All posts by Zainab Bawa

I am lost in life. I am running to lose myself and to lose all the handles that I have been holding on to.

Johannesburg – Notes from a Mother City

Mother City?!? What is a Mother City?

We arrived at the Tambo airport, waiting to be received by the taxi driver. The taxi driver, also the initiator of the taxi services company led us from the arrival hall into the parking lot. He was an old, white man, with a completely white beard. He looked a bit like Santa Claus. Upon reaching the car, he opened the door to the boot and started lifting our heavy bags, one by one, to load into the boot. I said I would lift my bag myself (because somewhere inside my conscience, it seemed incorrect for an elderly person, my grandfather’s age, to lift my bags and put into the boot). He looked up and said,

In this country, we are all slaves. Let me do this. Continue reading Johannesburg – Notes from a Mother City

Data, and its relationship with Accountability and Transparency

Cross-posted from

Notions of transparency and accountability have been evolving since late 1980s. It was advocated that people must be given information about budgets, especially details of heads where money was allocated and how it was spent. This would aid in enforcing transparency, accountability and participation. In the late 1990s, as cities developed, pressure on urban infrastructure increased and municipalities became unable to respond to people’s expectations owing to a variety of reasons. The prevalent view was that municipalities and local politicians are inefficient. Elected representatives were criticized for being corrupt and favouring their vote-banks by distributing city resources to them. It was also believed that use of discretionary powers perpetuates corruption. Contemporary accountability-transparency paradigm is aimed at making transparent to the public how and why discretion is exercised in different circumstances. This (presumably) will curb discretion as much as possible and tighten decision-making.

Publishing data in public domains as a way to enforce and enhance transparency and accountability has gained greater momentum in the current decade owing to the Right to Information (RTI) Act through which various kinds of information can be acquired. In this post, I am interested in exploring the concept of data to understand how accountability and transparency are reified by using data as a primary tool. With the help of examples, I will put forward the contention that what is presented as data is in fact produced through multiple histories and contexts. Organizing /interpreting data without an understanding of some of these histories can only enforce existing stereotypes and/or lead to oversight. Continue reading Data, and its relationship with Accountability and Transparency

Notes from a Metro (Pun Unintentionally Intentional)

Enter Delhi: The boy was about 13, perhaps less. He was riding a bike which was about three times his size. He swerved between the vehicles on the road at Karol Bagh, very much in the wrong in terms of which side of the road he ought to be on, and therefore also in terms of the traffic rules and regulations. But he could not care. I looked at him and wondered,

Dilli dilwalon ki hai – Delhi is a city of the large-hearted, of the daring, the bold and the courageous.

A few days later, one of the auto drivers remarked to me during a journey,

Kehte hai dilli dilwalon ki hoti hai. Lekin yeh jhoot hai. Sabhi log yahan paise ke peeche pade rehte hai aur har koi aapko lootne ki koshish karna chahta hai – It is a saying that Delhi is a city of the large-hearted. But this is false. Everyone here is behind money, and each person is out to loot/cheat you.

Continue reading Notes from a Metro (Pun Unintentionally Intentional)

Of Bhoomiputra and Housing

DSCN8740I was moving around Mumbai city on that weekend, mainly in the western suburbs. Several posters and banners were put up all over, announcing a call to a mass rally by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Thackeray’s clarion call for that meeting was: “Housing for the bhoomiputra“. Bhoomiputra literally means son of the land. On an overt reading of the poster and slogan, one could conclude that the Sena is back to its advocacy of the sons of the soil theory which originally raised it to prominence in the 1960s. But when I attended the rally and noticed the people who attended it, I asked myself, so who exactly is this son of the soil that the Sena is talking about? Is it the Marathi manoos, the local underdog who the Sena argues has no social and economic space in his/her own city? If it is truly the Marathi manoos, then how do I interpret the presence of North Indian women, Bohra muslim women, perhaps even Dalit women, and many other women who I tried to mark but could not classify as either Hindu or Christian or any other particular else.  Hmmm …. Continue reading Of Bhoomiputra and Housing

Home, house

I entered Yunus’s house. He was allotted 150 square meters of land to build his home. Parts of the house were done up with brick and cement. The roof was still kutcha, raw – in the process of construction. You could see the incompleteness of the roof from the opening around the right hand side from which rain likely comes into the house (as does sunshine). I asked Yunus,

Ghar mein barsaat ka pani aata hai kya? Baarish se pareshaani nahi hoti? Continue reading Home, house

Corporates as Representatives

A few weeks before the national elections, organized an open house where people could meet candidates contesting from various parliament assemblies in Bangalore and ask questions to them. Captain Gopinath was contesting from the prestigious Bangalore South constituency. He was one among the favourite candidates – honest, accountable and upright. Many questions were fielded to him during the open house ranging from what he would do about corruption to how he would improve the conditions in the city. One of the questions raised to him was how would he ensure that people’s opinions were reflected in the passage of important bills. To this, he replied that he would constitute a special committee comprising of people such as Mohandas Pai of Infosys and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, among others, who he would consult on bills and legislation before casting his vote. He seemed to suggest that these persons’ opinions reflected those of the masses and hence, consultation would them would automatically imply obtaining views from the public. This both concerned and surprised me – how and why are corporates considered to be representing my opinion? Continue reading Corporates as Representatives

Information Access and Transparency

In the recent national elections, we saw several initiatives that were implemented to provide more information to people about their elected representatives. The purpose of providing this information was to enable people to make more informed choices about who they cast their votes for. Some among these initiatives aim at achieving the larger goals of transparency, accountability and good governance i.e., their goal in providing information about elected representatives is not only to help people to vote more responsibly; it is also expected that citizens will use this information to monitor the performance of their elected representatives and hold them accountable after they have been voted in. Consequently, there is an attempt to collate information beyond that which is made available through candidate affidavits, i.e., about the state of development in parliamentary constituencies, election manifestoes and promises, news about elected representatives and constituencies, etc. These initiatives fulfill one aspect of the larger discourse about transparency i.e., providing access to information about “the state”. It is presumed that providing such information will encourage people to engage with the state and participate in monitoring its activities. My aim in this post is to dissect this logic somewhat further and to highlight some of the political dynamics which complicate any simple understandings of transparency and information access. I will conclude this post by making some tentative remarks on the possible ways in which information access can be configured in order to serve certain local needs. Continue reading Information Access and Transparency