Male, Migrant, Muslim Identities and Entitlements of Afghans and Bengalis in a South Delhi Neighbourhood


Migrants’ Entitlements in the City



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Migrants’ Entitlements in the City


This section critically examines the migrants’ entitlements in the city in light of the previous sections of this chapter. From the sections above, it emerges clearly that the entitlements of the migrants are related to their class, locations as well as their occupational status (and the two are not necessarily the one and the same).

In trying to establish a stake to the city, embodied cultural capital was often mobilised by the respondents. . Bourdieu (1986:49) recognises ‘pronunciation characteristics of a class or a region’ as an embodied form of cultural capital. Through the primary research, I will extend the application to acquiring/possessing linguistic skills. Through the interviews it emerged that the knowledge of Hindi—which is perceived as a ‘local’ language—was an important marker of difference. The rickshaw-pullers, particularly those who were relative newcomers to the city, had strongly (Bengali) accented Hindi which marked them as outsiders. On the other hand many respondents from Afghanistan displayed their knowledge of Hindi as an insider status. Abid said:

My father used to bring Bollywood films all the time. We have grown up watching those films. I knew Hindi since my childhood.

Similarly Anwar asserted:

I had five Hindu classmates [in my school in Kandahar]. I learnt Hindi from them. I still remember their names.

The knowledge of a local language, thus strengthens claims to the city.

The two groups of respondents also have markedly different physical attributes. Anwar testified to how physical appearance and legitimacy as an ‘insider’ are related:

In Iran they recognise you as Afghan by looking at your face. There’s more harassment—showing identity cards...Here when people look at me they think I am from Assam or something. My wife, she wears kurtas…like you, and she grew up in Pakistan. So the autowallas can never tell that she’s not local. When my Iranian neighbours look for an auto, they [always get an inflated price].

Thus, physical appearance—comprised of bodily and sartorial attributes—becomes a marker of legitimacy.

Bhan (2009) asserts that the ideal citizen type for millennial Delhi is the ‘aspirational middle-class consumer citizen’ and the rickshaw-pullers are situated much further away from this category than the restaurant owners and other Afghan-origin respondents like Anwar. Class being a marker of entitlements and reflected in attributes like clothes, the respondents originating from Afghanistan, for instance, in being better dressed than the rickshaw-pullers, are therefore, closer to the ideal citizen type.

The rickshaw-pullers with the lack of a stable occupational identity fit very well within Standing’s (2011) conception of the precariat which supersedes the traditional conception of the proletariat. Their weak entitlements in the city can be characterised as denizenship (Ibid.)

The analysis has thus, enabled a separation of the rickshaw-pulling denizens (mostly with legal citizenship rights) from the refugees and migrants from Afghanistan (often with legal denizen status). The latter, irrespective of their legally circumscribed rights as less-than-citizens, are often able to mobilise rights to the city, through identities that are considered more legitimate with the urban citizenship discourse of Delhi.



Concluding Remarks

Through the analysis, I have tried to demonstrate the dangers of homogenizing subjects. The homogenized subject—Muslim migrant man—has thus been effectively deconstructed. Chapter 5 looks at the implications this has for mobilising RTTC as a rights framework to reframe urban citizenship in a more inclusive manner.



  1. Conclusion


This paper argues that homogenizing the Muslim male migrants as victims is problematic (Chapter 1). By looking at theories of identity, ethnicity, class and hierarchized masculinities I have tried to set up a broad framework through which to analyse the narratives of the respondents (Chapter 2). The methodological framework, following in footsteps of prior feminist research, enabled me to situate myself in the research context (Chapter 3). Through the narratives of the migrants, collected in interviews, I have tried to problematize markers of identity such as ethnicity as inherently unstable. The narratives of the migrants reveal identities as sites of constant struggle between the multiple allegiances through which they express their agency and structure their entitlements (Chapter 4). Following the framework of urban citizenship and RTTC (Chapter 2), in this chapter I will examine some of the policy implications of my findings in the context of Delhi.

The MPD-2021(Appendix II) can be taken as representative of the current model of developmental imagination, in context of the Indian metropolises. Baviskar (2003:92) shows how the previous Master Plans of Delhi have violated their own objectives and created squatter settlements through the indirect employment of casual migrant labourers in the process of infrastructural development. In trying to ‘orchestrate a transformation that will make Delhi an ideal urban space’(Ibid), the Master Plans keep neglecting informality as an integral part of the urban landscape. Roy (2005:155-6) points to this tendency in urban planning as treating informal spaces ‘as the exception to planning, lying outside its realm of control’. Urban planning that is unable ‘to think about the complex social systems through which plans must be implemented’ (Ibid.) therefore, continues to contradict itself like the Master Plans of the DDA.

The solution, says Roy (Ibid.) is to reformulate urban planning by ‘moving from land use to distributive justice, [and] rethinking the object of development’. What, then, one can ask, would this reformulated object of development look like? The proponents of the RTTC model under the auspices of UNESCO/UN-HABITAT (Dupont, et al, 2011:11) propose it as ‘an agenda for change’. The more radical proponents of RTTC like Harvey (2008:23) see it as the ‘right to change ourselves by changing the city’.

Both these formulations fall short. The first, in its generalisations of ‘the urban poor and the migrant workers’ (Dupont et al, 2011:11) fails to take into account the diversity in this vast group. The second in its aim to reject easy functionalism, fashions itself into an articulation of transformative politics that is very easily relegated to the realm of the moral (Baxi, 2011: 17) and dismissed as having little bearing on actual policies.

However, the need to substantively challenge and transform the development vision as articulated by policy documents such as MPD-2021 and others, is undeniable. Going back, now, to my analysis, I would suggest, that a first step in envisioning better policy, should be to look at the actual diversity of realities and the different needs stemming from those realities. To ignore the very real investments of the migrants’ in their diverse aspirations, by abstract articulations of ‘taking back the city’ or ‘empowering the disempowered’ is to continue to delegitimise them. Visualising the migrants and informal workers as voiceless and disempowered, then, is certainly a form of, to borrow Spivak’s (1988) term, ‘epistemic violence’.

Although, surely a migrant rickshaw-puller in Delhi does not want to be humiliated by the police, does he really envision himself as a stake holder in the transformative politics of the urban space? My findings as elaborated in this paper, underlines how important the ‘primordial ties’ (Breman, 1996:255-6) of kinship and locational origin are among the ‘footloose’ (Ibid.) migrants. While it seems obvious to address their substantive needs—such as access to housing—it is inevitable that, this will lead to deepening their involvement in the city. In my findings, the tenuous bonds with the urban space for the rickshaw-pullers have been, for the most part, created by the very real discriminatory practices in Delhi and hence, their need to re-affirm the ties of kinship, neighbourliness, etc. However, and this is a gap in my research which needs to be explored further, there is no indication of what these migrants would, when given real opportunities to belong in the city, choose. Will these ‘wage hunters and gatherers’ (Ibid) in whose evasive circulation Breman sees a way of holding onto dignity, settle down (to continue the metaphor) if they are able to fully exercise their rights to the city? This will have to be answered by the migrants themselves and assessed through the parameters of their (changing) needs and points to the scope for further research in this direction.

The Afghan refugees and migrants are an even more internally diverse group in terms of their actual legal rights. The RTTC therefore, will need to adapt itself to multiple dimensions of these needs. On the one hand as primary research with the Afghan diaspora shows (Stillwagon, 2011a & 2011b; Bose, 2004) there are very urgent issues to address. The need to formulate a uniform policy for all asylum seekers and refugees31 , the need to hasten the process of RSD and ensuring financial support for those in need of it, seem foremost among many others. My findings do however suggest that the Indian government is taking steps to address some issues in case of the Afghan refugees (personal interviews with Anwar and Samira) particularly regarding the issuing of work permits to refugees. While most refugees in Delhi still look for resettlements to countries of the North (personal interviews with Asif and Anwar), they do lack opportunities to work or continue their studies which causes a lot of frustration. On the other hand, most refugee-card holders, particularly the wage earners, who are taking part in the informal economy of Delhi, clearly do so because of economic needs. While the government’s overall leniency at present allows such enterprises to flourish and provides employment for a substantial section of the Afghan diaspora, there is no actual guarantee that this will not change. Overall, any change in this policy will affect only those with the least opportunities—not the owners of bigger enterprises with access to substantial economic capital. Therefore, the RTTC framework, in the context of Delhi must also take into account, the rights of these urban citizens.

To sum up, by pointing out that multiple identities can be the sites of agency for the delegitimised citizens of Delhi, this research problematizes the uniformity of the policy/rights framework that the RTTC discourse, in its two dominant conceptions, suggests. Although some broad parameters for modifying current policies have been recommended, there is need for further situated explorations in this area.

[Total word count: 16,488]



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