[Reader-list] the Act of leisure

Zainab Bawa coolzanny at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 26 10:28:09 IST 2004

Dear Iram and Taha,
Thank you for intiating this discussion on the reader list. I personally 
believe that this issue is very valuable considering the developments taking 
place in various cities. Here are some of my comments from my experiences in 
Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. I also have a few questions of clarfication at 
the end which I hope you would address.

In my understanding, questions of security, especially public security, 
acquire a different dimension in the case of New Delhi for two reasons:
a). It being the capital city and given the political elite residing there 
and the history of 'attacks', there can be various kinds of dramas about 
'public security' playing on both real and percieved threats.
b). Delhi's proximity to Kashmir and the media generated images of Kashmir 
in the public mind.
The Kashmir factor is a tricky one because it can often be used as an excuse 
to increase 'security' in the name of 'public'. I remember that when the 
Ansel Plaza incident took place, we tried to generate a small discussion in 
the public on the issue of security and a young boy protested strongly 
saying 'how can you even question the idea of 'public security'. If it comes 
from the government, it must be right'. While I was damn surprised on 
hearing such a view, I realized that most people tend to be drugged on media 
generated stories and images which perpetuate and legitimize government and 
therefore the notions of 'terrorist', 'attacks' and 'security' which then 
get conditioned in the public mind.

Taking the case of Bombay, I find that the idea of public security gets 
practiced in certain public spaces like the railway station. But again, this 
is selective as in the case of VT/CST where the outstation side of the 
station is patrolled more for detecting narcotics, smuggling, etc. In 
Bombay's case, our proximity to Gujarat can also be a factor. Thus, roads 
get patrolled during times of high tension in Gujarat, there are naka 
bandis, etc. Similarly, during high profile events, there tends to be 
greater public security.

In the case of Bangalore, again from whatever I have seen, the gated 
community concept looms large particularly in the new developing areas near 
the new airport aka Prestige Group Development Projects. Here we have the 
idea of private security which I see as almost equal to living in a prison.

I come back to Bombay and highlight some recent trends. Private security is 
very much on the rise in this city. In my last few posts, I had spoken of 
how residents and corporates are paying 'BMC-Police' to ensure removal of 
hawkers. In my field interviews this week, I found out that actually, 
residents and corporates are hiring private security to ensure removal of 
hawkers. And the interesting thing is that those employed in private 
security tend to be Biharis and Bhaiyyas, two tribes which this city hates. 
So you pit the people you hate (as security) to remove the people you hate 
(the hawkers et al who are also Biharis and Bhaiyyas). Private Security is a 
huge thing in the residential buildings and societies in this city. 
Decisions to hire private security are usually taken by the building 
managing committee with silent approval (owing to lack of time to 
participate in society meetings) of the rest of the residents. Then we want 
the security to show that they are doing 'real work' - so we install 
intercoms in all the houses and the security checks on all the people who 
enter the building, want him to enter his name and identity in the 
register/muster and then the guard will call home and ask if he should allow 
this and this person to enter our home. Lots of work nah? Earlier, this was 
all rubbish, but now, this is a fashion, a trend.

Surveillance in public spaces is a very problematic concept. I personally 
feel irritated with the presence of the ugly grey van at Nariman Point 
though it may not be doing anything to me. The worst part of this trend is 
that the very publics don't seem to notice this van, because it is not 
affecting them right now. As long as it is not happening to me (NIMBY), it's 
fine! BMC rules and regulations operate in parks in Mumbai. You cannot sit 
in a park after 10 PM. Similarly, at Worli Sea Face, Police patrolling 
starts after 9 PM and young people in cars are asked to show their identity 
and push off. It happened with me once.
The road opposite Churchgate station was once used for protests and dharnas 
so that the cause is visible to the public and more so when traffic gets 
obstructed. The residents and the who's who of the area complained to the 
BMC and got the protests and dharnas packing off to Azad Maidan, an area 
which is away from public everyday vision and sight.

Street culture is a critical aspect of city life. The streets in Mumbai are 
public spaces in themselves. If I see the developments taking place in 
Mumbai, I find that gradually, all kinds of 'developmental' projects are 
aimed at cleaning up the streets so that the city looks clean. In the 
process, you wipe out the very mechansims of security which operate 
naturally through means of vibrant streets (and then you employ private 
security). I would hate to see Mumbai become another Delhi. But, private 
security is huge in Bombay City and is only increasing if I may say so.

It is possible to enjoy a public space without paying for it. Also, one can 
think of paradigms of public space where payment is made for the survival 
and maintenance of the space. I think Sarai is an excellent example of a 
public space. Some of my friends in England had started a restaurant which 
served as a meeting space but the restaurant obviously needed money to 
survive which needed to come from the users. Ultimately, the restaurant shut 
down because it could not support itself. From the research explorations in 
Bombay, I personally feel the idea of public space is hugely dependant on 
people's paradigms of space and time. Work/economy appears to be a 
distraction and takes people away from participation in public.

In retrospect, when I think back, my own interest in my city arose after my 
visits to Srinagar. In Srinagar, every space is surveilled and I thought I 
was hugely lucky to live in a city where there was no authority sitting on 
my head and watching over me. Gradually, today I am beginning to feel that 
Bombay is on its way to becoming a Srinagar - a surveilled city!

Questions of Clarification:

1). What/who is a state and what/who is a non-state actor?
2). What would you mean by a non-formal space?
3). How is a non-formal space different from a private space and what/how 
would you explain/define a private space?


Chat with thousands of singles. 
http://www.bharatmatrimony.com/cgi-bin/bmclicks1.cgi?74 Only on 
BharatMatrimony.com's Instant Messenger.

More information about the reader-list mailing list