The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Everyday violence and bottom-up peace building initiatives by the urban poor in Mumbai’ by Amita Bhide as the Featured Article for International Development Planning Review 42.1.
The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.
When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:
Rising violence in cities is now being experienced in several parts of the world. Such incidents however are like tips of icebergs where only one-tenth part is revealed; the nine-tenth part which contains the real causes of the violence is not visible. Understanding this nine-tenth part is the real key to preventing violence. Structural violence can be seen as this nine tenth part of the ice berg; it is part of the system, is invisible and is a result of fault-lines in society. Such fault lines include rising inequality, factors that impoverish vulnerable groups, rising influence of finance companies in all aspects of city life.
The urban poor face the burden of structural violence. Their poverty is not just economic but is linked to their adversarial relationship with the government; the way in which various intermediaries exploit them and the inequality and indignity that they experience in several domains. Using a lens of violence enables us to view the situation of the urban poor as a condition that they are subjected to and given very few choices. Moreover, this violence is not limited to a few isolated incidents but is experienced by them daily – while going to school, collecting water, constructing or repairing a house, playing in a garden, trying to eke out a livelihood. Violence is thus every -day.
How do the urban poor survive such difficult conditions of life and improve their individual and collective lives in cities? Are they victims and silent sufferers alone? This is the concern and the focus of the paper, which is based on research undertaken by me as part of a team that studied structural violence in Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro and Durban under a project funded by IDRC.
Research showed that all these cities had experienced several changes in the last twenty years; many of these changes worked against the poor in direct and indirect ways. Forms of violence included displacements, increasing difficulty in pursuit of livelihoods and neglect by public policies. In Mumbai, widespread evictions were undertaken in 2002-03 in the name of creating a world class city. Yet several slum residents and settlements put up a valiant struggle. The initial struggles were to protect homes from the government and other state agencies and then to rebuild and improve settlements working against the overall negative ethos. Some of these efforts are visible, articulated and collective but many efforts are silent, individual and invisible. Nonetheless these struggles are attempts to reduce the violence that they face in their daily life.
I visibilise these struggles through the experiences of four individuals in a slum settlement called Mandala located in Mumbai, India. The overall objective is to recognise the intensity and multiple forms of inequality and deprivation experienced by the urban poor and their persistent efforts to improve their lot. These stories reflect the hope despite adversity and the power contained in silent efforts which have a cumulatively transformative impact.
Often efforts to build peace remain confined to only securitisation and are top-down. The stories indicate that any peace building effort cannot just address violence; it has to be inclusive as well. Also that the poor are active peace brokers and should be partners in any effort for reducing violence.