The Cyber sprawl of Yuppie hi-tech Cities across India is intimately marked by violence.
Cities such as Noida, Ghaziabad, Cyberabad, and Bangalore narrate stories of violence, both in the expressions of everyday forms of violence that are narrated in the mainstream, and more powerfully so in the everyday forms of violence that remain hidden, tucked away under the glossy images of smart, green cities advertised in the brochures seducing non-resident Indians (NRIs).
Often these sordid stories of violence narrated in the Yuppie media and shared in Yuppie networks, scripted as tales of rape, robbery, and murder obfuscate the violence of class, caste, and displacement that remain hidden from the everyday narratives of a Yuppie culture and the mainstream media that caters to this culture. The enunciation of violence, what gets talked about and what doesn’t, is a reflection of the overarching violence of social class and inequality written into the Yuppie City. The telling of these stories enunciate the anxieties of the elite, while simultaneously rendering invisible the profound loss and everyday emotional labour borne by the city’s poor.
Violence is the foundation of Yuppie hi-tech cities in India, that have been designed and implemented through displacement. The usurping of farming lands, displacement of farming communities from these lands, and the disenfranchisement of the landless laborers that often tilled these lands are forms of violence that are routinized into the everyday assumptions of the mainstream. These displacements are carried out often through everyday acts of violence, realized through tools of threats, coercion, rapes, and murders. Land mafia, developers, and city planners work hand-in-hand to legitimize the violence of displacement as necessary for growth, and simultaneously render invisible these forms of violence. In the mainstream media of Shining India, these stories of violence are not newsworthy as they don’t draw in the audience of Yuppie viewers, and thus are not ratings-worthy.
The poor, dispossessed from their sources of livelihood in a rapidly-displaced agrarian economy settle in make-shift colonies at the peripheries of IT-cities, tucked away beyond and behind the seductions of clean greenness. The manicured lawns, glass buildings, and paved highways make invisible these shanty towns. The everyday work of urban planning and city construction works incessantly to make invisible these warts and moles of the city, carefully sculpted into zoning, urban development, and slum rehabilitation policies.
Even as the poor in the peripheries of the IT-city are displaced further and further from their sources of livelihood, other poorer classes of India, displaced from their sources of local livelihoods in a neoliberal economy, migrate to the peripheries of the IT-cities. They settle in the shanty towns in the periphery, seeking to find informal and unskilled work in the city, hoping to sell their labour to eke out a living. Their labor forms the backbone of the private infrastructures of Yuppie life in the hi-tech cities.
Working as guards, nannies, domestic workers, gardeners, cleaners etc., the poor struggle to make a living at the seams of the city. Working as day-labourers at construction sites, they form the backbone of the cities. Their everyday work is the work of cleaning up, of doing the shining for Shining India.
How this work is paid for or not paid for, however, depicts the violence of/in the city. Without union representation and without access to collective bargaining, the unskilled poor working in these sectors of the neoliberal economy have no social protections, no health insurance, no workplace insurance, and often no access to pathways of bargaining for a decent wage. Working in an informal economy, with no labour representation and no accessibility to collective mobilization, they often struggle with poor pay, long hours, and no workplace guarantees. For the informal labour in the yuppie city, there is no safety net.
There are no leave policies and no days off during the week. From Monday to Monday, seven days a week, 365-days a month, the work carries on. The state offers no protection to these workers in its informal economy.
Add to this everyday assault on the poor the attacks on basic human dignity that is experienced on a day-to-day basis. For the Yuppie, the poor must be rendered invisible. The work of making the poor invisible is the work of ritualized symbolic violence.
The Yuppie-IT cities are built on dreams of a shining India. For the yuppies living in these cities, the poor are an unwanted but necessary paraphernalia. Necessary to take care of their children, do the domestic chores, and carry out the everyday work. Necessary to keep the appearance of the manicured lawns and the gyms equipped with the latest equipment. Necessary to do the dirty work so the city can shine.
Unwanted as the sight of the poor disrupt the shining make-believe worlds the yuppies aspire to live in. The air-conditioned lobbies, lifts, and hallways, the decorated gardens, and spiffy swimming pools are carefully managed to keep out the sites of the working poor. Separate elevators for the maids, gardeners, and the many vendors that serve the city demarcate the spaces of the poor from the spaces of Yuppie comfort. Housing management develop policies of strict gate-keeping to render pure the spaces of Yuppie life, free from contamination by the poor. Swimming pools, gym areas, gardens are quarantined, outside of the reach of the poor.
Elaborate rituals of demarcation mark the bodies of the poor. In the intimate spaces of homes, separate utensils are kept for the domestic worker. The narrative of “hygiene” marks spaces of purity, uncontaminated by the poor. The rituals of boundary formation in everyday life mark the inside and the outside, carrying out the structures of caste in deeply internalized ways. The forms of communication further reproduce these boundaries. The lower caste poor, the domestic worker, the gardener, the guard, must be kept in check, must be disciplined and controlled. The worker must be managed. However, reflecting an inverted world that exists in opposition to the fun IT and finance-work-spaces emulating US-work cultures, the managerial discourses of domestic worker management are devoid of articulations of fundamental worker rights, protection from harassment at workplace, and access to workplace grievance policies. The violence of everyday abuse is normalized.
The violence in intimate spaces of Yuppie cities is a concoction of India’s caste structure, adapted to the workings of class-based inequalities and normalized in a narrative of growth, aspiration, and opportunity.
By Prof Mohan Dutta