Networks & Neighbourhood : Negotiating Social Ecology

The edges of Delhi are expanding. Many of the congested working-class colonies inhabited for generations by rural migrants have now been submerged into the core of a rapidly mutating metropolitan landscape.

The local communities in the neighbourhood of Khirki Village, along with nearby Hauz Rani are a part of this sprawling, congested, un-authorised colony of Khirki Extension in South Delhi. The world of informal labour is essentially kept very private in Khirki and is dependent on a very particular kind of regional affiliation, which operates within its own set of pragmatic norms and is fairly sequestered. Like millions of other tiny and apparently inconsequential sites all over the third world, the Khirki Village is continually manipulated by global market forces as well as the unyielding pressures of urban development. The efforts of migrant workers in such sites are appropriated, recycled and reshaped repeatedly to satisfy the voracity of the profit motive and the long chain of its obvious as well as hidden beneficiaries.

While the city thus incorporates and assimilates its margins and redefines its notions of what constitutes the ‘urban’, it also deconstructs provincial attitudes, offering a range of new affiliations and possibilities of personal freedom to the large population of young working women from these communities. Our project will focus on how this group responds and adapts to the pressures of the constantly changing urban ecology within the larger contemporary discourse of risk and vulnerability negotiated by women in urban public space.

As Delhi-based artists involved for several years in the creation of community-related art projects we have evolved a personal practice within our larger investigation of socio-cultural conditions in urban contexts, drawing upon oral history, the narration of daily life and the formation/expression of subjectivity.

Drawing upon our previous experiences at Khoj in 2008 and 2009 in collaboration with local people from the heavily populated migrant working-class settlement of Khirkee, Hauz Rani, we have had many informal and formal conversations with local women about their notions of public space. Khirkee a semi-rural colony on the unauthorised/laldora area of South Delhi, still retains a strong though vestigial aura of its origins despite now being fully assimilated into the city in every sense. Within the narrow two or three-storey buildings with small windows and doors, open spaces take the forms of balconies and staircases that angle into the lanes and courtyards. A primary social space is created through cots drawn together in the lane and pushed back when vehicles need to pass. Local women are generally dominated by male family members at home and in terms of accessing public space are restricted to street corners, parks and shops in their own neighbourhoods.

However, many young women often manage to create their own shared collective spaces on rooftops, terraces, stairwells, at municipal taps and in nearby markets, malls and beauty parlours as nodes of community. More recently technologies such as mobile phones, the internet and public technological spaces such as cyber cafes have radically altered social and professional possibilities. Just as Delhi continues to engulf the peri-urban, technology has swiftly expanded the awareness, skills and confidence of the young women who leave their restricted working-class environment each day and commute to work in distant zones of the city.

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