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Inert City & the Periphery as the New Site of Protest

Metro-Boulot-Dodo, these are the three French words (Subway-Work-Sleep) used by one of the pioneering Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre to describe the alienating ‘everyday-ness’ of urban the dwellers. Neither he was wrong to propose the concept of social production of space which is ‘alienating’ especially routine life (Metro-Boulot-Dodo) in urban space in particular. However neither Karl Marx, the proponent of the theory of alienation of the self, neither Lefebvre had even thought of the degree of alienation can an urban space produce in India’s Capital – Delhi which is currently witnessing Farmers’ Protest over two months now. Reacting to the farmers’ protest, a person (identity not disclosed) most likely an urbanite staying in Delhi, wondered about ‘dependency’ of the people of Delhi on farmers for food when food delivery companies like Swiggy delivers food at the doorstep (The Wire: December 01, 2020). The following reaction of the company didn’t go down well with many ‘online’ space using people (perceived space) staying in Delhi (conceived space). Although many found this person’s inability to understand the fact that restaurants, hotels or food delivery companies are also dependent on the food which is grown by the farmers as hilarious and a moment of laughter. However as a sociologist I wasn’t amused. For me it was yet another empirical evidence to prove Marx and Lefebvre as conceptually right in theorizing the experience of urban space (lived space) by the urbanites as self-alienating. Alienating to the extent that the urban dwellers are not much aware about the process of mode and means of the production of the food they eat. In a way the person in question is not just a person but represents the urban experience and the relative production of space – the city of Delhi. Over decades of urbanisation which resulted in hyper mediated spaces with escalation of market economy led production of city space, where many links are broken. Links of the urban-rural continuum (Tonnies: 1988), links of the local cultural spheres and the links of mechanical solidarity between the people (Durkheim: 1984), all are broken and replaced by laissez-faire spatial structure of the City (Weber: 1982). Although it seemed like digital spaces of Facebook and other virtual spaces provide a bridge to mend such broken linkages in social structures, however a virtual space could best produce is a false consciousness of social solidarity. Thinkers like Engels, Althusser, Adorno, Chomsky and Zizek have discussed this at length. And the person who wondered about urbanites’ dependency over farmers is a product of this false consciousness which is an outcome of a hyper mediatized urban environment including presence of virtual spaces.

With this as backdrop, I would also like to argue that the ongoing farmer’s protests might have not snowballed into the current gigantic shape and size had it been organized within the ‘authorized protest sites’ of the city limits – Jantar Mantar, which is at the heart of Delhi. The reason for believing this argument is based on the fate of many protest rallies and protest movements, which were organized by the common people of the country in recent past including labour unions, students, farmers, teachers etc. at Jantar Mantar. Most of these protests couldn’t generate much interest and support from Delhi-ites. The Delhi commuters especially found these rallies as nothing more than road blockades and a reason for reaching their offices or homes little late. Similar inertness could also be seen on Delhi roads at accident sites. Few years back farmers and peasants from Madhya Pradesh (2015) and Tamil Nadu (2017) had marched into Jantar Mantar, however hardly anybody remembers that in the Capital city.

So what has happened this time? How come the current farmer’s protests have become bigger and stronger over two months? And the answer lies in the shift of protest site from centre to the periphery of city limits. As the title of the article suggests, Metro-Boulot-Dodo, urbanites in Delhi with over 1.7 Crore people (Census 2011), Subway-Work-Sleep has become a way of life. Only a magnified media spectacle have an ability to attract city dwellers attention (Anna Hazare 24x7 Media Coverage in 2011) towards a protest movement.

Despite the absence of national media’s detailed coverage of the ongoing farmers movement, which is also termed as the biggest since India’s Independence movement, the protesters have managed to generate much hype and support at the city periphery. One of the major reasons behind this is the fact that the neighbouring areas at the protest sites of Singhu Border, Tikri Border and Ghazipur Border where the farmers have been stopped are homes to some of the oldest villages of Delhi NCR. Bahadurgarh and Tikri Kalan near Tikri Border; Kundli and Narela near Singhu Border and Khoda and Bisrakh near Ghazipur Border. All of these old rural setups although have transformed into semi-urban landscapes over the years, but the local residents still follow traditional rural social order and thus connected with each other with the bond of common history, caste, language, culture and social system and a commonality of a history of being labelled as ‘Bahari Dilli’ or Outer Delhi spaces. It is also important to mention here that all of these areas of Outer Delhi or border areas have been subject to a history of political apathy with very low urban development as compared to other parts of Delhi which are considered as ‘Inner Delhi’.

Therefore with the shift of the protest site from Jantar Mantar (Central Delhi) to the periphery (Outer Delhi) the local Gemeinschat (Tonnies 1988) was quick to accommodate its brethren from distant Gemeinschafts which Lutyens Delhi lacks. For any protest movement to succeed, support of the local community is an essential prerequisite. Therefore by stopping the farmers at the semi urban, rural periphery of Delhi, the administration provided a much needed blessings in disguise for the protesting farmers. The accommodative periphery spaces of Delhi saved farmers from the alienating spaces of the central Delhi thus formation and sustenance of one of the most largest and democratic protests in the World in recent times.

Photo Credit: ANI (Local volunteers serving food to protesting farmers at Singhu Border)


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