified for rehabilitation in areas where they
party had enough control over territory and populations. Thus, Operation Sunshine was also
a move to fragment organized groups into insignificant subaltern pockets. Both Operation
Hawker and Operation Sunshine pointed to a regime that governed the informal economy
through ambiguity. When I started my field research in the citys bureaucratic labyrinth, I
realized what it meant to be ambiguous in bureaucratic ways. I realized, there was no one
single body which actually took responsibility of the issue of hawking. Rather, I found the
existence of multiple departments with conflicting mandates. The Corporation officials used
to say that the police took decision on areas which were densely populated by hawkers while
the police official used to say that they were just given a list of roads by the Corporation and
all they did was to implement the decision, The Mayor-in-Council (Roads) also apparently
had a say in the street vending issue. But, most of the eviction operations were conducted by
the Corporations Conservancy department. The chief architects of the 1996 Operation
Sunshine were the state transport minister and the Mayor-in-Council-Conservancy. When
the Operation Sunshine was at its zenith, the Mayor created a controversy by saying that
approving the Operation Sunshine by his office was out of question as the Operation
Sunshine planning was not known to him before its implementation (Anandabazar Patrika, 21
January 1997). When I interviewed the Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Traffic
Department and his counterpart in the Enforcement Branch of the Calcutta Police, I found
that the two departments vaguely knew their respective responsibilities. The Traffic
Department was supposed to intervene in the hawkers issue only when the hawkers created
traffic problems in intersections while the Enforcement Police was to take action if it was

the case of squatting in public place. As there was no clearly demarcated rule as to when
hawking became a threat to vehicular traffic and squatting, the officials were not exactly sure
how and when to take action. Again, as I have already mentioned, each Police Thana
(station) had linkage with hawker leaders in acquiring weekly bribe. Still, if a particular Thana
decided to take action on the basis of a particular FIR, or a court order, the targeted group
simply shifted goods well before the raid took place. When the cops came, leaders like
Shaktiman emerged from nowhere and settled the issue.

The National Policy on Urban Street Vendors

Let me hone the thrust of this section down to a singular question: what does the National
Policy 2009 say about the future of the urban informal sector as well as the current projects
of the state? Reading the document, I have the impression that if implemented, the policy
will fundamentally alter the role of the state in governing the street vending sector and more
importantly, in managing public space in Indian cities. As we already saw, in literature, the
informal sector is conventionally described as a domain outside institutionalized
regulations (Castells and Portes 1989, 12), and subsequently imagined as extra-legal (De
Soto 2000) or paralegal (Chatterjee 2004). Contrary to this, the most important thing that the
National Policy 2009 does is that it declares street vending to be a legal retail practice
provided the street vendor obeys certain rules and regulations. Are we then witnessing a
second wave of formalization and inclusion of labour as we did between 1930s and 1960s?
The answer is manifestly in the negative. I argue, the policy has been drafted with a view
towards a greater intensification of the government in the informal sector through the
institutionalization of informality. Let me come back to the issue having discussed the
provisions of the National Policy 2009.
The centrally important point that the National Policy makes is that it recognizes
street vending as an integral and legitimate part of the urban retail trade and distribution
system (p. 2). While street hawking is progressively seen as compounding traffic problems,
the National Policy recommends that street hawking a be legally recognized and be
organized in legitimate hawking zones in the city (pp. 1-2).

Each street vendor will be registered under the supervision of a town vending
committee, headed by the respective municipal commissioner, and given an identity card
with a code number and category. (p. 12). Further, the policy mentions that state of the art
digital technologies will be deployed for spatial planning to locate and street hawkers will be
enumerated along with their current vending locations before granting the lease of vending
(p. 11).
The National Policy asks the municipal authorities to extend a range of basic civic
services to thus recognized vending zones. The list includes the following: provisions for
solid waste disposal, public toilets in the close vicinity to the vending zone, electricity, water,
and storage facilities (p. 9). TVCs will be empowered in return to collect registration fees,
and a monthly maintenance charge which will vary according to the city and the type of the
hawkers establishments and trade (p. 13).
Some other significant initiatives under the National Policy cover vendors access to
formal credit institutions, low cost housing sector, and capacity building for street vendors
involving vocational training, and entrepreneurship development skills for the upgradation
of their technical and business potential (p. 7, p. 15). The policy also talks about special steps
that the state government will be taking to cover street vendors in the programmes of
preventive and curative healthcare (p. 15).
The National Policy 2009 also talks at length about the expansion of social security
in the street vending sector:
As such, they dont have government-assisted social security. However, in some states,
social security schemes such as Old Age Pension and other benefits are being provided
through the Welfare Boards and similar bodiesIt is the Policy of the Government of
India, to extend social security cover in the unorganized sector as a whole, for which
the Government is considering legislation as promised in the National Common
Minimum Programme. Once this is in place, it shall equally apply to the Street Vendors.
The national efforts may be supplemented by the State Governments/Municipal
Authorities/organisations of/for Street Vendors (p. 16).
However, if compared with the draft policy of 2004 (reprinted in May, 2006 with the
recommendations of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector),
the revised document significantly omits the provisions to protect street vendors from the

existing repressive municipal laws. The draft policy of 2004 spares two paragraphs in
articulating the legal amendments that it seeks to propose. The draft notes:
To redress the situation experienced by the Street Vendors, the Central Government
shall amend Section 283 of the IPC and Section 34 of the Police Act, to exempt the
Street Vendors from their purview with reasonable restrictions. Such reasonable
restrictions shall specify the nature of obstruction that might be caused to the general
public, for example, hawking and street vending in and around hospitals, offices and
other important places; obstruction of passage in streets with high vehicular density;
etc. Reasonable restriction should specify the areas where the exemptions from the two
Sections shall not apply in larger public interest (NCEUS 2006, 18).
The draft policy of 2004 also writes that corresponding enactments, if necessary, should be
carried out by the State Governments and Municipal Authorities within a reasonable period
of time, not exceeding one year from the date of announcement of this Policy (NCEUS
2006, 18). I argue that the draft policy, if presented devoid of its explicit concern for the
existence of repressive legal clauses, becomes a mere statement of spatial governance, i.e.,
sanitization and reclamation of open urban spaces such as street-sides, footpaths, parks, etc,
through zoning (like designating an open space as hawking free zone).
The National Policy 2009 introduces three zonal categories, namely, Restriction-free
Vending Zones, Restricted Vending Zones, and No-Vending Zones that are pivotal to
a number of other key elements of the policy such as the central regulatory function of the
TVCs, the process of registration and archive formation, and the modalities of eviction. The
policy declares that one of the central functions of the TVCs will be to come up with city
specific zoning laws on the basis of consensus among stake-holders. In demarcating vending
zones, the TVCs will maintain a proper balance between the usable space and the number of
vendors without compromising the issues of traffic, public health, and environment. For
this, a digitized demographic database (archive) will be created in each city on street vendors
involving trained professionals. This will also help the TVCs to issue registration certificates,
identify the trespassers, curb spatial and other aberrations, collect taxes, provide civic
facilities and introduce welfare schemes. This means that at least in the context of the
National Policy 2009, legalization involves privileging of some activities as legal and
legitimate and branding of some other equally important activities as illegal and illegitimate
deserving punishment and eviction. What makes street vending simultaneously legitimate
and illegitimate? It is again predominantly the spatial laws; a certain obedience to it makes
street vending a constitutionally guaranteed right of the poor to eke out a living, while a
violation of it leads to fines, confiscation, and eviction.
Spatialized regulation is always temporal as well. Regulations proposed in the
National Policy 2009 minutely specify time as well as place. It thus instructs municipal
authorities to
Frame necessary rules for regulating entry of street vendors on a time-sharing basis in
designated vending zones keeping in view three broad categories registered vendors
who have secured license for a specific site/stall; registered vendors in a zone on a time
sharing basis; and registered mobile street vendors visiting one or the other vending
zone (p. 8).
This is one of the central passages of the National Policy 2009 as it, in a single stroke,
introduces major spatial and population categories and proposes that the relation between
the two be mediated by temporal regulation. It is important to note that the population
categories mentioned in the passage such as licensed vendors in specific site, etc., is spatially
defined. This is more evident in the formal categorization of the target population in the
document. Street vendors, as the document tells us, belong to three categories: a) stationary;
b) peripatetic; and c) mobile. Stationary vendors are those who regularly carry out their
business in fixed sites occupying space on the footpaths or other public places and/or
private areas (p. 4). The policy says that stationary vendors will be allowed to occupy the
space initially for ten years with a single opportunity to renew the license for another ten
years. (p. 16) Peripatetic vendors are those who occupy space on a time-sharing basis (p.
14), while mobile vendors sell goods and services from one zone to another. (p. 4) Spatial
restrictions are meant only for the first two categories while mobile vending should be
permitted in all areas even outside the vendors markets, unless designated as No-Vending
zone in the zonal, local area or layout plans under the master/development plan of each
city/town (p. 8), the policy asserts.

Institutionalizing the State-Union Complex

Scholars studying the urban informal sector in India and abroad have been increasingly
pointing to the ways in which such a site of labour, despite being integrated to the rest of
the economy and society, becomes an autonomous economic order by itself influencing
local politics and effecting the grid of national politics and overall accumulation of wealth
and capital (Samaddar 2009, 14). The discussion on the HSC in the present chapter also
shows how unions in the informal sector work like the state and work with the state forming
state-union complex. They have their own mechanisms of internal protection, taxation
systems, credit network, inheritance laws, policing, self-discipline, archival resources, and
dispute-resolving machinery, which parallel the state; and they participate in policy-making
with their superior knowledge of the operation of the informal economy and their ability to
regulate and discipline the sector. The state-union complex is at once internal and external
to the logic of the state. As complex relations are established between the state agencies
and the unions, the affiliations between the different actors reach new levels of oscillation
between coalition, collusion, cooptation and contestation. The state-union complex contains
all such oscillations. The logic of the union is not, however, solely reducible to the formal
logic of the state as most of the mobilizations in the informal sector, which make demands
on the state, are founded on a sidestepping, suspension and violation of the law (Chatterjee
2004) of the state. According to legalists like De Soto (1989), the informal economy exists in
the liminal space between the domain of formality/legality where laws and regulations are
generally observed, and that of criminality where acts are clearly contrary to official laws
and the public interest. Yet, unions like the HSC maintain some kind of law and order in the
sector to maintain the livelihood of thousands with minimum conflict. The operation of
such a system, thus, provokes us to contemplate the two, rather conflicting registers of law.
It is usually not possible for the sovereign state to completely ignore the existence of such a
domain. The state might overlook it up to a certain point (Bayat 2000). But, when it begins
to pose serious threats to the norms of property and civic law, the state does identify it as
problem and resorts to violence which is officially termed as the eviction of squatters.
But if the problem still persists or if it is found that eviction is costly, then, it seeks to govern
the realm by appropriating parts of it through categorization, legalization, and selective
rehabilitation. A combination of tolerance, crackdown, resettlement, normalization, and
everyday negotiation between the informal actors and the men in the lower rung of
bureaucracy leads to the development of very contextual governmental mechanisms in the
informal sector which I have called the state-union complex. National Policy 2009, as it

is evident, seeks to regularize and institutionalize the state-union complex primarily through
the management of the open space in the cities, and through the creation of database on
street vendors (for registration) under the supervision of the Town Vending Committee
(TVC) to be constituted on a participatory basis with the municipal commissioner or
equivalent officer as the chairperson, representatives from urban local bodies and the police,
associations and unions of street vendors, resident welfare associations (RWAs), community
based organisations, and civil society associations such as NGOs working in the sector,
banks, eminent citizens, etc.
I argue that the National Policy 2009 intends to institutionalize a part of the urban
street vending through legalization, participatory governance, zoning and registration while
excluding the rest as illegal street vendors. This means that a surplus labour force will emerge
in the sector that will be formally denied an access to the city space. In order to survive, the
excluded one will reinvent strategies to operate in the market despite regulation. The
National Policy 2009 thus, does not propose any sustainable solution to the problem. Again,
in the absence of any clearly specified law safeguarding the vendors, the implementation of
spatial restrictions and the registration mechanism will give the local state an informal
flexibility to favour powerful lobbies and local level regime functionaries. This may cause a
series of brutal internal displacements. Moreover, the current draft of the policy is more
spatial than social. It does not, for example, pay attention to the internal hierarchies within
the street vending sector. Street vendors have been presented in the document as classless
and non-political actors waiting for such a policy to solve their problems. The policy does
ensure that the TVCs should contain more than 40 percent members from the street
vendors associations (p. 9). But, it remains silent to the fact that only a meager proportion
of street vendors in India are under the fold of unions (Bhawmik 2006). Who will represent
such a large number of non-unionized street vendors in the TVCs? How will their interest
be represented? Again, during my field research I have seen, street hawkers associations
represent the owners of the stalls and not their employees. These unions often establish near
monopoly in the informal labour market. At least in Calcutta, the HSC recognizes only
footpath hawkers and de-recognizes hawkers occupying carriageways. The policy does not
address these issues. In the absence of these vital issues, the document can be used by
certain quarters to seize urban open space from the urban poor. The National Policy 2009,

thus, represents a regime of extralegal discipline and an idiom of planning promoting
calculated informality and purposive action from the above which is continuous with formal
system of regulation (Roy 2009). The promulgation of regulation and institutionalization in
the street vending sector does not, in the last analysis, inaugurate a second phase of
formalization of labour, but, it institutionalizes informalities in several layers of planning
and governance.

Chapter Four

The Political Use of Knowledge: Embodying Space, Classifying Usage

In Chapter II, I briefly mentioned that in 2007 Indian cities witnessed the development of an
unprecedented mobilization among small-scale retailers, hawkers, farmers and other small-
scale producers to resist corporate retailing in India. At that time, Gariahaat intersection had
been a very charged location for the performance of regular rituals of protest by the HSC.
The HSC acted as a nodal organization of the National Movement for Retail Democracy
(NMRD) that forged a horizontal solidarity of small economies across the country. Spencers
retail outlet at Gariahaat was repeatedly attacked by the hawkers until the Mayor intervened
and persuaded the corporate group to accept certain conditions limiting their sale of a range
of products. Some of the constituents of the Left Front, most notably the Forward Block,
openly spearheaded violent actions against corporate retail establishments. But, public
attention soon shifted to the rural hinterlands of the city towards the end of the year when
two powerful peasant uprisings decisively interrogated the primary tools of the neoliberal
state power: eminent domain, geobribe, Special Economic Zones (SEZ). During these
peasant movements too, Gariahaat and Esplanade in Calcutta were two important centres of
political mobilization and civil disobedience. Prominent intellectuals, opposition leaders and
celebrity activists observed fasting and conducted anti-government and anti-SEZ protests in
support of the heroic peasant.
In such this politically charged moment I conducted my field research in Gariahaat
and Esplanade and in some other important intersections of the city. I found that the
barricaded intersections also became the local incubators of certain neoliberal sensibilities
where multiple social forces, while partially resisting neoliberal reformatting of space, also
actively produced and upheld the imaginaries of the world-class living. Take the example
of the HSC that actively participated in the Singur-Nandigram protest. In 2002, the HSC
declared three model street-food corners in three major streets in Calcutta frequently visited
by the foreigners: Park Street- Jawaharlal Nehru Road intersection, Russell Street and Elgin
Road. The Park Street-Jawaharlal Nehru Road intersection is close to the Central Business
District and is at the heart of the heritage part of the city. In both Russell Street and Park
Street-Jawaharlal Nehru Road, the citys major luxury hotels (linked to the international
tourism industries), restaurants, banks, giant corporation offices (such as TATA centre,
Reliance Industries) are located, while, Elgin Road houses the one of the citys biggest
shopping mallsthe Forum. What are the rules and practices that distinguish the model zone
from the rest of the street food corners? In model zones, it is mandatory for the hawkers to
wear aprons and use gloves, to serve hygienic steamed food always preserved in covered
containers, not to sell cut fruits and so on. In December 2007, a DFID team visited the city
as a part of its research on hygiene and public health issues in street food vending in several
cities of the developing world. I accompanied the team. When the team approached the
HSC to guide them, HSC arranged a tour for the Western researchers in these three model
zones. When I asked some of the HSC leaders about why they selected the model zones for
the teams rather ceremonial survey, they gave me a three-point reply: 1) we dont want
them to see the filth of the city and make recommendation to the government, 2) we want
to be world-class hawkers in a world-class city and we want to show that Calcutta can be
made a world-class city without killing street food vending, 3) we have heard that this
team is going to prepare and promote a best practice model in street food vending, we want
to be an example before other cities. When I asked them how they were so confident that
the team would not visit other parts of the city, they said that the native collaborators would
also want to display the models and the Corporation officials would ensure that the team
would visit only the selected sites.
During the early phase of my field research I used to ask myself if resistance
conformed to the norms of the dominant order then how it was possible to talk of resistance
in the age of neoliberal populism. Have consent and resistance become inseparable
categories on the streets of Calcutta? This will allow me to attempt an answer the question in
the concluding chapter of the dissertation.

As an initial ethnographic ritual, I prepared a questionnaire and tried to interview the
hawkers. Many of the hawkers knew my face as a regular customer. But, when they
understood that I wanted to map out how the economy of the intersection works, they
began to resist my ethnographic gaze. I was making no headway and felt increasingly
frustrated. I found it impossible to do ethnography of footpath hawking. When, for
example, I asked Bikash, a garment seller in Gariahaat about his family, his earning, his
source of credit, his relationship with the established garment shops in Gariahaat, and his
perceptions of the future of Gariahaat, he gave me a strange look and said that he was not
bound to disclose such information to me for, and that imparting such information might
result in state action against hawkers in Gariahaat. Another hawker in Park Street even asked
me to produce before him the documents supporting my university affiliation. Having
examined my documents, he told me that he did not harbour any personal animosity
towards me and he was willing to support my work if I could manage to obtain permission
from Shakti-da. Bikash also advised me to go to the office of the HSC at College Street
and seek permission from Shakti-da before conducting an interview on sensitive issues. I
began to realize that the hawkers were questioning the legitimacy of somebody not
belonging to the community to create a database on the hawkers. The HSC had reserved all
archival rights to itself. The ethnographic field was thus far from being transparent to me,
though I had been a local resident and a frequent visitor of many of the stalls as a customer.
I thought that doing ethnography on what is not ethnographically opaque might itself be a
productive ethnographic exercise.
The present chapter seeks to locate various sites of discourse formation on the
footpath in Calcutta. How is authoritative knowledge produced, consented and contested in
the state-union complex? Who exists and who makes an exit in the discourses on the
footpath? In Chapter I, I presented a heterogeneous picture of the footpath. Even though
the title of this dissertation does not include the word hawkers, the selection of the time
frame was guided by two landmarks in the history of footpath hawking: Operation Hawker
in 1975 and the promulgation of the National Policy in 2004. In the course of the
dissertation, I have sought to depict the changing faces of footpaths through a study of
hawkers. Put differently, though I wanted to study a heterogeneous urban space, I ended up
working on a particular group and its spatial practices. Why? Could I not choose the

pavement dwellers as my principal subject group? Why is it that a study of footpath
eventually turns to a study of footpath hawkers and their endless negotiations with the state?
In other words, the chapter seeks to explore how the use of the footpath as a public
space has been discursively constructed by policy-makers, scholars, organized hawkers, and
the media. I will show how pavement dwellers became nonexistent in the discourses of this
public space while the hawkers emerged as successful in their negotiation with the state by
arrogating to themselves an archival function. I keep three issues in mind when I associate
the term archive with the HSCs knowledge production: a) the hawkers ability to resist the
ethnographer as the Other and to manipulate the flow of information from below, b) the
HSCs understanding of the political nature of records, and c) its ability to produce
governmental knowledge, use records in the state-union complex and regulate what can be
said on footpath hawking in the state-union complex. Let me start with the discursive
construction and disappearance of the category of pavement dweller.

Pavement Dwellers

Poverty and housing crisis in Calcutta became the subject matter of the Bengali literary
production (especially the poetry) in post-partition years. The living city, the footpath
groaning under the tin and makeshift walls, the wailing children born on the streets, the
refugees in a procession winding through the lanes are all images to be found in this
literature (Sengupta 2009). A new band of left-wing poets emerged in Calcutta in the
backdrop of war, famine and the Partition who found the subject matter of their work in the
horror of everyday street life. In Buddhadev Boses poem Udvastu (The Refugee) the
writer-narrator makes a stroll in a public park around the Dhakuria Lake, and notices to his
horror, a malnourished woman dying on the footpath while trying to protect a rickety
sleeping child. Bose paints her wild staring eyes that held no pain, no prayer and no
protest (Sengupta 2009). Soon, he realizes, there is nothing anybody could do that could
keep intact the dignity of the dying woman. Let humans leave her/ And let Nature take
over (Sengupta 2009), he states. Calcuttas homeless humanity becomes a nagging presence
in the literary works of this generation of poets and authors like Jibanananda Das, Samar
Sen, Buddhadev Bose, Naresh Guha, Premendra Mitra, Nirendranath Chakraborty, Sunil

Gangopadhyay, Bishnu Dey, Manindra Roy, Arun Mitra and Sankho Ghosh (Sengupta
2009). Many of them were actively involved in the incipient left fever of the city that made
refugee housing a political question of the day.
These early postcolonial writers imagined the city space in general, and footpath in
particular, as a heterogeneous space a site of several activities, footpath hawking, footpath
living, rallies, refugee claim-making and so forth. They did not use the term pavement
dwellers to locate a particular group of people. The term came into being as a population
category (enumerable and divisible) in anthropological studies on famine, rural-urban
migration, refugee problem and poverty. In these works, the pavement-dweller represented
the destitute migrant who needed to be studied. In his path-breaking ethnography, titled
Bengal Famine 1943 that came out in 1949, Tarak Chandra Das wrote:
Many of these families had a fixed place for passing the night. During day time the
adult members moved individually, or with one or two children, in different parts of the
city. But at night they all assembled at these fixed places in order to keep contact with
one another. It was not unusual to find groups of twenty to thirty persons lying on the
pavement, side by side, sleeping under the open sky Even during day-time when rest
was needed, to this corner they assembled. Often this place of refuge was nothing
better than the pavement of the street. (Das 1949, 57).
Beside the dwellers of the pavement, writes Das, there were others who occupied the air-
raid shelters and railway shades. Between 1975 and 1987, three massive socio-economic
studies were undertaken on pavement dwellers by Calcutta Metropolitan Development
Authority (CMDA) and Indian Statistical Institute (ISI). The survey results were published in
widely circulated journals and books. City newspapers were also enthusiastic about
publishing interesting survey findings. The first CMDA survey on pavement dwellers came
out in 1975. The noted anthropologist of the city, Sudhendu Mukherjee conducted the study
on behalf of the CMDA. The study imagined the pavement dwellers as essentially labouring
citizens living under the shadow of the metropolis. These surveys sought to map the world
of pavement dwellers and to define the pavement dweller. The survey of the ISI, for
example, criticized the survey of CMDA as it incorporated slums and squatter settlements in
the census. The survey of ISI only included those who sleep on the pavements of the city
(1976, 2). In a similar fashion, the socio-economic survey of Jagannathan and Halder says
that it would focus on the truly shelterless pavement dwellers, Referring to the earlier
initiatives of the same kind, the study asserts: the notable difference that the survey makes
is that earlier studies considered the population living under unauthorized shacks and
hutments as pavement-dwellers while this section of population has been kept outside the
purview of the present study (Jagannathan and Halder 1987, 3). As the above statement
shows, in the citys administrative circle there had been a lack of unanimity about the
definition of the pavement dweller until the publication of the last state-sponsored survey in
1987. As the term truly shelterless in the 1987 survey indicates, the study even excluded
those who had a home elsewhere but chose to live on the footpath.
CMDAs involvement in the surveys on pavement-dwellers shows that the
governmental stand with regard to this particular social group was welfarist. Releasing the
survey of Sudhendu Mukherjee, Bholanath Sen, the PWD minister said to the reporters that
he would send the copies of the report to the UN to request for some money for the
rehabilitation of pavement dwellers. (The Statesman, 12 June 1974). We may remember that in
1975, this minister played a key role in conducting Operation Hawker (see Chapter III). In
1975, then, pavement dwellers were seen as objects of sympathy and the subject of policy
while hawkers were treated as illegitimate occupiers of public place.
Till 1980s, the pavement dweller was also a central object of Christian charity and in
poverty tourism Mother Teresa in her white robes blessing the poor with her gnarled
hands; Patrick Swayze as the saviour in the Hollywood film City of Joy. As John Hutnyk
(1996) tells us, it is only the rumour of poverty that makes Calcutta figure in Orientalist
gossip (Roy 2003). For poverty tourists, the indigent body on the footpath was the much
sought after visual proof of the postcolonial urban predicament.

A Story of Forgetting

But this trend would change course in the early 1990s. In this decade Calcutta would be
imagined a) as an important city in booming and liberalizing India, b) as home to the
globalized Bengali elite, c) as a site of urban renewal and as the centre of global investment
in petrochemicals, electronics and IT and leisure industries. Operation sunshine in 1996 was
the first attempt by the Left Front Government to aggressively remake the city as a world-
class urban environment. Such a development followed the predictable path of creating

elite enclave, sanitization of public space, and bourgeois campaigns through media and
judiciary to ensure beauty and order in the city. The discourses of sanitization of public
space at the turn of the century targeted the hawkers and completely ignored the pavement
dwellers as an impediment to the world-class image of the city. The publicity volume of
Operation Sunshine (titled Operation Sunshine), for example, introduced itself as an anthology
of articles on the removal drive of the illegal encroachers from the pavements in Calcutta
(1997, see the blurb of the book Operation Sunshine). But, the volume did not make a
single reference to the existence of pavement dwellers. This volume, then, renders pavement
dwellers discursively invisible1. Many of the contributors of the volume who justified
Operation Sunshine such as Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sandipan Chattopadhyay, Arun Mitra had
been involved in portraying the city in 1950s and 1960s as a sea of suffering humanity.
Operation Sunshine can then be perceived as a middle class revivalist movement seeking to
reclaim the bhadralok city from the contentious hawkers and to reinvest new meaning to
Calcutta as a potential centre for the eastern capital (Roy 2003). In Operation Sunshine,
Sandipan Chattopadhyay, the poet, compared the street with the baithakkhana (drawing
room) in a bhadralok household that needed to be kept in proper manner to host the atithi
(guest). And who was the atithi of the bhadralok city in the winter of 1996-97? It might be a
coincidence (as the government and CPM argued), but Operation Sunshine was undertaken
just before the visit of the British Prime Minister, John Major, with whom came a major
DFID funding for the citys infrastructure development.
The discursive invisibility of the pavement dwellers was also created by the state.
Unlike in 1970s, pavement dwellers were no longer the subject of the states welfare
intervention in 1990s. As a result, it ceased to be a population group. Moreover, in
accordance with the earlier studies the study of Jagannathan and Halder (1987) established
the fact that a majority of pavement dwellers were from West Bengal and that they were the
landless groups in the Left ruled Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal). If this was the case, then the
entire justification of the Left rule would be in jeopardy as the study implicitly or unwittingly
questioned the very success of the land reform programme. Since then in the official papers,

Only in a rare piece of report during the Operation Sunshine, an obscure Bengali Newspaper called Dainik
Basumati recorded a cry of a homeless girl of 13 whose family lost the shack when the Corporation pay
loaders ransacked the Diamond Harbour Road near Taratala (Dainik Basumati, 24 November 1996).
the pavement dwellers are hardly recognized. They have hardly any place in the list of the
citys counted citizens.
From the mid-1990s the hawker problem began to surface prominently in the
coverage of the print media. One reason for a flurry of reports on hawkers was also that
from 1990s both English and Bangla newspapers started publishing special sections on the
city and its everyday life. The centerstage of news started decisively shifting to urban areas,
especially to Calcutta. Aniruddha Dutta (2007) has recently analyzed such news contents
with consummate skill. Through the analysis of the sensational titles and contents of news
on hawkers in early 2000s, Dutta shows how such reports have tended to draw sharp lines
between the citizen and non-citizen, civic order and disorder, and the legitimate and the
illegitimate (2007). Dutta continues to show how the local English print media have
constructed a sharply distinct opposition between the right-bearing and politically innocent
common man (read the pedestrian) and the illegitimate, but vote-bank yielding and
aggressively organized hawkers. Thus, an editorial in The Telegraph says with a righteous
tone that civic rights cannot forever remain captive to an illegality that has been allowed to
prosper for the convenience of a few (The Telegraph, 20 April 2007, quoted in Dutta 2007).
Another article alleges that due to the patronage of the hawkers by political parties a facility
created with the help of taxpayers money is freely handed over to petty traders even as
serious business initiatives are inconvenienced (The Telegraph 15 May 2007, quoted in Dutta
2007). Note how in the above statement the line between the petty traders and serious
business initiatives are brought into a zero-sum game. The pedestrian loses her/his gender,
caste and all other social and cultural distinctions, and is presented as the tax-paying (and
hence) citizen with legitimate claims on the footpath over the hawker representing
illegality, corruption and disorder, and cancer in urban space (Dutta 2007). While
the media appears to be generally more tilted to judicial calls over political action, Dutta
(2007) shows, some reports do not hesitate to deliberately overread the terms and scope of
the actual court directives. Consider for instance the following headline: Free roads or court
trouble-Hawkers like cancer, says chief justice (The Telegraph, 20 May 2006, quoted in Dutta
2007). The actual court directive asks the city police and the Corporation authority to
submit reports within a month on what steps they have taken regarding hawker congestion
and traffic chaos on city streets (Dutta 2007). Though antagonistic, the court directive

hardly suggests any drastic steps to outright evict hawkers as it appears from the media
coverage on the directive, free roads or court trouble. In fact, the directive mentions a
host of other issues including the absence of automatic traffic signals and unruly driving of
public buses that could also have contributed to the current problems of traffic, which are
not emphasized at least equally in the article. It is also to be noted that the article makes no
attempt to cite statistical accounts of the allegedly hawker-induced accidents. It, for example,
does not mention any particular street where such an accident took place, or specify any
particular group of hawkers who could be implicated for the accident.
I argue that the representation of the hawkers in English language newspapers as
disagreeable, extraneous agents always choking circulation comes from the middle class
apprehension of losing control over public space.2 These representations cited the footpath
as a space of contestation between the rightful pedestrian (the free, liberal citizen) and the
contentious hawker. As I will show in the rest of the chapter, the HSC was able to intervene
into such a citation of hawkers and would gather evidence to argue that there was no tension
between the rightful pedestrian and the entrepreneurial hawker. But, such an intervention
would also imagine the footpath as used only by pedestrians and hawkers.
We have already noted in Chapter III that the colossal failure of the Operation
Sunshine led to the abandonment of the policy of large-scale hawker eviction in Calcutta.
The decade that followed was a decade of dialogue and regulation in a space that I called the
state-union complex in Chapter III. The term policy presupposes the existence of an archive
on the target population.3 Archives on populations are created, interpreted and enhanced
during policy formulation. The state-union complex is thus an archival space where the
dialogue between the state and the union produces, uses and circulates data on populations.
In the next section I will try to show how the HSC, over the last decade, has established its

A lot of it has to do with the already existing bhadralok fear on the supposed appropriation of the city
space by the poor migrants and the non-Bengali business groups, often homogenized in the term
Marwari. The fear largely emerged in the capturing of Burrabazar by the migrant Marwari and Gujarati
business groups in 1860s and 1870s throwing Bengali landed elite from the area. (Birla 2010).
In the recent past, the international governing organizations such as the World Bank and ILO have begun
to exert pressure on national governments to form an official database on informal economy (Elyachar
2003). In India, the National Commission for Entrepreneurs in Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) set by the
first UPA government emphasized on creating a database on informal economy for governmental
intervention. We have already noticed in the last chapter of this dissertation that in National Policy on
Street Vendors, approved by the NCEUS, great emphasis has been put on building database on hawkers.
The city corporations were directed by the Ministry on Urban development and Poverty alleviation to come
up with statistical details of hawkers.
control over such a knowledge space. I have elsewhere called this archiving from below4
(Bandyopadhyay 2009c).

The Database of the HSC

In Chapter III, I have enumerated a number of bureaucratic functions that the HSC
performs for its affiliates. Such an operation requires developing intricate database on a
range of things. Let me cite an example. I attended several meetings of the HSC with the
Mayor and other state functionaries in the last five years. In 2005, the Mayor formed a
municipal consultative committee in which the HSC happens to be a participating
organization. Between 2005 and 2009, the committee met five times in the chamber of the
Mayor. On each occasion, I found Shaktiman attending the meeting with a file full of
information on hawkers issues. If the Mayor put forward any proposal for eviction,
Shaktiman seemed to be ready with a rehabilitation proposal. When the corporation decided
to evict hawkers from the Park Street, Shaktiman presented a map showing the exact
location of the HSCs affiliate hawkers on the Park Street footpath and how they were
observing the rules. To prove that the HSCs affiliates had been operating in the said area
since 1970s, he presented the past eviction records attested by the Corporation, records of

Archive enables the modern governmental state to intervene into an otherwise ungovernable terrain by
providing an overall, aggregate, synoptic view of a selective reality. (Scott 1998, 11). The archive of the
state involves a top-down mechanism and acts as a veritable means of political subjection where the states
own inscription of the subject is more important in the archive formation than the subjects own self-
representation. In the colonial archive, for example, the insurgent subalterns had been portrayed as
unreasonable subjects. Only a subject lacking political potential to represent itself could be inscribed in the
archive. However, numbers and the statistical database are potential political tool for both the oppressor
and the oppressed. As the colonial and postcolonial history of India (and many other countries) has taught
us, in the hands of the socially disadvantaged and marginalized groups, statistical record is also a language
of social contestation. Ethnic groups, women, and minority groups have often used numbers and cadastral
surveys to make themselves visible, articulate their difference from the mainstream, and to make claims
upon the state and its services leading to the creation and elision of population categories. My notion of the
reverse archive connects this history with the unions self-survey and its ability to use knowledge
politically and also its success in making the community resistant to the ethnography of the other that I
consider one of the indices of the postcolonial difference. Little is known about the production of
governmental knowledge in the context of a postcolonial democracy by political parties, trade unions,
community groups and locality based committees on populationsthe ways in which they gather a pool of
knowledge and negotiate with the state and developmental agencies by providing selective information
from their database, thereby participating in the governance of populations.
raid and confiscation of the hawkers wares by the police.5 With these records in hand,
Shaktiman argued that the new occupants did not belong to his union and demanded a
selective eviction in Park Street based on the record. To the best of my knowledge, neither
the Corporation, nor the Police Department has ever made any centralized documentation
of each and every operation and raid. But, individual hawkers preserve what they receive
from the administration, be it an eviction certificate, or a release order of confiscated goods.
The papers contain dates, signatures of officials and stamps. The HSC preserves these
records in original. While taking the membership of the HSC, each hawker is required to
submit his/her brief biography (age, sex, family record, inheritance/purchase of the plot, etc)
along with the paper records that they have, attesting to their trade and location. A hawker
can mortgage these records and his stall for a large sum. Often these records change hands. I
know a food hawker in Dalhousie, who is, according to some of my old respondents, pretty
new in the business. But, his HSC record shows that he has been in the same location since
1979. When, I asked the hawker, after I was able to establish a relationship of trust, he said
that he purchased the plot and the records from another hawker who had been in operation
in the place since 1979. My respondent purchased the plot and the documents through the
mediation of the HSC. With that, he became the son of the past hawker who went back to
his desh in Bihar. Thus, the HSC does not only manage the records, it gives circulation and
assigns exchange value to the documents. So, the HSCs archive is not a frozen entity
awaiting a historian, it is rather an archive in constant circulation enabling the HSC to
function well in the market and in the governmental space.
Thus, by virtue of its preexisting knowledge on the operation of the informal
economy at multiple levels, the HSC can govern its own affiliates and can offer information
to the government for policy-making. As we have already noted, in 2006, when the
Corporation sought to prepare a database on hawking, the HSC took advantage of the
situation and came up with an elaborate socio-economic survey and presented the document
to the Corporation for policy intervention in the sector. The HSC is extremely conscious of
the nature of the facts that it gathers and can make strategic selections so as to make its

A police official told me that the Police Department keeps confiscation records, release records and the
records of minor crimes for five years and then destroys them. The counterfoils of the old records in the
hand of the HSC give it a power to argue before the state. The state cannot produce those documents but
cannot ignore them too as they contain the official signature.
presence felt in policy discussions. This means that the HSC has the ability to keep some
documents in its private holding and initiate a public debate on the rest.6

Ethnography in a Private Archive

I went to the office of the HSC at College Street for the first time in April 2007. It was
extremely difficult to talk to Shakti-da, as he was a busy person. He was an important leader
of the National Alliance of Peoples Movements and an active participant in National
Movement for Retail Democracy that successfully organized massive Anti-Wal-Mart
Campaign in many Indian cities in the recent past. When I first visited the office of the HSC,
Shakti-da was in Chile attending a conference. But, two of his trusted lieutenants who
actually managed the office, Sudipta Maitra and Murad Hussain, talked to me. They however
said that they would have to seek a permission from Shakti-da to give me access to the
records. Murad assured me that I would be able to see some of the documents. But the
organizations confidential documents might not be disclosed to me as they would expose
the inner contradictions of the committee. Murad said that those documents could only be
made public if they resolved to document their history in the future.
Though I was denied access to the secret documents of the HSC, the organizations
ability to maintain archival secrecy helped me understand the archival field I was working
with. Murad was acutely aware of the public nature of the act of writing history, and he was
not willing to allow me authorship of the HSC story. His ability to mark the border between
secrets and revelation sparked my imagination regarding the meaning of secrecy in the life of
the record. The secret archive of the HSC can possibly be deployed to corroborate or even
to contest the memory of the state. It can as well be a hiding space in which subversive
memories are preserved. It is also worth noticing that, when Murad denied my request to see
the secret archive, he revealed a tension, a discomfort with those records (note the Marxist

The authority to select documents and classify them into public and private enables the HSC to
exceed the state power. The state creates the archive as a special repository of the governmental knowledge.
The state can restrict the public access to the archive in the name of national security, communal
sensitivity, etc, but it cannot privatize the archive. The state is always apprehensive of the public access to
the archive as it contains subversive memories, but it needs to open it for the public as it has the burden to
let public know the transparency of the government. The promulgation of the Right to Information Act
has made the archive of the state accessible to the public increasing the vulnerability of the state archive to
the public.
term inner contradiction in Murads statement). Murad knew that those documents might
contradict the official position of the HSC. So, this secret archive is not only the strength of
the HSC, it is also a constant source of discomfort, if not threat. The HSC thus preserves the
right to write its own history and to disclose its own secrets.
The HSCs archival function, I argue, is a successful mimicking of the states
bureaucracy, and also its very own project of a national history. Having its own historical
project, however, the HSC becomes a major constituent of the techniques of the
government that I call the state-union complex an ensemble of administrative
techniques and ways of governing in which one find a complex unity in the action of the
state and the union. The HSC makes the post-Operation Sunshine Sangram a public memory
by repeated recollections, propaganda and myth-making, while, it makes the production of
knowledge dependent on its will. It civilizes hawkers, produces knowledge and controls the
production of knowledge on hawking and builds a populist infrastructure of Sangram.
I started my archival research in the office of the HSC in May 2007. Having returned
to the city, Shaktiman gave me an appointment. He said that if I wanted to talk to him, I
needed to stay in his office at night as he would be free from his work only very late in the
night. At our first over-night talk I understood that Shaktiman had been waiting a long time
to find a researcher who would write about him and the annals of the HSC in academic
journals. He had received a lot of media coverage, but unlike his Mumbai and Delhi
counterparts, Shaktiman and the HSC were still marginal in the world of academia. Since I
was the first researcher to work on the HSC, Shaktiman was easily amenable to collaborating
with me. He gladly accepted me as an academic champion of the cause of the footpath
hawkers in Calcutta. Interestingly, my closeness to the HSC seriously disrupted my access to
other unions that did not belong to the HSC. The CPM dominated Calcutta Street Hawkers
Union did not give me access to its archive owing to the trust issue.
In the record room of the HSC, I found a host of documents ranging from political
pamphlets, letters to different organizations, and petitions. I could locate a systematically
documented reservoir of information on the informal credit market.7 The unions maintain

In a credit market there are typically asymmetric information between a borrower and a lender, where the
borrower has full information about his productivity and his risk types, but a lender lacks this information.
Given such asymmetric information, borrowers may engage in opportunistic behaviour, creating moral
hazards problems for lenders. In their effort to overcome this, lenders find that it is costly to make sure
necessary information (social, economic, political and household) on hawkers that can satisfy
a lender. Often the unions receive commission from both the parties as remuneration. The
HSC, being at the head of 32 local unions, centrally preserves and monitors this huge
demographic data. This was the traditional archival function of the unions like the HSC, I
But, since the publication of the National Policy of Street Vendors in 2004, as we
have noted, this preexisting database of the HSC began to assume a political purpose. As we
have noted in Chapter III, the National Policy recommended a certain imposition of
numerical limits on access to public spaces by discretionary licenses. For this, the policy-
makers felt it necessary to conduct surveys of street vendors and their location by
competent professional institutions. The National Policy also asserted that the drive to
form such a database would be sponsored by the Ministry of Urban Employment and
Poverty Alleviation/concerned department of state governments/municipal authorities.
Invoking the Supreme Court ruling that if properly regulated according to the exigencies of
the circumstances the street hawkers can considerably add to the comfort and
convenience of the general public, by making available ordinary articles of everyday use for a
comparatively lesser price, the National Policy placed the hawkers question in the realm of
case-sensitive management (evident in the invocation of the terms like exigencies of
circumstances) that required a constant upkeep of database.

that borrowers take actions that make repayment more likely. Moreover, after the loan is granted,
circumstances may change the borrowers ability and willingness to repay. The lenders have to take to
costly action in order to observe these changes in the probability of default and induce borrowers to take
corrective action. Given this, the credit market is segmented according to ethnic lines. The up-country
hawkers find it easier to establish contact with the wholesaler or the mahajan (moneylender), via friends,
relatives and middlemen. The wholesaler finds it easier to monitor the activities of the borrower through the
channels of personal relation. On the other hand, the non-migrant Bengali hawkers find it difficult to earn a
credit from the mahajan. In such a situation the union is the hinge organization between the lender and the
borrower. The lender depends on the union for risk minimization, information and enforcement while the
aspiring borrower depends on it as he can hardly manage a credit without his affiliation to the union. The
union not only collects information about the hawker but also makes an assessment of his daily transaction.
Since the credit from the mahajan can only be taken for a very short duration (usually for 7 days) in a very
high rate of interest (usually 75 percent to 100 percent), the HSC has recently started acting as a bank
giving loans to the hawkers (both short term and long term) with an average of 25 percent interest. The
amount of loan to be granted to a hawker depends on the quality and type of the product and of the location
and daily sale of the hawker. This requires the HSC to keep register books and credit histories of the
hawkers who seek loans. According to Shaktiman, the initial capital for banking came from the hawkers
subscriptions. Once it started working, the bank began to generate its own capital.
The HSC did not take much time to offer a baseline survey of a sample of 2350
hawkers (came out in public in 2006) to the governing agencies that would enable it to
assume a more meaningful role in policy formulation in the sector. In a pamphlet circulated
in a conference organized by the HSC, in September, 2008, it was stated that the National
Policy has recommended the local governments to conduct socio-economic surveys on the
hawkers. The HSC takes the opportunity to employ its own expertise to conduct such a
survey. This survey is the first of its kind in the city (HSC 2008).
Conducting massive socio-economic surveys and submitting them to the state
agencies has several implications. First, it enables the organization to formalize its archiving.
Second, it makes the organization very prominent and influential in policy discourses. Third,
it shows the organizations ability to act like a state in its own domain. The HSC is also
collaborating with the city corporation to extend this documentation all over the city in
which all the hawkers in the city are minutely mapped.8 This collaboration between the state
and the union makes policy-making a political process.
A public display of the hawkers contribution to the urban society and economy in
statistical language has also enabled the HSC to participate in the official policy-making
bodies. The preface to the report asserts:
.this study objected to identify one of the most essential service providers of
contemporary fast growing ultra modern hi-tech urban areas with a sense of legitimacy
of right to livelihood and struggle of survival through unique and most affordable
essential services to the urban poor and low income group populations and making a
space for coexistence of large number of dying home based, cottage and small-scale
industries along with marginalized farmers [sic] (HSC 2006, 1).
To make the study acceptable to a wider cross-section of readers the HSC involved eminent
academicians from the very beginning. The preface writes:
From the beginning of the study we have decided to involve expert academic skills with
computerised data compiling and analysing system for the best survey result. In this we
have the great opportunity to get help from Dr. Subhendu Dasgupta, Head of the

However, as Shaktiman Ghosh, discloses, such enumerations take those hawkers into consideration who
possess stalls on the pavement (excluding those who work as labourers in the stalls). Shaktiman believes
that such enumerations will enable the Corporation to issue proper licenses to the legitimate hawkers. As
you might have read, this has been a long-term demand of our association, says Ghosh (Interview with
Shaktiman Ghosh recorded by the author on 7 May, 2007).
Department, South and South East Asian Studies, CU, and Prof. Dipankar Dey (HSC
2006, 2).
Another important aspect of the survey that requires attention is the role of Sujit
Mukherjee of Pratibandhi Udyog in making the survey possible. We come to know from the
preface again, that he has extended his kind infrastructural support to conduct the vast field
survey with a sensitive notion of understanding of the unions economic condition and
done this great job with a very low cost budget. But who is this Sujit Mukherjee? Why was
he given the responsibility of conducting the study?
Sujit Mukherjee, popularly known as Naughty-da in Kasba-Bosepukur region, had
been a hawker in his early days. He is a member of RSP and close to the Kshiti Goswami-
faction of the party which maintains a rebel image within the Left Front. Naughty-da is a
distant nephew of the incumbent Mayor of the Corporation and a well-known figure in his
office. He is known for his close relation with the HSC as well. Apart from conducting the
field research, Naughty-da had mediated between the Mayors office and the HSC. Without a
Naughty-da, it was hardly possible to conduct the study. Naughty-da has a unique identity
which made him a key person in the survey. He had been a hawker and is now a social
worker, a Leftist but not a CPM. Yet he is close to the CPM Mayor, a Mayor who is not a
prominent figure in the main-stream hierarchy of CPM.
In 2007, the Corporation took the initiative of creating an official database on the
hawkers operating in the public spaces of the city. But without taking much pain to search
for any competent professional institution the Corporation outsourced the task to Naughty-
das NGO, Pratibandhi Udyog. Gariahat Road and Rashbehari Avenue had been chosen as a
preliminary site for the pilot project. The preface of the pilot project tells us: A survey was
carried on for 636 hawkers at Gariahat Road and 1627 hawkers at Rashbehari Avenue,
between 27 May and 16 June 2008, between 10.30 am and 8.30 pm each day (Pratibandhi
Udyog 2007, 2)
Though the survey has been based on the earlier pilot survey of the HSC, the name
of the HSC is absent in the survey report, however, names of two academics, Subhendu
Dasgupta and Dipankar Dey, do figure in it. It rather maintains an objective image
sometimes by praising some unions for their support and sometimes by stating how it was

difficult to collect data from hawkers who belonged to some other unions that were hostile
to the survey effort.

The Entrepreneurial Poor

On 28 July 1972, the Chowringhee Hawkers Association affiliated to Congress-R released a

public statement in a press conference where it demanded a rehabilitation of the hawkers
belonging to the Association in the West flank of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road and the
vacant plot facing the Maidan Market (Statement made by the president and general
secretary of the Chowringhee Hawkers Association in a press conference at 2 Jawaharlal
Nehru Road, Calcutta 13 on 28 July 28 1972 at 5 pm, in connection with their impending
fast unto death for the rehabilitation of Chowringhee hawkers, reproduced in the Copy of
the Secret Report, 29 July, 1972, on WB Hawkers Associations: 85).
I located several such rehabilitation proposals submitted by different associations to
the government in the form of letters, memoranda, and public statements. Bengal Hawkers
Association affiliated to the Forward Block, for example submitted a long letter to the Chief
Minister on 6 May 1972, in which it reminded the Chief Minister of the fact that hawker
eviction in Calcutta indicated a policy reversal of the government which had set its goal to
eradicate poverty (goribi hatao), and proposed:
If the government is determined in evicting them from foot-path, then from today, the
state government shall have to take the entire responsibility to feed and to give shelter
to all the affected hawkers including their families.... A temporary dalla or Tray System
(3ft by 3 ft) should be introduced at once till the final arrangement of permanent
economic settlement is made. In order to solve the problems of the hawkers in West
Bengal especially in Calcutta, the representatives of different registered Hawkers
associations must be consulted and their opinions and collaborations must be sought in
implementing the hawkers settlement plans (i.e. their representatives should be
included in project committees).
Documents submitted to the government by numerous hawkers associations in the
context of many such drives were always reflective of the bent to project the hawkers
problem as a manifestation of wider political and economic issues such as the refugee
problem, and the problem of unemployment. These issues were often presented in the
documents in relation to the honesty of the self-employed poor who maintained their
families and sustained a wider chain of small economies. Invoking contrast with the path of
radical trade unionism, the Chowringhee Hawkers Association wrote:
Being democratic and nationally minded we do not believe in irresponsible mass action
and are patiently waiting for the governments final disposal of the matter, whereby bona
fide hawkers like us, who are facing starvation and suffering, will be ultimately
rehabilitated to our normal vocations. We expect, the government will understand that
we are self-employed, poor businessmen with very low overhead and capital base. But,
in the days of stark poverty, we did not depend on the government, beg, or indulge in
criminal activities. The only thing that we demand from the government is the security
of our enterprise (emphasis mine) on the footpath (Memorandum to the Chief Minister,
23 March, 1972).
These documents also displayed how the associations had mastered the modern clerical and
bureaucratic language (of the state) and technical economic terms to engage with the
government. The associations hardly used any terms in their documents that could go
against the constructive, argumentative and alternative-providing image of the poor
hawker. The aforementioned memorandum formed a moral critique of the state (which
failed to look after its poor citizens) and justified the hawkers trade on the footpath as an
honest survival alternative in the condition of abject poverty without causing extra burden
on the state. The only demand that it made to the state was an allowance of toleration. The
document also defines what it means to be a bona fide hawker: adequately poor, democratic
and nationally minded, adequately old in the profession. These early mobilizations
anticipated the central argument of the state-union complex. The survey under discussion is
the official statement of the state-union complex that has reached the argument on the
policy table in a formal bureaucratic language. If the earlier statements described hawkers as
enterprising, this survey presented them as microentrepreneurs seeking legal recognition
from the state. It gathers statistical evidence to substantiate the following claims (I give
excerpts from the survey done by Pratibandhi Udyog along with Subhendu Dasgupta and
Dipankar Dey).
Claim 1: Hawking is the only possible means of livelihood to the majority of
the hawkers: According to the survey of the Corporation, 63.7 percent hawkers at Gariahat
and 55.7 percent hawkers at Rashbehari Avenue have started earning as hawkers. Nearly 93
percent of hawkers in aggregate in the concerned streets started their present business due to
unemployment. Most of them have remained in this economic activity for a long period of
time. 63.7 percent of hawkers at Gariahat and 56.2 percent of them at Rashbehari have been
in this business between 5 and 20 years which is quite at par with the scenario of the entire
city calculated by the HSC (56.5 percent). This indicates that far from being a transitory
phenomenon, hawking is a permanent space for employment generation. This is more
evident when one finds that, to approximately 61 percent of hawkers, hawking has been the
principal hereditary business and that they are the second generation in such trade (in HSCs
survey, this figure comes to 68.16 percent of the total sample).
Claim 2: The hawkers question involves the livelihood question of the urban
poor: According to the Corporation-PU survey, most of the hawkers (84.7 percent at
Gariahat and 85.5 percent a Rashbehari) are sole earners in their families. 65.3 percent of
hawkers at Gariahat and 67.9 percent of hawkers at Rashbehari provide livelihood to the
families of 4-7 members. In most of the cases the family members (64.9 percent at Gariahat
and 56.2 percent at Rashbehari) are actively involved in the trade. Moreover, a substantial
number of hawkers generate employment in their shops. In Gariahat, for example, 42.2
percent hawkers employ one or more than one labourer(s) to assist them. HSCs survey,
however, says that 80.52 percent hawkers of its total sample employ two helpers and 1
percent of the sample employs even more than 2 helpers in their shops. The claim that one
might make from this data is that, hawking generates income for the survival of a large
section of population in and around the city and that it is a labour intensive sector.
Claim 3: Hawkers are poor: Though hawkers provide livelihood for a significant
number of people, the amount they earn consume invest, is little. The category of
monthly earning up to Rs. 4000 (USD80) includes 80.5 percent hawkers at Gariahat and 89.1
percent hawkers at Rashbehari. Since they earn very little their monthly family expenditure is
also meagre 72 percent hawkers at Gariahat and 58.6 percent hawkers at Rashbehari
spend Rs. 2000-3000 (USD 40-60) per month for their families. Again, as most of the
hawkers can afford to save little, they invest very little in their business 69 percent
hawkers at Gariahat and 65.5 percent hawkers at Rashbehari, according to the survey, spend
less than Rs. 2000 per month on their business. To sum up, most of the hawkers belong to
the low-income, low-expenditure group as hawking is basically a low income generating

business. Yet, a large section of people is engaged in this economic activity, as the alternative
employment and income generating spaces are limited. In other words, the existence of
hawkers on the streets indicates the states failure to generate adequate employment
Claim 4: Hawkers are self-reliant businessmen who lessen the states burden:
The survey under review points out that 58.5 percent hawker in Gariahat and 65.4 percent at
Rashbehari have started their business through self-financing (in HSCs survey, 71.59
percent hawkers in the sample started their business through self financing). That does not
change even after that 71.9 percent hawkers at Gariahat and 80.5 percent hawkers at
Rashbehari (while 74.84 percent hawkers in HSCs survey) maintain their business with
internal capital. In sum, the survey makes the claim that hawking is an economic activity that
generates income for a significant number of people (far exceeding the number of hawkers
operating on the streets and pavements) without causing any pressure on state finance.
Claim 5: Hawking is at the heart of the economy of small people: According to
the survey, a large number of hawkers (59.4 percent in Gariahat and 76.6 percent in
Rashbehari) purchase their goods from small suppliers. Moreover, most of the hawkers (74.7
percent in Gariahat and 68.25 percent in Rashbehari, and 64.87 percent in HSCs survey) pay
their suppliers in cash so that the small suppliers find it easier to collect goods. This
reciprocal understanding between hawkers and suppliers constructs a viable economy of the
small people. This concept of small economy again gets prominence if we calculate the data
provided by the survey under review on the linkages between the hawkers, the small sellers
and small buyers 70.1 percent hawkers at Gariahat and 74.1 percent at Rashbehari sell
their goods to poor and middleclass buyers. 61 percent hawkers at Gariahat and 64.8 percent
at Rashbehari are of the opinion that small buyers have 10 to 20 percent benefits if they
purchase goods from them.
Claim 6: Hawkers contribute to the economy of the state: The survey under
review claims that hawking contributes to the economy of West Bengal in two ways. First, it
generates income for the local people 90 percent of hawkers at Gariahat and 93.7 percent
at Rashbehari are from the state. Second, the majority of the hawkers (86.8 percent at
Gariahat and 98.27 percent at Rashbehari) sell commodities produced in the state.
Citing data, the survey concludes:

This long standing and stable economy that contributes to the state development do
[sic] not get any support from the state government in this context it has been
expressed by all the hawkers that they are ready to pay the Government revenues if the
state legally recognizes their economic activity. The survey provides the statistical
support to the opinion that a long standing viable small economy should get legal
recognition by the government. The government should be aware that street vendors
are microentrepreneurs (emphasis is mine), killing them would kill the economy.
At the heart of this new subject modality that I call the entrepreneurial subjectivity, lay
business ethics, individual responsibility and personal initiatives. It is important to scrutinize
the ways in which this technology of discipline produces the terms of autonomy and
empowerment engendering the entrepreneurial subjectivity now being valorized in academic,
policy as well as activist literature. The HSCs discourse of the entrepreneurial poor should
be viewed in connection with the global consensus on the entrepreneurial capacities of the
Two recent edited volumes on street hawkers, namely Street Entrepreneurs (2006)
edited by John Cross and Alfanso Morales and Street Vendors in Global Urban Economy (2010)
edited by Sharit Bhawmik have shown how the current global consensus on the poors
entrepreneurialism operates in the case of street hawking. Both Street Vendors in Global Urban
Economy and Street Entrepreneurs acknowledge their intellectual debt to the work of the
Peruvian economist and policy guru Hernando de Sotho. A decade ago, de Sotho wrote that
the poor must be seen as heroic entrepreneurs who were part of solution rather than
problem. Another important policy interlocutor, C. K. Prahlad finds a fortune in bottom
pyramid and asserts that one should stop thinking of poor as victim or as a burden and
start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs (quoted in The Economist, 19
August 2004). At the heart of this new subject modality, that can be called entrepreneurial
subjectivity, lie business ethics, individual responsibility and personal initiatives. Paradoxically,
the new subject morality emerges at a time when the very conditions of self-sufficiency are
severely undermined. The entrepreneur of the self learns to navigate wage and employment
insecurities, and lives with the contingencies of the unforeseeable. The self-sufficient, self-

providing entrepreneurs are valorized as the ideal citizens who qualify for credit without
Both the books seem to propagate a normative claim: as street vendors are self-
governing and self-reliant subjects, the state has no ethical justification to destroy these
initiatives. The state must, instead, guarantee their survival by recognizing them in the urban
space in such a way that they become eligible for microloans. They visualize the National
Policy on Urban Street Vendors in India as a stepping stone in making the state limited yet
regulatory, surveillant as well as promoting self-government. In addition to this, chapter 12
of Street vendors in the Global Urban Economy and chapter 6 of Street Entrepreneurs tell
us how advocacy of a few Indian organizations such as NASVI and SEWA among the street
vendors and in the state has made such a policy possible. Thus, these books confirm the
prose of neoliberal governmentality and they contribute to the knowledge machine of the
state-union complex. The entrepreneurial discourse, that the survey of Pratibandhi Udyog
promotes, shares a historical conjuncture with this market populism.

The Politics of the Urban Poor

In the last decade, a number of influential theoretical interventions such as Arjun

Appadurais deep democracy argument (2002), Partha Chatterjees political society
(2004) argument, and Ananya Roys powerful revision of Chatterjee and Appadurai that she
calls the politics of inclusion (2009), have sought to understand the impact of neoliberal
globalization on Indian cities. Arguably, these scholars have set before them two central
questions: a) the abilities of the poor vis--vis the nature of mobilizations (Appadurai and
Roy), and b) the governmental states engagement with such mobilizations (Chatterjee). In
doing so, they are fundamentally engaged with questions of what it means to make claim
upon the state via technologies of governmentality. In Chatterjees work, this is indeed
revealed in the tension between universal citizenship (bourgeois civil society) and
particularistic rights of population groups in the crucibles of governmentality. To Appadurai,

The term entrepreneurial poor has a strong historical association with the microcredit revolution in the
South. As a development narrative, microfinance is concerned with entrepreneurialism of the poor, their
self-reliance, and with an opportunity society, rather than redistribution, welfare and equality. It writes out
the role of the state and focuses on the creativity of entrepreneurs.
it is that of the enchantment of new alliances among diverse social groups in the backdrop of
the steady erosion of equity offered by certain versions of welfarism/developmentalism and
Marxism; while for Roy, it is the consent-based compensation, resistance and inclusion at the
frontiers of urban renewal (p. 162). For all of them, however, the ways in which the
poor make space for themselves within the government and the aggressively expanding
market, and are recognized within the neoliberal state are of pivotal importance. To all of
them, the frontier of urban development is the experimental ground for ever-changing
regimes of authority and urban management. While Appadurai takes the resilience of
grassroots organizations and non-state actors as a sign of deep democracy, Roy hazards
against any uncritical celebration of its strategies precisely because they are always already
implicated in a politics of inclusion. Thus, what Appadurai celebrates as the horizontal
linking of NGOs to state and world institutions as a practice of deep democracy, Roy shows
how this in fact points to potential sites of complicity and practices of compromise effected
at the deeper structural changes for the urban poor.
In contributing to this literature, the chapter has explored the relationship between
population groups, governmental agencies and the question of the archive. In brief, I
argue that by arrogating to itself an archival function which is conventionally associated
with the state sections of population can become successful in their endless negotiations
and tussles with the government. In this context, I compare and contrast the case of the
organized hawkers with that of the unorganized pavement-dwellers on whom the state used
to have a good database in the 1970s and 1980s. The state seeks to manage populations by
mapping them in every possible way and the successfully mobilized groups intervene in the
process, acting as a crucial filter. I have considered it as an intervention in the classical
command-execution mode of archive formation. In the context of post-colonial democracy,
the archive has turned out to be a contested field of political negotiation and subjection.
Hawkers came out successful. Pavement dwellers failed. The hawkers are successful because
they are able to integrate themselves with the neoliberal governmentality. They have become
agents of a distinctly spatial politics in targeting the footpath as a point of struggle and in
using it as a resource for political mobilization and self-governance. Footpath hawkers in
Calcutta, for example, often distinguish themselves from the street hawkers. This distinction
is spatial. According to footpath hawkers, hawking on footpath is legitimate as it does not

directly obstruct vehicular traffic, and as pedestrians on the footpath need them to stop
by, browse and purchase essential things. Again, the Corporation, in connection with several
hawker unions, has recently demarcated (in white line), the hawking spaces on the footpath
(usually a one third of a footpath is marked by the corporation as hawking area). The unions
ensure the observance of the rule by the hawkers. This also means that the footpath has
become a site of governing urban space, hawking and pedestrian traffic through the line that
divides the footpath in one third and two thirds assigning separate meaning to each segment
(the state assigns new use value to the footpath). The self-disciplined hawkers obey the rule,
restrict their trade within the line and thus become the civilized and normal encroachers.
The archival operation of the HSC and its ability to influence the archive of the
state-union complex are counter-hegemonic to the extent that they challenge the middle
classs monopoly in knowledge production (that enables the middle class to be dominant in
civil society). The hawkers archive can thus be seen as offering a counter-discourse to the
bourgeois reclamation of public space that one finds in the print media, advertisements, and
environmental activism and public interest litigations in the courts (Baviskar 2003, Bhan
2009). However, in doing so, the archive produces neoliberal governmentalities revealing the
subjects consent to the making of a world-class city. Now the question is, if the HSC
formally collaborates with the state in policy-making and in developing a legal framework,
then does it still remain a political society?
The hallmark of Chatterjees political society argument is that it collectively violates law
and encroaches on infrastructure to survive. This collectivity in claim-making is the community
in political society. And here lies its major difference with civil society in which one cannot
find a community of those who violate law such as tax defaulters. In civil society, then, it is
individual who violates law.10 I think the civil/political distinction in Chatterjee stands not in
the observance and violation of law, but in modes of violating law. In political society, it is
the question of the liberal states inability to feed its own people according to the social
contract and a willingness of the subjects to be governed and addressed by the state, that
make popular politics possible. There is something particularly intriguing about how

This is not to deny the emerging trend in many Indian cities of elite neighbourhood associations coming
together to go illegal in justifying elite informality or to wage violence on the poor (Baviskar 2003). It is
now common in Mumbai that these elite associations are very much active during corporation elections to
favour particular candidates. The civil society associations act together to pressurize the Court and the
municipal government to legalize their illegality and not to tolerate illegality for their survival.
government de facto recognizes and tolerates otherwise illegal collective arrangements and
thereby transforming the illegal into what Chatterjee calls the paralegal. Now, the question
is, if the government decides to legalize different aspects of the paralegal in response to
popular politics (like that of the hawkers in India), then what happens to the political
society? Does it make a transition into civil society?
The recent managerial turn into the political society argument in Chatterjees more
recent work (2008) frees political society from its transgressive aspects and argues that while
civil society is the site of the management of profit-making corporate capital opening up new
frontiers of primitive accumulation of capital, political society offers a space for the
management of non-corporate capital the so called informal sector (Chatterjee 2008). It is
in the domain of the political society that new dispossessions are to be looked after by
governmentality (Sanyal 2007). If one goes by this new twist to the political society argument
that has made the concept palatable to the liberal taste (Nigam 2008), then, it can be argued
that the HSC will still be a political society even after the legalization of footpath hawking as
it will keep on managing the noncorporate capital of the hawkers. But, if for the sake of
argumentation, we forget about the new turn and celebrate political society as a constitutive
outside of both the state and the civil society whose hallmarks are population and
paralegality, then the HSCs entrepreneurial discourse begins to trouble the distinction
between civil society and political society and produces citizenship norms for the poor.
Entrepreneurialism celebrates the self-employed and self-governed individual as the ideal
citizen. The collective claim of the HSC thus slips into a claim for right-bearing
entrepreneurs a new signifier for the poor to be citizens globally produced by international
funding organizations, states, NGOs and unions like the HSC. An entrepreneur has a greater
claim to being a rights-bearing citizen, rather than as a recipient of welfare. The pavement
dwellers failed to make a transition from a population of welfare recipients to individual
citizens with rights. The entrepreneurial discourse makes it possible for hawkers to
successfully negotiate with the neoliberal state. But this negotiation does not take place
devoid of the community. Thus, the individuality of the entrepreneur is extrapolated by the
survey to make the self-governed collectivity significant. The invention of the
entrepreneurialism among poor celebrates individuality but situates it into the community
that becomes their social capital.

In order not to fit the HSC in either of the two forms of engagements, the chapter
draws on the concept of the state-union complex. The operation of the state-union complex
questions Chatterjees rather decidedly un-Gramscian conception of civil society and un-
Foucauldian conception of governmentality. He asserts that the landless poor of India lie
outside of civil society, because their claims are irreducibly political (2004, 60), which
assumes a model of civil society and politics as operating in two separate spheres, though his
own examples of mobilizations show how the urban poor operate in and through (unequal)
social networks and strategies of which government officials, unions, and political parties are
a part (this is what I understand as the state-union complex). Chatterjee writes that the
politics of the governed is a strategic politics in political society, where Gramsci would
argue that politics is always strategicabout constructing hegemony through the
combination of coercion and consent. Moving on to Foucault, Chatterjees conception of
governmentality appears to impose a binary between those who govern and those who are
governed that seems heavy-handed in contrast to Foucaults theorization which sees all of us
as interpellated by these structures and rejects the idea of an outside from which to govern.
In a more Foucauldian tone, the present chapter conceives of the state-union complex as an
intertwining of the state-in-society and the society-in-state.

Concluding Remarks

Consent as Resistance

Where there is power, there is resistance

Foucault 1986, 95.

The motivation behind this inquiry emerges, in part, from my prevailing interest in popular
activism, in which I come to see the popular urban entitlement-movements (like that of the
hawkers) as protest movements with particular spatial foundations. As a student of urban
politics and activism, I felt the need to unravel the socio-spatial provisions that keep up and
condition collective action and opposition.
To gain an understanding of the logics of interaction between the state and the
social, as they manifest on the streets and footpaths of Calcutta, the study seeks to explore
the everyday operation of government, and understand the forms of socio-political
organization that came up in them. One of my central research questions has been how
certain quotidian practices on the streets impact on the overall web of power relations
between the users and the government, on the one hand, and between different user groups,
on the other. One of the central paradoxes of popular claim-making that the dissertation
unravels was as follows: how, in seeking to gain entitlements from the government, the
governed become subjects of technologies of power. This subjection of the governed
occurs through the spatial encoding of practices of control. In other words, the dissertation
has sought to expose the spatialization of governmentality through the categorization and
ordering of various socio-spatial practices. The government desires the governed to conduct
themselves in space to comply with the contingencies of regulated conduct. To put it

differently, the governed must abide by the ideals of civility such as keeping their activities to
one third of the footpath and not block the flow of traffic (as discussed at length in
Chapter IV). The subjects complicity to the rules of spatial conduct makes government at a
distance possible. The dissertation shows that in the process of such internalization of the
normal civic behaviour among the hawkers, the HSC emerged as a mediating agency
between the governmental state and the governed a double agent to implement discipline
as well as a legitimate body of the hawkers to lay claim on the state as a reward for upholding
codes of civic conduct. The dissertation showed that this layered process of claim-making
and negotiation also produced new outcastes such as really unorganized hawkers and
pavement dwellers.
Now the question is, whether the hawkers sangram is an act of resistance or a mere
case of cooptation from above. Is it possible to perceive consent and resistance as
inextricably linked in practice? I have started anticipating an answer to the question in the
concluding section of Chapter IV, let me now develop it into my concluding argument.

Resistance in the Street

Foucaults famous statement on power and resistance, quoted at the head of this chapter,
has initiated a vibrant debate among contemporary critical theory scholars. In The Psychic Life
of Power, Judith Butler, for instance, arrives at a compelling distinction between the Lacanian
and Foucauldian understanding of resistance. Butler writes:
The imaginary [Lacanian imaginary of resistance] thwarts the efficacy of the symbolic
law but cannot turn back upon the law, demanding or effecting its reformulation. In
this sense, psychic resistance thwarts the law in its effects, but cannot redirect the law
or its effects. Resistance is thus located in a domain that is virtually powerless to alter
the law that it opposes. Hence, psychic resistance presumes the continuation of the law
in its anterior, symbolic form and, in that sense, contributes to its status quo. In such a
view, resistance appears doomed to perpetual defeat. [Paragraph ends] In contrast,
Foucault formulates resistance as an effect of the very power that it is said to oppose....
For Foucault, the symbolic produces the possibility of its own subversion, and these
subversions are unanticipated effects of symbolic interpellations (Butler 1997a, 98-99).
In response, Zizek tells us:
First, on the level of exegesis, Foucault is much more ambivalent on this point: his
thesis on the immanence of resistance to power can also be read as asserting that every
resistance is caught in advance in the game of power that it opposes. Second, my notion
of inherent transgression, far from playing another variation on this theme (resistance
reproduces that to which it resists), makes the power edifice even more vulnerable: in so
far as power relies on its inherent transgression, then sometimes, at least
overidentifying with the explicit power discourse ignoring this inherent obscene
underside and simply taking the power discourse at its (public) word, acting as if it really
means what it explicitly says (and promises) can be the most effective way of
disturbing its smooth functioning. Third, and most important: far from constraining the
subject to a resistance doomed to perpetual defeat, Lacan allows for a much more
radical subjective intervention than Butler: what the Lacanian notion of act aims at is
not a mere displacement/resignification of the symbolic coordinates that confer on the
subject his or her identity, but the radical transformation of the very universal
structuring principle of the existing symbolic order. Or to put it in more
psychoanalytic terms the Lacanian act, in its dimension of traversing the
fundamental fantasy aims radically to disturb the very passionate attachment that
forms, for Butler, the ultimately ineluctable background of the process of
resignification. So, far from being more radical in the sense of thorough
historicization, Butler is in fact very close to the Lacan of the early 1950s, who found
his ultimate expression in the rapport de Rome on The Function and the Field of Speech
and Language in Psychoanalysis (1953) to the Lacan of the permanent process of
retroactive historicization or resymbolization of social reality; to the Lacan who
emphasized again and again how there is no directly accessible raw reality, how what
we perceive as reality is overdetermined by the symbolic texture within which it
appears (2000, 220).
This exchange shows that the critique of political economy is yet to overcome a
dilemma as to how to lay ones hands on resistance in the contemporary world. On the one
hand, we still continue to adhere to the historical materialist framework with scholars like
Frederic Jameson (1984). His notion of the urban sublimethe radical unrepresentability
of the postmodern city spacehas been still influential along with his urge to arrive at
cognitive maps of that disconcerting space. It is also eminently possible to trace renditions of
such materialist assumptions in a number of other influential narratives of social space. Neil
Smith and Cindi Katz (1986), for instance, emphasize on reading the spatial metaphors in
critical theory in their material contexts. David Harvey (1990) cautions that postmodernitys
valorization of the local and the contingent often undermines the significance of the
global political economy that significantly produce and shape the local. Each of these views
implicitly or not so implicitly refers to the materialist supposition that our conception of
space ought to come to terms with more concrete economic limits. In historical materialist
tradition, the street appears to be a site where the limits conditioned by economic necessity
is prominently visible. The homeless ends up living on the streetsthe poor are always at
the brink of being driven to the streets. From a Marxist perspective, the street is the stage to
host anti-capitalist mass mobilizationa space where barricade can morally uphold the spirit
of unity among the oppressed for new utopic possibilities. Clearly, historical materialism
refers to a much wider orientation within modernity which perceives the street as an
articulation of the system. In this modern view, the culture of the street could change only
when the total system undergoes transformation. Marxism envisages the elimination of
wretchedness and social discord that class struggle entails in the street. Speaking of the
working class in London, Engels famously commented:
After roaming the streets of the capital for a day or twoafter visiting the slums of the
metropolis, one realizes for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to
sacrifice the best qualities of their human natureThe very turmoil of the streets has
something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels The brutal
indifference, more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded
together, within a limited space (1958, 56).
For Engels, the streets are creepy precisely as the capitalist system is exploitative and
repulsive. On another end of the ideological spectrum, the 20th century modernist, Le
Corbusier, expressed, as we noticed in Chapter I, a somewhat similar disdain for the city
streets and called for an overhaul the urban system: It is the street of the pedestrian of a
thousand years ago; it is a relic of the centuries: it is a nonfunctioning, obsolete organ. The
street wears us out. It is altogether disgusting. Why, then, does it still exist? (quoted in Gold
1998, 48). He worked out a total, utopian agenda for all cities globally, and planned to
completely annihilate the city street as a social space and transform it into a transport
channel and an architectural baseline. The street for the modernist as well as the Marxist
appeared to serve as an articulation and a symptom of the pathologies of the total system,
and thus the transformation of the street was linked to the transformation of the entire
The postmodernist rendition of the street rejects the modern[ist]-functionalist link
between the street and the system (like capitalism) as often totalizing and reductive, and over
all conceptually unproductive. On the contrary, the postmodern views often appear to
celebrate the street as a space where multiplicities of localized power struggles make available
the rich variety of pleasures and identities of everyday life. In short, as I tried to explain in
Chapter I, the shift from the modern to the postmodern view of the street refers to the
attempt to reclaim the street from the system and understand it part of peoples lived
experience. To put it in broad terms, such a shift refers to a shift from the total to the local,
from structural issues to quotidian experience of users, from revolution to resistance. Jane
Jacobs celebrates the chaotic harmony of the everyday urban life. De Certeau looks upon
everyday urban life as a chorus of idle footsteps that weave places together (1984, 97)
always in excess to its planned intention. The postmodern urbanist does not require to
transform the street along with a giant transformative programme involving the entire
society, economy and polity. To put it crudely, the postmodern critic believes that the street,
if left to its own regularities, is capable of evolving its intrinsically fluid and adaptive
lifeworld, implying that the everyday life on the street is replete with infinite opportunities
for the subject to acquire pleasure and resistance that in excess to the confines of the system.
After World War II, Henri Lefebvre (1991) began to direct our attention towards
everyday life in social theory as an alternative of sort to the orthodox revolutionary Marxism.
He argues in the Production of Space that an exclusive focus on the claustrophobic system,
awaiting its transformation through a permanently deferred revolution, ultimately
undermines the contradictions that could have been mobilized within the frame of capital
itself (56). Lefebvre gives the instance of the sensory body producing differences and
interrupting the homogenized abstraction of social sign systems, as can be found in the
practice of leisure activities that engage in nonproductive forms of play. Taking cue from
Lefebvres notion of everyday life, De Certeau shows how differences at the site of the
pedestrians body can potentially extend outside the reach of panoptic power (1984, 95).
The works of Lefebvre and De Certeau have been influential in a number of subsequent
postmodern cultural studies works on street space. From this perspective, pavement dwellers

appear to resist the law of zoning and property by through their illicit and complicit
occupation of public spaces; street performers appropriate the footpath as a form of critical
expression; street Hip-Hop artists voice their indignation through rhythmic poetry. In short,
in the postmodern interpretation, every single gesture of the body can be a potential
resistance to capitalist abstraction.
A number of postmodern cultural studies works of street culture have paid a great
deal attention to creative artworks like graffiti, rap, breakdancing, etc. These works have
found in the street a definite prospect for real resistance. Consider for instance, the
influential account of Dick Hebdige (1979). In Subculture, Hebdige found in graffiti a form of
semantic guerrilla warfare to power of the capitalist law of property, because through
graffiti, a poor artist transforms the space of the wall her own territory, poaching it away
from the authority. Referring to Wodicxkos Homeless Vehicle in New York, Deutsche
brings to the fore the elements of interconnection between discursive and material aspects of
resistance. She tells us, the homeless vehicle legitimates people without homes rather than
the dominant space that excludes them, symbolically countering the citys own ideological
campaign against the poor (Deutsche 1996, 105).
Two sets of criticisms to this postmodern valorization of everyday acts of resistance
can be mentioned here (I will deal with the second criticism in a separate section). The first
set of criticisms comes from scholars like Slavoj Zizek (Armstrong 2008). They would ask,
how far exactly such local, individual acts of transgression challenge the systematic violence
of private property. Do such acts in themselves constitute a significant interruption to the
autobiography of capital leading to some forms of social transformation? Or, are such
transgressions always already anticipated and accommodated in capital? Is the graffiti artist
not simply reiterating the capitalist logic of property in reverse direction by annexing a little
surplus property for himself, or is the fact of the artists working class background enough
to make this re-appropriation a valid resistance? In addition, does this small act of symbolic
appropriation bolster more robust and collective forms of resistance, or does it further
atomize the subject who might satisfy her ego in momentary acts of consumption? Similar
questions can be raised with regard to De Certeaus notion of appropriation in the everyday
practice of walking the street. Through pedestrian speech acts, De Certeau says, walking
the street enters the realm of symbolic utterance, by which pedestrians engage in a process

of appropriation. The fact of their occupation generates new spatial configurations exceeding
its original structure. Put differently, the pedestrian, in connection with objects and other
users, adds her own story to the space: crossing busy streets while avoiding collision with
other bodies, creating navigable routes amidst fences and physical obstructions, cutting
through abandoned buildings, and so on. De Certeaus notion of performative appropriation
can be brought in conversation with Judith Butlers performative act of resignification, by
means of which individual body can allude to a given symbolic norm, such as femininity,
while still attaching ever new meaning by repeating the law with difference (Armstrong
Now, a conversation between de Certeau and Butler reveals that the pedestrian can
re-signify and re-create street space by citing the norms represented by urban structuring,
like loitering or squatting on the footpath while accommodating others and other activities
like street vending. As a result of the creative juxtaposition of various activities and bodily
gestures, new configurations of space emerge in the interstices of bodies and things that not
just exceed the planned execution of space, but, create new materialities of urban life.
However, the question remains. To what extent can these individual acts of symbolic
resistance, that, to borrow Zizeks term, are inherent transgressions, disrupt the dominant
order in the sway of late capitalism? As Zizek writes of Butler:
She overestimates the subversive potential of disturbing the functioning of the big
Other through practices of performative reconfiguration/displacement: such practices
ultimately support what they intend to subvert, since the very field of such
transgressions is already taken into account, even engendered by the hegemonic form
of the big Other (1999, 264).
This critical estimate is also equally relevant to Hebdiges power to disfigure or de
Certeaus notions of poaching and approaching. One may note that some of the
buzzwords of postmodern urban studies like resignification, disfiguration, and appropriation
presuppose a certain socio-symbolic boundary demarcated by civic, moral and cultural laws
and norms which is put under challenge, or subtly given a new directionality. But what if
such moments of interruption are part (if not constitutive) of capitals autobiography? What
if under capitalism, those moments of routine transgression are productive of consumer
cultures and academic production (such as my own work)? After all, capital and state are
proficient at inserting its outside to its own fold and forthcoming at converting them into
a sellable commodity. In this process, capital continuously transforms its limits into
surmountable barriers. Zizek tells us, Hence lies the paradox proper to capitalism, its last
resort: capitalism is capable of transforming its limit, its very importance, into the source of
its power (1989, 52). The same thing can be true for the state as well, as Migdal (2001) tells
us; in the realms of theorization and representation the state is being simultaneously elevated
above society and estranged from it. This dual process of elevation and estrangement
mythicizes the state (Armstrong 2008).
It then appears that capitals power to flourish at its own limits is the central problem
of our postmodern deadlock. Jameson calls the postmodern predicament as a demoralizing
and depressing circumstance where we increasingly feel that whatever we do to resist it,
capitalism comes to simply ingest our efforts. This demoralizing situation leads many to
simply suspect that capitalism is here to stay with us as the only game in town, as Zizek
puts it.
Arguably, this overwhelming naturalization of capitalism drives a great number of
scholars to desperately study the symbolic and representational aspects of culture away from
the economic. This point found an elegant expression in one of the 1998 issues of the
journal Social Text in an exchange between Butler and Nancy Fraser. In this, Fraser
pointed out the absence of an engagement with political economy in Butlers concepts like
performativity and resignification. In the essay Merely Cultural, Butler retorted back by
reminding her readers of the porous boundaries between the strictly superstructural and the
purely economic since Althusser, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, who revised the age
old orthodoxy of considering culture as somewhat derivative and secondary to some material
foundation. While this is true, an extreme culturalist position disconnected from the
prevailing political economy is rather dangerous. In the words of Stephen Shaprio, once
cultural Studies becomes unlike from the socio-political dynamics that informed its contours,
then it appears as little more than an intellectual fetish, a blockage that compounds the
problem rather than enabling a solution (2004, 77). In addition, an uncritical celebration of
the creative survival techniques of the poor as autonomy and resistance and making the state
the ultimate oppressor of the poor might run the risk of diverting our attention from
systemic and chronic inequality and transnational structures of exploitation. In this

dissertation, I have thus tried to underscore the need to understand informality in its
institutionalized and hierarchized forms.

Revisiting Informality

The second critique of the valorization of subaltern resistance comes from the urban
informality perspective of Ananya Roy. As I have already argued, this immensely productive
framework helps us understand how urban expansion and governing of dispossession take
place through the calculative creation of illegibility from the above. In short, the existing
literature on informality tells us how the state governs through ambiguity. As I noted in the
introduction, this framework is productive because it opens up possibilities to observe the
subjection of populations beyond the standard tools of governmentality (archiving, census,
etc). While offering a promising theoretical trope to understand the calculus of poverty
management in what Roy (2003, 2004) calls rural-urban interface through deregulation, the
informality perspective, in its current form, is inadequately assertive of the agency of the
governed. Without this, the informality approach becomes another version of celebrating the
sovereign who stands above the law, holds monopoly in producing exceptions (Agamben
1998) and reserves the right to selectively violate the law for the sake of governance and
accumulation. Since there already exists a standard and continuous literature on these issues
in political theory, is the informality perspective suggesting anything new about the
productivity of power? Does it not naturalize the states power? I hold that the informality
perspective could be productive not only in unraveling the ways in which populations are
governed beyond the classic Foucauldian way, but also in opening up the possibilities of
examining how the governed articulate their engagement with the state. Let me elaborate this
point taking an example from Ananya Roys early work and extending it further. Roy tells us:
New Communism is a moment of great spatial creativity, with the regime moving the
poor around, forging developmental alliances, and in many ways replicating capitalisms
own breathless imperative for gentrified sites. Such processes play out with great
intensity on the ruralized eastern fringes [of Calcutta]Over and over again I asked a
simple question: Who owns the land? And for each settlement or colony or development I
was presented with multiple and contending stories. For example, in Mukundapur,
residents said that the colonys land was once benami property owned by a large landlord
in the name of his employeeBy contrast, Kanti Ganguly, the CPM leader, presented
the history with great formality, insisting that all of the colonies were situated on a
stretch of 8000 bighas of vested landSuch accounts were contradicted by the land
bureaucracy. While officials at the West Bengal Land Revenue Office generally agreed
that many of these areas were completely vested, officials at the Land Acquisition Cell
of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority disagreed, saying that the land
was a complex mixture of vested and private land. I was told there was no
established system of maintaining records of land ownership and acquisition for the
fringes. The senior land officers admitted that this had created tremendous ambiguity
regarding vestingCartography as an instrument of developmentalism, a tool by which
modern states supervise and articulate their territories this is what seems to be
missing (2004, 156-57).
Roy calls this unmapping of territories that progressively helped the regime
functionaries first to establish squatter colonies in the initial years of the left rule, and then to
serially displace these undocumented multitudes to initiate real estate business which led to
the peri-urban growth in the East. Taking a cue from Roys use of the term unmapping, I
called this process a selective destruction of land archive1. I started the present research
exactly where Roy ended. I was enquiring whether unmapping left a space for the governed
to re-map territories a process that I called, in a different context, in the present
dissertation archiving. While thinking these possibilities at a theoretical level and reflecting
some of these in my social history classes (I was assigned a post-graduate special paper class
in JU), one of my students, Masud, informed me that he was coming from Ghatakpukur, a
village whose land had recently been acquired by the government as a part of its ambitious
Rajarhat Township project. Masud took me to his village home at Ghatakpukur, and showed
me an elaborate map of the village and its large surroundings that Masud and some of his
friends had drawn with the help of a local land department employee. In subsequent
conversation, I could gather that once the land-less peasants of the village, apprehending
further dispossession, came to the educated village youths and requested them to draw a
map that would state the real character of the land. What did they mean by the real

The replacement of the word enabled me to locate the issue in a larger domain of critical research on the
nature of the archive. I was consequently able to tease out what relation the process of archiving has with
the post-colonial democracy which also enabled me to pose some questions on Chatterjees theorization of
political society (see chapter V, and Bandyopadhyay 2009c, for more discussion).
character of the land? Masud told me that in the District Land Directorate, the acquired
land of Ghatakpukur Mauza had been recorded as low and fallow land. The villagers, over
the generations, had been cultivating the land and improving its quality. The new map was
drawn to register the fact that the acquired land was not fallow and that the displaced
peasants deserved a right to the land and were therefore eligible for compensation. With that
map Masud and his friends were planning to lodge Public Interest Litigation in the High
Court. The letter that they wrote to the judge stated how the state government had acquired
the land for urbanization violated the environmental law, disturbed the eco-system and
dispossessed peasants. While resenting the state action and seeking justice, the petitioners
gathered evidence to show how the ambitious project of the New Town had become a
nightmare to its residents: bad road, poor sanitation, dirty water, insufficient electricity. The
legitimacy of land acquisition for real-estate development was thus questioned. But in doing
so, they also asserted their resolve to see Calcutta as a world-class city flyovers, bridges,
roads, malls, and so on. Their action then reproduced the hegemonic icon of the world-class
city and the wish image of capital. But, a simultaneous citation of the New Town nightmare
and the wish image of the world-class city by the peasant petitioners disrupts the meaning of
the world-class and reconstitutes collective imagination.2
Who are then resisting to what? Where are they going to register their resistance?
The last two questions have a single answer the state. The map empowers the community
to voice its resistance to extra-legal state authority. They are going to ask the sovereign not
to make too many exceptions, and to recognize them as deserving welfare entitlements,
rehabilitation and compensation. Now, which one among so many things voicing dissent,
consenting to the making of the world-class city, going to the court, asking entitlement,
willingness to be governed, and the judgment is important? If the judges sanction the
extralegal power of the state, then will this act fail to qualify as resistance? I call this
resistance resistance conditioned by unmapping. I deployed this revised version of the
informality framework to understand the hawkers mobilization in Calcutta.
The question remains, if the HSC ultimately becomes a normalizing agent on which
the state relegates governance in a cost-effective manner, then where lies the putative

The same thing happened when the HSC decided to give a world-class look to the street food stalls at
Park Street, Russell Street and Elgin Road (Chapter IV).
autonomy of the archive of the HSC? I argue, the autonomy of the HSC lies on two counts:
a) in undermining the all-powerful image of the state (which ultimately failed to enumerate
the hawkers), b) in dictating the terms of cooptation of the movement by the state. The twin
effect of undermining and dictating the state produces governable spaces and governable
subjects whose claim to entitlement and right to the city are accepted by the state and
legitimized in public discourses. I prefer to call this resistance, as the politics of the governed
in a democratic space has enabled the hawkers to gain the moral and functional sanction for
their economic survival amidst neoliberal restructuring and bourgeois activism in all spheres
of urban life. This does not, however, mean that democracy of the governed in Calcutta is
challenging the logic of the capitalist development. Certainly, as I have shown in chapters II,
III, and IV, it is working in the capitalist space and exploiting possibilities that the global
consensus on the creative capacities of the entrepreneurial poor has opened for the hawkers.
In other words, I do not view a reversal of the order as a condition necessary for an
act of subversion to qualify as resistance. We have already noticed that in critical reviews of
research on everyday life, a number of scholars made this point explicit that the survival
strategies of the poor are often inadequate to put the structures of domination in crisis
(Ismail 2006). This critique raises significant questions regarding the ideas of subject
positions developed in postmodernist writings that we have discussed. In response, one may
point out that subversion involves splintering of the edifice of domination (Ismail 2006:
xxiii). No doubt, it has to be a cumulative process of entailing and maintaining tiny fissures
which would ultimately damage the structures of domination. An examination of the
hawkers movement in Calcutta in the present dissertation suggests that what needs to be
studied carefully is the potential of everyday-life practices to become infrastructures of
action foundations upon which resistance in the form of collective action can be built.
Social movement theorists have long recognized this potential (McCarthy 1996). Is it
possible to then tread a path of dialectics breaking out of the circularity of Foucauldian
power and resistance by positing resistance as a derivative of power which can excede its
cause and overturn it?


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