GUEST POST by GLORY ROSE ROY
The Delhi Durbar of 1911 has great significance in the history of India in terms of hosting King George V, along with the Queen and other guests. Undoubtedly, the entire occasion was recorded as a grand event and moreover, the decoration used on the way to Coronation Park to make it aesthetically beautiful, was magnificent. However, along with the preparations for the amplified royal visit, another incident that catches attention here is the hiding of an entire village, the ‘Dhakka village’.
The villagers of Dhakka were asked to evacuate the area as their dwellings were not up to the beauty expectations of British officials. The Dhakka village then, represented a strong site of resistance, as the villagers in Dhakka refused to vacate the region for the King’s visit. Thus in response to the recalcitrance of the villagers, the British officials decided to hide the entire village by using huge cloth sheets.. And that is how the village got its name ‘Dhakka’ from the hindi word dhaka which means hidden. The incident portrays to what extent the colonial state could go to welcome its guests. It mulled relocating an entire village and finally covered it out of sight.
The British left but their ways remained. To some extent, even after 76 years of Independence, little has changed: neither the concepts embodied in the Dhakka episode, of hiding and beautification changed, nor the perception of the state, where a certain section of masses are considered an undesirable presence, rather than citizens, in the vision drawn up by the planners of a metropolitan city like Delhi. Amita Baviskar, in the book Urban Navigations ; Politics, Space and the City in South Asia (2011), calls grand events hosted by a nation on arrival of esteemed dignitaries as ‘special time’, a time of utter chaos and crisis, for both the organisers and the citizens of the state, even though such occasions were both anticipated and planned. Veena Das (1995) calls such events ‘critical events’ where new modes of action are brought into play and political actors and government agencies suddenly take a new form and meaning. For instance, during the Commonwealth Games, the attempt was to change the face of the city with rapid measures, and these measures were not just about adding or maintaining infrastructure but also to use the opportunity to tame the urban working poor. It also included etiquette training to specific categories of people, such as rickshaw pullers, drivers and so on. The Chief Minister at that time, was seen pleading with the people to keep up the reputation of the nation in front of the outsiders.
The same approach could be witnessed during the visit of US President Donald Trump in 2020. A public event called ‘Namaste Trump’ featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump was planned. It would have been difficult and quite unrealistic to construct a sufficiently big venue in a short duration for the event. Thus Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium was renamed Narendra Modi stadium with some modifications to it (Baviskar, 2011). During the modifications of the stadium, around 45 slum dwellers were served with eviction notices by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) (Outlook, n.d.,).
The ‘special time’ has arrived again with full swing with India holding the presidency of and hosting events for the G-20. Undoubtedly, this special event is portrayed and advertised as an important and historical event for India and a matter of pride for the nation or, to put it correctly, the pride at the cost of the nation. Recently, a massive demolitions took place in East and South Delhi, at 267 sites. The DDA had alleged that government land had been encroached upon these sites (Anand, 2023). In an interview with the residents of Mehrauli, who lost their homes and shops, I discovered that they were not certain about the reason behind demolition but suspected it was because of G-20.
The residents of Orchid Apartment in Mehrauli have filed a case in court, claiming that their property was registered and they possess the documents for their property. Surprisingly, a shelter home which was built by the Delhi government to provide space for destitutes in the city at Yamuna Riverfront near Sarai Kale Khan was also demolished in the name of beautification of the riverfront.
The point here is that G20 has provoked the government and its agencies to reshape the city in a short span, without considering the needs of its own citizens. The reason being the factor of national pride, where in a normal situation a demolition can be encountered with protests and rallies that come up along with a collective support from other citizens as well, however during special events, the resentments remain isolated to the affected ones since the demolitions and the changes in the city are taking place in the name of development and ‘national pride’. The concept of national pride and the fact that it remains an emotional issue with many is exploited during the times of any great event within the nation.
This can be understood with a basic day to day example, consider a middle income family with four members in a one bedroom apartment. With an arrival of an important guest the entire house go upside down where the members of the family would always opt for two options, first, discarding the unnecessary things to clear the clutter in the house (which usually is a very limited amount of things), and second, hiding things in places which won’t be visible to the guest arriving at home.
When it comes to the government, we can clearly see that the government also opts for two options, discarding and demolishing the tents, houses and the daily occupation of the urban working community, keeping the beggars in jail away from the city, clearing out street vendors from the path and then hiding out certain infrastructures as it’ll be needed later on. So during the occasion of such special events, the citizens are merely reduced to objects that are either discarded or hidden from the sight of the guests, but this clearly challenges the basic rights of a citizen to be protected against the state.
Earlier during the Commonwealth hosting, the beggars and street vendors were kept away from the city in various jails and in detention centres so that they do not cause a hindrance to the beauty bars set by the government in accordance to the big event. (Baviskar, 2011). In a recent interview, Anil Bakshi, secretary of the Weekly Market Welfare Association, informed me that owing to the beautification drive for G20 events, hawkers in Delhi were being served with the notices to vacate the areas where they ply for livelihood. This displacement has been enforced on the ground by positioning guards to ensure that hawkers do not use the particular space for their businesses. Even though the said events are scheduled to happen months from now, hawkers are being evicted now itself. And going by past experience of such ‘special events’ the hawkers may lose their work sites permanently.
It is important to consider the sheer brutal stand of the state towards the urban poor. One can never deny the fact that these events do provide an occasion to the state to transform the city. However the saddest part is the public acceptance of this brutality in the name of national pride. The article begins with the example of Dhakka village and the bold resistance from the villagers towards the British officials, mainly because people understood that they were outsiders, but in today’s scenario it’s our own who stand against us holding a banner of national pride. But, it is important to ask whether a city can be transformed overnight? And more important is how long will the urban poor have to bear the cost of beautification of the city for special events?
- the author pursued a Masters in Political Science, Delhi University and is currently working with People’s Resource Centre.
Bhaviskar, A. (2011). Spectacular Events, City Space and Citizenship: The Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In Urban Navigations: Politics, Space and the City in South Asia (First ed., pp. 138-164). Routledge.
Navbharat Times. (2019, May 2). यहां क्रांति हुई, इतिहास भी है, फिर सियासत का शिकार क्यों हुआ ढका गांव? Navbharat Times Navbharat Times. https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/metro/delhi/other-news/the-story-of-dhaka-village-of-delhi/articleshow/69131337.cms
Das, V. (1995). Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India. Delhi. Oxford University Press.
Photo Division. (1947, September 27). English: Refugees from West Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan at the Kingsway Camp. http://photodivision.gov.in/waterMarkdetails.asp?id=994.jpg
PUDR (People’s Union For Democratic Rights). (2009). In the Name of National Pride (Blatant Violation of Workers Right at the Commonwealth Games Construction Site.) Delhi. (PUDR).
Outlook. (n.d.). Ahead of Donald Trump’s visit to Gujarat, 45 families in Slums asked to evacuate. Outlook.
Anand, J. (2023, February 15). Ahead of G-20 Summit, over 260 sites in Delhi identified as encroachments and being considered for removal. Indian Express
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Kingsway Camp. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 24, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingsway_Camp
Fig. 1 source: http://photodivision.gov.in/waterMarkdetails.asp?id=994.jpg 1
Fig. 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 source: Glory Rose Roy