The Right to Be Counted
The Urban Poor and the Politics of Resettlement in Delhi
Sanjeev Routray




THE URBAN POOR WORK against difficult odds to incrementally stake their claims to a home and a life in the city. Across the globe, rural-urban migrants, refugees, and other communities of poor and marginalized people are exercising political agency1 in pursuit of entitlements associated with citizenship. Among the poorest residents of Delhi, the recognition of citizenship claims by the Indian state is increasingly contingent on their struggles for visibility and entrenchment in urban living spaces. These citizenship projects are highly contested and take place incrementally over time through the deployment of a remarkable variety of rann-nitis (tactics and counter-tactics). Approximately 76 percent of Delhi’s population lives in “unplanned,” “illegal,” and “informal” settlements (Bhan 2016: 19). Over 1.5 million people have been displaced in the last three decades in the city. Despite these alarming figures, the poor have incrementally advanced their citizenship projects and political claims in the city, gained a foothold, and managed to attain a “precarious stability” (Weinstein 2014). In this context, The Right to Be Counted2 contributes to scholarly and public debates on the contradictions between state governmentality3 and the citizenship projects of the poor themselves. The book explores how the planning process contributes to social suffering, but also the logic of negotiations and the cultural idioms of political mobilization that emanate from the processes of displacement and resettlement in Delhi.

Delhi’s poor remain embedded in various social, political, and economic relationships even as they forge and build kinship networks and develop alliances of solidarity across a political and social spectrum in their struggles to gain a foothold in the city. Their overlapping struggles to build jhuggis (hutments—that is, a group of huts), to obtain access to welfare and to provide for basic needs, but also to stop displacements, gain eligibility for resettlement, and secure “proof documents,” constitute a distinctive mode of advancing material claims and political belonging in the city. At the core of these struggles lie incremental efforts to become visible to the local state. The Right to Be Counted describes this process of claims-making as the struggle for “numerical citizenship,” or the struggle to be “counted” in order for a political community of the poor to assert its numerical strength. Struggles over numerical citizenship constitute the systematic, protracted, and incremental political process by which the poor become entrenched in the city. It is not merely a “politics of presence” (Bayat 2010: 128), or the assertion of a right to exist, but also a struggle to be visible, to be identified, and to be recognized, and to be made eligible for food, shelter, and basic amenities and infrastructure in the city (see also Anand 2017: 16; Routray 2014: 2299–300).

This book provides a contemporary history of urban citizenship as seen from the vantage point of some of Delhi’s poorest residents. Many of Delhi’s poor transition from being migrants in the city, to residents in unidentified jhuggi jhopri settlements (that is, precarious and improvised hutments), to residents in state-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlements or resettlement neighborhoods.4 Once they settle in a state-recognized jhuggi, they come under the purview of state calculative governmentality—state regulations and calculations. Their struggles then shape the degree to which they may gain access to sets of entitlements, especially the provision of housing, rudimentary infrastructure, and basic amenities, which constitute citizenship in Delhi. In analyzing citizenship, the political theorist Niraja Jayal provides a succinct analysis of how the three dimensions of citizenship—“citizenship as legal status, citizenship as a bundle of rights and entitlements, and citizenship as a sense of identity and belonging”—are imagined and practiced in India (Jayal 2013: 2; see Jayal 2019). In this book, I primarily focus on one aspect of citizenship by examining the complex rann-nitis of the poor in obtaining a range of social rights and entitlements in the city.

In order to compare and contrast the modalities of state calculative governmentality enshrined in the urban restructuring processes and to trace the logics of political mobilization among the urban poor, I have chosen three sites: a jhuggi jhopri settlement (Gautam Nagar jhuggi jhopri settlement), a transit camp (Sitapuri transit camp), and a new resettlement colony (Azad resettlement colony) for ethnographic study. (I use pseudonyms for these neighborhoods throughout the book.) The three neighborhoods are all state-recognized settlements in that the residents all possess documents proving residence. In other words, they are relatively well entrenched in the political landscape of the city compared to the poor in other types of social spaces such as pavements or unrecognized jhuggi jhopri settlements, who are considerably less able to claim housing rights in the city. (The planning and political dynamics of the most vulnerable and excluded populations are briefly discussed in Chapter 2 by way of comparison.) I make my arguments about numerical citizenship based on twenty-five months of ethnographic research—twenty-two months from November 2009 through August 2011 and three months from June through September 2017—in these three neighborhoods.5 Throughout the book, I use vignettes from these three field sites to advance the empirical and theoretical arguments I make.

FIGURE INTRO.1: Gautam Nagar jhuggi jhopri neighborhood. A cement road bisects two rows of hutments in the neighborhood.


In the early 1970s, a few residents took over an inhospitable patch of land near an industrial area to build jhuggis. They cleared part of a jungle near their workplaces to build shacks made of gunny bags, plastic sheets, straw, bamboo, and other materials. Their numbers grew gradually after more people started building huts, clearing and refilling the land as necessary. The settlement then expanded further into an industrial area, which in turn adjoined several urban villages. Soon, police started intervening by either tearing apart these partly built structures or by demanding payments to leave the residents alone. Self-styled strongmen eventually emerged from the neighborhood to negotiate with the police for protection against demolition in exchange for money. The strongmen even enclosed a portion of the land and distributed land parcels within it for a price while building more jhuggis to rent out or sell to newer residents. In addition to harassment from the police, the residents encountered hostility from people in the already established villages. The strongmen negotiated with these residents, especially regarding issues related to thefts and property damages. Gradually, the settlement gained leverage through its increased numbers, and as residents asserted themselves at key events, including elections, to demand infrastructure and recognition of their neighborhood. Once the residents got into the electoral database of the state, the settlement became enmeshed in “vote-bank” politics, that is, patron-client politics, wherein the clients vote for particular parties in exchange for recognition and extension of services. Thus, the “migrants” became jhuggi residents or owners over the years and the unrecognized jhuggi settlement became a state-recognized jhuggi jhopri colony, the Gautam Nagar camp.

When a part of Gautam Nagar was demolished in 2009 for a road-widening project, the residents fought a protracted battle with courts and the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD). On August 22, 2017, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) decided to resettle the residents of Gautam Nagar. Aware that the board could reject their claim to resettlement on the slightest pretext, the residents decided to meet their member of the legislative assembly (MLA) to seek guidance and support in fixing any minor errors in their documents. The MLA, P,6 had served as an elected councilor from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 2009–2011 (during my first round of fieldwork). In 2017 (during the second round of my fieldwork), he served as an MLA from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Although from a Gujjar community from a nearby village, he spent considerable time socializing with the residents even before he entered politics. The residents claim that he was mentored and encouraged to join politics by one of their local leaders, a pradhan (chief) who was familiar with the political processes and landscape of Delhi. P was immensely popular in the neighborhood, but the residents distanced themselves from him after the demolitions in 2009 because he was not very helpful in their resettlement battles. By 2017, he was not only an MLA from the ruling party in Delhi but also an elected board member of DUSIB. Understandably, the residents recalled their past closeness with the MLA to me with some ambivalence, if not bitterness.

As we walked toward P’s office, the local pradhan reminisced how “he gives us respect, acknowledges our presence, and even shares our bidi [a cigarette filled with tobacco and wrapped in a leaf] if we smoke one. We feel good that he is our own.” The MLA’s office sat nestled between a newly built community toilet and a well-maintained park. As we entered his office, he arranged chairs for us to sit while simultaneously watching a professional league kabaddi match broadcast on TV. The office had a makeshift gym, chairs for visitors, a TV, and a pair of millstones for grinding cattle feed. As more people streamed into his office, the pradhan bantered, “See, MLA sahib is very fond of building his body. He also raises cattle as a hobby. Look at those millstones; he grinds cattle feed every day.” At this moment, the MLA instructed a caretaker to provide cattle-feed and medicines to the cattle in a shed at one corner of the park. The residents were in good spirits thanks to the informal atmosphere, the news of the board’s decision to resettle, and the prospect of rectifying the kami (gaps or errors) in their documents with the help of the MLA. After all, their own P-ji (the suffix ji is uttered as a mark of respect), who had learned politics playing and socializing in the neighborhood, was at the helm of political affairs that directly affected them. He narrated what occurred during the board meeting, answered their questions, and later invited everyone to a meeting to scrutinize the documents regarding their resettlement.

The meeting was called for the following Sunday to address the alarming documentary challenges that beset them. The documents, which are referred to as “proof documents” by both residents and various state officials, provide knowledge about the numerical presence of the residents from a particular year and are necessary for them to be “eligible” for resettlement and basic amenities. The intermediaries (neighborhood chiefs, social workers, and government workers who mediate issues with state and various non-state agencies) claimed that perhaps only 40–50 residents might possess error-free documents. Hence, they called for a meeting of all 223 eligible residents listed in the High Court case. In early September, the residents gathered in the park again. A resident asked me to read out the names of the people, their father’s name, their jhuggi number, and their ID numbers, mainly from ration cards or voter IDs. I read out the names and details of the 223 residents listed. Many residents were conspicuously absent and untraceable. I tried contacting a few of the absentees but was unsuccessful. Their old phone numbers did not work and their neighbors had no knowledge about them.

Many residents whose names did not appear in the court case vehemently contested the list. A few of them verbally slandered the intermediaries who made the list for the court. SD exclaimed: “There were many Rajasthani residents [residents who originated from the western state of Rajasthan], but I do not see any of them here. I do not see many from the Kabadda camp [a part of the neighborhood known for recycling of Kabadda, or scrap materials] either. I see the names of many whose jhuggis have not been demolished yet. PB [one of the samaj sevaks, or social workers] must have included their names after taking money. All this happened because the sarkar [government] did not carry out any survey prior to the demolitions. The government people thought they would get away without resettling us. This is sheer injustice.” To this accusation a samaj sevak argued: “These things happen. I was one of the five petitioners, but my name was deleted from the list because I could not go to the court to sign the petition. Those of you whose names did not appear must not have turned up that day. We will ask MLA sahib to add your name during the survey and verification process. We will request the government officials to verify only one document instead of a slew of documents.”

Many documents consisting of photocopies were illegible. The residents had surrendered their old ration cards but were required to produce photocopies of the old ration cards. A few residents produced photocopies that were too light or too dark and at times had portions missing around the edges. Eight years had passed since the neighborhood was demolished, and thus the documents and their photocopies had been subjected to rain, rats, and the ravages of time. The government staff had also made errors. For instance, in one document the staff had written over the misspelled name of a resident but had forgotten to sign and authenticate the document. An eligible resident’s son appeared with his mother’s document displaying her misspelled name. In his claim for authenticity, the son reminded the MLA about the school bag he had received from him as a gift when he joined grade five almost twenty years ago. Other residents debated the sequence of the arrival of residents, the involvement of particular residents in major events, and the details about individual biographies and the life history of the communities. They were concerned that some residents could be excluded from receiving flats if they had any kami in their documents.

FIGURE INTRO.2: Sitapuri transit camp. Residents have built additional floors on the houses to accommodate their increasing family size.

FIGURE INTRO.3: Laxmi colony—a middle-class “planned” neighborhood as seen from Sitapuri transit camp. A lush green park separates Sitapuri transit camp and Laxmi colony.


In 2010, the residents of the Sitapuri transit camp attempted to reclassify themselves as “regular,” “resettled,” and “legal.” Sitapuri transit camp was developed as a temporary measure to resettle residents from jhuggi settlements on so-called prime land in the mid-1980s. Between 2003 and 2010, the residents had successfully fought court battles against impending displacement after the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of Lakshmi “colony” (a middle-class neighborhood) petitioned the court for the demolition of the transit camp. Since 2006, the primary political effort of the residents has been to contest the “temporary” status of their resettlement. The state enunciation or sanctioning of categories like “transit,” “temporary,” “illegal,” and “encroacher” not only invested various populations of Sitapuri with contradictory meanings but also determined the legal status of their neighborhood. It then became incumbent on the residents to challenge these categories through renaming and reclassification. The categories of “transit” and “temporary” implied their lack of numerical entrenchment in the city. Here, the legality of their neighborhood depended on the number of years they had lived in the neighborhood. In this case, the documentation of their presence in the neighborhood since the 1980s bolstered their claims for permanent resettlement. The residents attempted to rename their locality for one of the former prime ministers of India who ruled during their “temporary” resettlement. The effort signaled the mutual endorsement of residents and the Congress party. The removal of “transit” and “camp” from the neighborhood’s name and its replacement with the former Congress party prime minister’s name and “colony” (“colony” is a commonly used term for “planned,” “legal” neighborhoods in Delhi) were seen as legitimate efforts toward regularization and permanence.

After negotiations with various politicians and government officials, the residents were successful in renaming their neighborhood. On August 20, 2010, the residents decided to celebrate the occasion by organizing a ceremony for the unveiling of a stone sign, which also coincided with the birthday of the former prime minister. The residents had cleaned up the area and erected a makeshift stage. The floor of the stage was composed of a carpeted wooden plank, and the ceiling was a white cloth that rested on steel poles and was adorned with marigold flowers. Since there was a drizzle, the residents sat in chairs facing the stage with umbrellas in their hands. Revolutionary and nationalistic Hindi film songs extolling the contributions of soldiers and farmers blared from loudspeakers. The residents patiently waited and occasionally asked the intermediaries about the arrival time of their leaders. The councilor arrived at 10:00 a.m. to oversee the arrangements and quickly left in his car. Finally, the member of Parliament (MP), the MLA, and the councilor arrived at 11:30 a.m. and walked toward the stone sign. The unveiling of the stone sign was followed by the felicitation ceremony, during which the politicians were garlanded and extolled in generous terms by key members of the neighborhood. However, a sudden downpour truncated the celebration, and the politicians and residents rushed back to their homes. Despite being cut short, the renaming ceremony contributed to a semblance of regularization in the neighborhood, which in turn created optimism for the poor. After all, the Congress party MP, the MLA, and the councilor were the ones to officially rename and unveil the stone sign bearing the new name. I was asked to take pictures of the event and circulate them to two or three key members of the locality. When I went to meet some residents with printed copies of the pictures, a pradhan noted: “The day they [the members of the government] come to demolish again, I will show these pictures to the MLA and ask him why he had to carry out this drama of renaming before.” As this remark illustrates, the practice of auto-archiving of the events by collecting and storing pictures, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts steadily propelled the claims of the residents for more visibility and a secure foothold in the city.

FIGURE INTRO.4: Azad resettlement colony. Residents have built precarious additional floors on homes on their tiny plots of land.


The residents of the Azad resettlement colony, who are considered displaced, “eligible” residents of jhuggi jhopri settlements across the city, have held countless dharnas (peaceful gatherings) in front of the chief minister’s house since they were resettled in 2000, demanding various basic amenities including water, bus services, and garbage disposal. The residents note that the gradual provisioning of various facilities in the neighborhood was made possible only after a protracted period of struggle.

On March 17, 2011, I joined a few residents who had congregated at a halwai shop (an Indian confectionary) in the evening to debate the dismal state of infrastructure in their neighborhood. The halwai shop owner, BC, squatted on the verandah and fried samosas in a deep and circular cooking pot. A portable TV rested on a glass-door fridge that stored soft drinks behind him. The residents watched the proceedings of the Lower House of the Parliament and debated the state of affairs in the country. The halwai shop faced a road that connected the neighborhood to the main square. Street vendors and myriad grocery shops and businesses plied their trade beside the road. The hustle and bustle of the neighborhood was evident as many residents descended from the main square and lanes and by-lanes of the neighborhoods to shop or make their way home. A garbage dump in an enclosed concrete structure stood across a park, which was barely 100 meters from the halwai shop. The residents covered their faces to avoid the putrid smell and flies from entering into their nostrils and mouths while crossing the garbage dump. Dogs and pigs rummaged through the garbage strewn across the park. Young men ferried cycle trollies with plastic containers to sell potable water in the neighborhood.

The halwai shop owner was visibly upset and expressed his anger to other residents. He had returned from the Delhi Development Authority office without being able to meet with officials to speak about the problems that beset the neighborhood. Despite incremental provisioning of services in their neighborhood over the years, the residents were appalled by what they perceived as the treatment of their neighborhood like a stepchild. As resident SS remarked, “The water line runs close to our neighborhood, but it supplies water to the distant Sarita Vihar [a middle-class neighborhood]. However, our neighborhood has not received potable water yet.”

At dharnas in 2010 and 2011, residents warned that the politicians could lose as many as 36,000 votes, the number of voters in the Azad resettlement colony, if the politicians were to ignore their demands. As the halwai shop owner argued, “We invited the member of the Parliament of the area to the neighborhood to discuss our problems. He called us to his office instead and said that he did not like the neta-giri [leader activities] of jhuggi people. Instead he told us that he would do whatever was within his ability. I retorted by telling him that no one knew him in this neighborhood, although we had campaigned for him in order to garner votes during the elections.” The MP’s derogatory way of addressing the intermediaries and leaders of the neighborhood as jhuggi people upset residents. SS argued, “We [intermediaries and residents] have been spreading carpets and hoisting flags of the parties during various events. But we would never get party tickets to contest elections.” At the time of my fieldwork in 2011, residents were contemplating the nomination of their own candidate in the future councilor elections: “We are tired of filling up vehicles with party supporters and public displays of numerical strength for candidates. We want to challenge the politicians in elections.” By 2017, the population of the Azad resettlement colony had increased to almost 250,000, although the eligible voting population remained approximately 42,000. Nevertheless, the resettlement colony along with a nearby unauthorized colony7 constituted a municipal ward. In the municipal elections of 2017, the residents successfully elected a councilor from their own neighborhood, thereby demonstrating their numerical strength. However, the election of a councilor from the neighborhood has not yet dramatically improved infrastructure of the neighborhood. Furthermore, the assertion of numerical strength and “demographic calculus” (see endnote 2) by neighborhood residents has yet to serve the interests of the entire community uniformly. Nevertheless, this ongoing struggle highlights the incremental—although uneven—entrenchment of the poor into the political landscape of the city on their own terms.

The three ethnographic vignettes discussed above offer ample evidence of the struggles for numerical citizenship that the poor residents of Delhi engage in to claim the right to the city by asserting their numerical strength. The legibility—the proof of existence of people that is tied to the process of decipherability of their proper documentation in a specific neighborhood—visibility, and gradual entrenchment of these poor urban residents lie at the heart of a variety of incremental struggles. The poor build and navigate a multitude of relationships and social divisions and forge political connections in their claims-making endeavors. In the course of this book, I offer other ethnographic vignettes to illustrate my theoretical analyses and to support my empirical arguments, including rann-nitis such as the mediated politics of intermediaries; the counter-tactics of enumeration among residents; a range of legal struggles; and myriad resistance tactics. Thus, although recent scholarship on Delhi has addressed the processes of dispossession,8 my primary focus is on the political agency of the poor themselves.


The political economy of urban planning reflects particular historical conjunctures (see also Chari and Gidwani 2005; Hall and Massey 2010) and expresses particular kinds of “calculative rationality.” Simply put, the agencies of the state enumerate, collect statistics, and categorize populations in order to extend welfare to the poor who are deemed “eligible.” Each conjuncture produces a set of state rationalities and practices that define, enumerate, and categorize the urban poor in ways that underpin how the residents are deemed eligible and legible for citizenship. I discuss the details of these emerging calculative rationalities with respect to the changing political economy of urban planning in Chapter 1. Spatial surveillance, restructuring projects, demolitions of jhuggi neighborhoods, the resettlement of eligible poor, and the provision of infrastructure and amenities are entwined with these calculative rationalities of the state.

The processes of enumerating residents, compiling statistics on citizens, and bureaucratically documenting settlements reflect the operation of power at multiple levels in modern liberal settings, as many scholars have argued (Appadurai 1996; Cohn 1987; Foucault 1991; Hacking 1990; Rose 1999; Stoler 1995).9 In general terms, the technologies of modern government lead to the unequal distribution of material resources and cultural life outcomes and produce forms of psychic and material subjugation (Cohn and Dirks 1988; Stoler 1995),10 creating conditions for structural violence and social suffering (Farmer 2003; Gupta 2012; Kleinman, Das, and Lock 1997). Calculative state practices depoliticize political decisions insofar as they offer technical solutions to complex social and cultural problems (see also S. Benjamin and Raman 2001; Rose 1999: 198).11 In exercising its own mode of governance, the state has offered resettlement, welfare services, and basic amenities to what it considers to be members of “eligible” populations in ways that simultaneously disenfranchise and ameliorate the conditions of the poor residents in the city.

In a recent work, Stephen Legg has systematically explored the effects of “practices, modalities and projects” of the calculative colonial state on the colonized populations in Delhi (Legg 2007: 20). Legg deploys a rigorous analysis inspired by Michel Foucault to evaluate the utilitarian rationalities that underpin improvement, management, and regulation of such populations. Although he does not provide an analysis of how the colonized have encountered state practices, Legg’s analysis nevertheless challenges the assumption that colonial subjects are passive by exposing how the colonial administration is not only powerful but also in a state of “flux and indeterminism”12 (Legg 2007: 211). By contrast, my focus is primarily on the consciousness and agency of the poor in their tactics against state calculations.

In another approach to these issues, Asher Ghertner (2015) argues that the aesthetic norms and visual codes enshrined in planning and judicial regimes—as opposed to calculative governmentality—have shaped urban space and political processes in contemporary Delhi. According to Ghertner, the logics of calculative rationality enshrined in surveys and maps are being replaced by the logics of aesthetic rationality. Seen through this lens, the jhuggi demolitions become possible because the jhuggis appear to be neither formal nor aesthetically pleasing. Ghertner provides illuminating evidence of how aesthetic norms, “nuisance talk,” and the appropriation of the aesthetic sensibilities by the poor who have no citizenship rights shape the space of Delhi. His sophisticated account of state governmentality examines how the poor appropriate codes and standards in order to participate within the dominant urban aesthetic. In contrast, I argue that the calculative rationality of the state continues to shape the lives and politics of the poor, especially as these practices are embodied in planning measures and the judiciary arm of the state. This approach helps us to understand how marginalized residents encounter calculative governmental systems and politically mobilize on their own behalf. The technologies of statecraft produce unanticipated effects that allow for a myriad of negotiations by the marginalized residents of Delhi. In responding to state calculations, the poor engage in various struggles to build settlements, obtain voting rights, establish rudimentary infrastructure, procure subsidized food and household items, access basic amenities, and secure their livelihood. In this regard, Solomon Benjamin’s conceptualization of “porous bureaucracy” is instructive in foregrounding how the poor negotiate with a seemingly non-transparent, complex, and local bureaucratic and political arrangement in their pursuit to access a range of entitlements (discussed in S. Benjamin and Raman 2001). Like Benjamin and Raman, I pay attention to the vital, messy, and deeply politicized local democratic practices (see also Sundaram 2010) to analyze the dense and entangled rann-nitis of the poor in obtaining citizenship rights. In this respect, and in line with what Emma Tarlo (2003) has shown, I contest the idea that the poor are passive victims of calculative governmentality; instead, I argue that the poor systematically contest the arbitrary and exclusionary processes of state calculations through an extraordinary array of rann-nitis.

In analyzing the practices of marginalized residents and governmental systems, post-colonial scholars highlight the peculiar nature of democracy and modernity in India (Chakrabarty 2000; Chatterjee 2004; Kaviraj 2005).13 In his influential body of work, Partha Chatterjee argues that, in addition to considering the repressive functions of the state, one also has to examine how populations become “subjects of power” through subtle processes in which they are drawn into various government policies (Chatterjee 2008a: 93).14 He theorizes that the features and dynamics of “civil society” and “political society” result from the establishment of modern governmental systems (Chatterjee 2004). Although in principle civil society is the domain of equal rights and citizenship, in reality “most of the inhabitants of India are only tenuously, and even then ambiguously and contextually, rights-bearing citizens in the sense imagined by the constitution” (Chatterjee 2004: 38). Hence, Chatterjee introduces his concept of political society to capture the terrain of politics where the government has a moral responsibility to take care of its poorer members according to the terms of political expediency. Political society, then, is the domain of populations which resort to various illegal and paralegal activities for their sustenance. He develops a further analytical distinction between “populations” and “citizens” by arguing that citizens share in the sovereignty of the state, while populations are merely enumerable categories subjected to the governmentality of the state (Chatterjee 2004: 40).

Chatterjee has provided influential and innovative conceptual methods for understanding the hegemonic and bourgeois parameters of the state in which dominant classes secure the consent and submission of subordinate (or subaltern) classes as well as the locational disadvantages and improvisational practices of the poor.15 Nevertheless, the binaries between state and society, legality and illegality, “civil society” and “political society” explicitly or implicitly articulated in these theories remain largely schematic (Baviskar and Sundar 2008; Datta 2016; Fernandes 2006; Lemanski and Lama-Rewal 2013; N. Menon 2010; Routray 2014). That said, post-colonial concepts such as “political society” should be considered primarily for their heuristic value in situating the political activities of urban poor people within larger structures of power, including contemporary advanced capitalism; structures of class, caste, community, and gender; the hegemony of party politics; and neighborhood dynamics (Routray 2014: 2296). State policies and practices may replicate historicist assumptions about how subaltern groups must be educated in order to participate as fully fledged citizens (Chakrabarty 2000: 10). By contrast, a focus on local practices allows for a more nuanced understanding of the features and processes that define the developmental state in the Global South.

My empirical insights concerning everyday political practices and citizenship struggles do not advance a normative theory of citizenship. Instead, I consider how the practices of the poor challenge such a universal theory of citizenship. This challenge is especially pronounced when the locational disadvantages of the poor in various settings call for empirically grounded theorizations. Although I draw on the work of Partha Chatterjee in this respect, I go beyond the binary of “population” and “citizen” to explore how the poor interact with both the planning and judiciary bodies by claiming citizenship rights. In this light, I argue against fetishizing the state as the dispenser of normative rights as conceptualized in liberal political theory. Instead, I contend that the state is neither the fountain of the “rule of law” and social justice nor an unaccountable entity from the perspective of the poor. To be sure, the nature and character of the Indian state has evolved over time and often responds to the improvisations in different historical settings, as suggested by Kaviraj (2005). The perception that the “rule of law” may not be justified informs the moral rhetoric used to protect the poor as a matter of political expediency, even as aspects of the law are also marshaled to claim citizenship rights. Rather than the application of a normative set of rules and rights, I observe a shifting conception of rights and social justice with respect to the governmentality of the state. In particular, I assess post-colonial concepts for their empirical relevance. In the vein of I. Roy (2018), I show the deep entanglements between the improvisational tactics and the systematic negotiations with various state, political, and dominant actors in both informal and formal avenues on the part of the poor.

In this respect, the improvisational tactics deployed by the poor are addressed through a relational and processual approach (see also Bourdieu 1986; Bourdieu 1998: 4; de Certeau 1984: xi; Massey 2005: 10; A. Roy 2003: 78). Rather than looking at the supposed intrinsic properties of social groups in a determinate social space (Bourdieu 1998: 4), I demonstrate that scholars must understand the ensemble of social relations, such as non-institutional and institutional arrangements in Delhi, in order to fully understand the politics of the poor. I examine how the agency and political consciousness of the urban poor help them claim citizenship entitlements. As I show throughout this book, the struggles of claiming citizenship entitlements are historically contingent and contextual. The right to be counted remains a pivotal aspect of what has been called “subaltern urbanism,”16 whereby the processes of improvisation and the everyday negotiations with law and politics are executed by the poor in Delhi. Numerical citizenship is a mode of “insurgent citizenship” that emerges through struggles to advance occupation of land, demand a multitude of rights, and extend solidarity (Holston 2008). However, unlike the context of Brazil in Holston’s analysis, the poor in Delhi do not demand citizenship rights as taxpayers, consumers, and property owners (Holston 2008: 260). Instead, the poor in Delhi demand citizenship entitlements by foregrounding their numerical strength and community solidarity and by resorting to a multitude of non-institutional and institutional rann-nitis in their encounter with the state.

By drawing our attention to both the institutional and non-institutional activities of the poor, the concept of numerical citizenship both builds on and departs from the works of other scholars and their concepts, including “political society,” “occupancy urbanism,” and “the quiet encroachment of the ordinary.” Through his concept of “occupancy urbanism,” S. Benjamin (2008) demonstrates how the local and territorial practices of the poor subvert planning regimes, challenge elite attitudes, and undermine processes of global capital accumulation. Like the concept of occupancy urbanism, the framework of numerical citizenship draws on a bottom-up understanding of the expediency of local political and bureaucratic structures. However, it does not share the optimism of occupancy urbanism in contesting capital, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and state power. The power of capital and state often circumscribes the space of occupancy urbanism (Weinstein 2017: 525). Furthermore, numerical citizenship struggles often engage the judiciary and well-meaning activists in more ambiguous ways. As I show, the poor develop their own rann-nitis in their negotiations with the judiciary and middle-class activists. Often, the members of the most marginalized communities are forced out of political negotiations as a result of the machinations of the rann-nitis. However, the struggles are articulated both as moral injunctions to care for the poor within the parameters of “political society” (Chatterjee 2004) and as constitutional obligations on the part of the state. Similarly, Bayat (1997) analyzes “the quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” particularly with respect to housing and livelihood options in the Middle East, which he defines as the “silent, patient, protracted, and pervasive advancement of ordinary people on the propertied and powerful in order to survive hardships and better their lives” (57; see also Bayat 2010: 14–15). My focus is more on collective struggles that engage institutional and non-institutional resources in discreet as well as visible ways in the post-colonial democracy of India, in contrast to what have been called “social nonmovements” as represented in “the collective actions of noncollective actors” in a discreet manner under authoritarian regimes of the Middle East (Bayat 2010: 14). Most importantly, I offer a nuanced understanding of the agency of the poor by examining numerous rann-nitis that subvert or partake in the quotidian practices of the state.


Drawing on numerous ethnographic observations, I illustrate and analyze a range of rann-nitis that the poor deploy to negotiate with established technologies of the state in the city (see de Certeau 1984; Kaviraj 1997).17 The rann-nitis are complex and labyrinthine mazes of tactics and counter-tactics. If statecraft is marked by absurd, exclusionary, and arbitrary bureaucratic procedures, the poor then operate to ensure that they are indeed counted to stake claims to a panoply of citizenship entitlements. While the politics of numbers, or the assertion of numerical strength or “vote-bank politics” (Auerbach 2020; S. Benjamin 2000; S. Benjamin 2008; S. Benjamin and Raman 2001; Bjorkman 2014b) is the precondition for exercising political agency on the part of the poor, I emphasize that the numerical citizenship struggles spearhead claims for recognition, visibility, and legibility.18 In other words, residents consistently struggle to be identified, enlisted, and counted in their quest for citizenship entitlements.

Demographic calculus is a significant rann-niti, but it does not exhaust the concept of numerical citizenship. I am not just trying to establish a ]relationship between arithmetic calculus and political outcomes in low-income neighborhoods in cities in India. I am also not arguing that if the neighborhood has a specific number of people and dense party networks, then it will be more successful in gaining recognition or obtaining basic amenities, especially when compared with another neighborhood with fewer people and sparse networks of party workers (cf. Auerbach 2020). Along with the politics of numbers and stronger party networks, other contingent and contextual factors play a salient role in shaping the struggles of numerical citizenship. Furthermore, the imperatives of neo-liberal restructuring, judicial activism, and political regimes at particular historical conjunctures shape claims-making and redistributive politics on the part of the urban poor in specific neighborhoods in the city.

Nevertheless, my arguments (which draw on but also depart from the studies discussed here) resonate with the political dynamics in cities in India as well as in other megacities in the Global South. As the poor experience social suffering, humiliation, and indignities due to exclusionary planning and bureaucratic regimes, they foreground their right to be counted through a myriad of ingenious, improvisational, and dense rann-nitis to prove numerical presence in cities across the globe. In this regard, I emphasize how certain theoretical issues have direct relevance to the question of political agency in other contexts, in particular, the mechanics of locality building and mediated tactics (against state surveillance); the counter-tactics of enumeration; legal struggles (which may result in reclassification and recategorization); and the performance of citizenship (including spectacles and ceremonies).

Rather than keeping the “state at arm’s length” (Scott 2009: x), the poor attempt to embed their citizenship struggles within various structures of the state. To be state recognized, a jhuggi jhopri settlement needs to include at least fifty households to begin with.19 In building their numerical strength, the poor engage with the vagaries of the police and municipal authorities initially and then steadily enter into the field of electoral politics to advance citizenship claims. Displaying numerical strength remains an important aspect of mediations in the field of vote-bank politics. In this regard, the poor struggle to be listed on the electoral rolls to be part of political processes. Demographic calculus does not merely imply that the additive force of atomized individuals—who assert their numerical strength during elections, demonstrations, and events—determines political outcomes. Rather, I show how the politics of numbers converts the passive processes of state calculations into active processes of locality building. Thus, along with demographic calculus, I show how numerical citizenship struggles draw on the processes of forging kinship and collective solidarity. In this regard, my focus is on the temporal dimensions of citizenship struggles by highlighting the transformations in state calculations and political regimes. In response to the shifting nature of the roles of multiple interlocutors at different conjunctures, I examine the permutations and combinations of the rann-nitis of the poor.

It is pivotal to map a range of counter-tactics of enumeration across cities in India and the Global South to understand how these rann-nitis foreground democratic and citizenship struggles across various contexts. In asserting numerical strength, the struggle for citizenship is premised on the documentation of a population’s numerical presence in the city. The poor become eligible for a panoply of citizenship rights in the city only upon the production of the proof of their presence from a particular date (Bjorkman 2014a; Routray 2014). The reiterative acts of naming and fixing identities (Hansen 2005b: 2) define state practices with respect to welfare provisions. The poor deploy ingenious strategies to obtain “proof documents” and contest arbitrary methods of classification that divide potential beneficiaries as eligible or ineligible. In this regard, I have listed a range of documentary and inscriptive rann-nitis but focus especially on the processes of authentication and counterfeiting, which contest numerical calculations of eligibility, as well as processes of self-enumeration, which challenge the fraught processes of state enumerations. I have also shown how mnemonic and auto-archiving rann-nitis are deployed to recall the past sequence of events to prove legitimate residency in particular neighborhoods, which play a significant role in shaping the struggle to be counted.

To be legible and counted, there is also a need to constantly challenge the processes of state mapping, classification, and categorization. The state enunciation of categories like “transit,” “temporary,” and “illegal” indicate the poor’s lack of numerical entrenchment in the city. I show how the rann-nitis of the poor draw on legal struggles to undermine state classifications and categorizations through the efforts at renaming, auto-archiving, un-mapping, and counterclaims in courtrooms and neighborhoods. The poor contest legal classification through mundane struggles in addition to performative and spectacular demonstrations in front of government offices, street corners, neighborhoods, and public spaces. In these demonstrations, which are simultaneously peaceful and militant, as I discuss in Chapter 6, the poor make use of their affective ties to manufacture specific cultural idioms of protest. Such performances subvert the imposed categories and subjectivities of illegality and ineligibility and draw on a repertoire of forms of protests (Tilly 2008). As I show throughout this book, numerical citizenship struggles constitute a performative politics that engages various idioms of speech acts and public spectacles (Bjorkman 2015; Guha 1999; Hansen 2005b: 232; Holston 2008; Postero 2017) to demand recognition, legibility, and entitlements.

Numerical citizenship struggles draw on the commissions and omissions of different state agencies. Ethnographies of the everyday state in India have analyzed the routinized presence of state power and how the poor implicate themselves with the activities of state institutions (Fuller and Harriss 2009: 25; Gupta 2012; Hansen 2005b; Mathur 2016; Tarlo 2003). They show how the poor imitate the state procedures and rituals in their quotidian struggles to realize substantive citizenship (V. Das and Poole 2004; Datta 2016; Gupta 2012; Hansen and Stepputat 2001; Hull 2012b; Srivastava 2012; Tarlo 2003). In contributing to this scholarship, this book documents citizenship struggles that span government offices, the judiciary, and non-governmental organizations. The contingent working of modern liberal institutions shows contradictory intentions and goals (see also Abrams 1988; Gupta 2012: 47; T. Mitchell 1991). Their response to the activities within the sphere of political society remains uneven (Routray 2014). Often, the practical implementation of state policies remains open-ended, indeterminate, and dynamic (see also Abrams 1988; Gupta 2012; T. Mitchell 1991). The various organs of the state adhere to different principles of governance at different points in time, thereby creating a space for participation, negotiation, and resistance to state policies in numerical citizenship struggles.

To sum it up, on the one hand, the lives of the poor are constrained by the numerical calculations of the state. On the other hand, the poor participate, negotiate, and resist the technologies of the state through a myriad of counter-calculations understood as citizenship struggles. These numerical citizenship struggles encompass a range of dialectics including the monitoring and surveillance of the poor versus locality building; the politics of enumeration versus the counter-tactics of enumeration; legal classification and categorization versus popular processes of renaming and reclassification; and projects of planning and legal erasure versus the lived politics of auto-archiving, mnemonic strategies, public performances, and speech acts during political and legal negotiations and resistance demonstrations. These struggles are shaped by forms of spatiality, social cleavages, and community networks, and by the involvement of activists and interlocutors. Thus, numerical citizenship struggles involve an ensemble of individual and collective contentions that draw on the expediency of political mediations, negotiations over documents and inscription, legal battles in the courts, and a variety of performances of popular resistance. These struggles encompass a universe of politics that is (counter) calculative, and they draw on shifting affective ties, interactions, and demonstrations among poor people, their allies, and their representatives. As I illustrate, the social relationships and affective ties among community members change over time. The dynamic spatial and temporal dimensions of these struggles shape the transformation of social relationships, political arrangements, and domestic bonds that emerge from demolitions and resettlements (see also V. Das 1996: 1510; Datta 2016: 9; Snell-Rood 2015). The political subjectivities of the poor are continuously reconfigured in a dialectical relationship with state policies, especially when welfare and resettlement policies are being enacted. Furthermore, the change in political regimes and legal discourses and practices underpin the modalities and outcomes of politics.

India is poised to undertake a humongous and historically unprecedented counting exercise to build a database of residents, called the National Population Register, and a database of citizens, called the National Register of Citizens. This book contributes to a timely analysis of how the state actually enumerates, documents, or counts its citizens. It illustrates the complex bureaucratic processes of legibility, counting, and error-prone documentation and the intricate rann-nitis the poor must deploy to be counted, especially to claim urban citizenship entitlements. I am not suggesting an ineluctable march of migrants to claim citizenship status, entitlements, and belonging in the city; rather, I show how the migrants continuously attempt to close the chasm between their statuses as residents and citizens through an extraordinary array of rann-nitis. The book underscores how the fraught counting exercise is poised to inaugurate unprecedented structural violence not only against immigrants and refugees but also against Indian citizens in the city.


The state technologies of planning and the politics of the poor sketched above draw our attention to spatial contexts, the social heterogeneity of the urban poor, and the role of activists and interlocutors in urban politics. I have argued that the fundamental aim of the poor is to incrementally lay claims to urban housing and other entitlements in the city. The gradual entrenchment of the poor in various social, political, and legal relations and arrangements potentially shifts their urban status from migrants to residents, and from jhuggi residents in a state-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlement to citizens with legal rights to a house. Throughout the course of this book, I show how this process is not homogeneous or unilinear but rather uneven and multi-level.

Spatiality and Politics

In order to understand the nature and scope of the politics of the poor, we must consider the intersection of urban space and politics. While the exigencies of urban life with respect to everyday structural and symbolic violence are often similar, the spatial settings both enable and constrain the political agency of the poor. The low-income neighborhoods in Delhi under study here are marked by distinct yet overlapping regimes of planning and by diverse social, political, and legal relations and arrangements. These distinctive but overlapping relations that underpin the nature of spatiality (cf. Lefebvre 1991; Massey 2005) precipitate specific political modalities and outcomes. While the identities of the urban poor are marked by economic, social, political, religious, and legal relations, to explore these intersecting dynamics I focus on how these identities arise out of their embeddedness in particular spaces.

The urban poor in contemporary Delhi can be heuristically mapped in terms of the social space they inhabit in a descending order from most to least precarious and vulnerable: the urban homeless; the urban poor in unrecognized, unidentified, and un-surveyed settlements; the urban poor renting rooms in villages, unauthorized colonies, designated slum areas, or planned colonies; the urban poor in government-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlements; the urban poor in old resettlement colonies and transit camps; and the urban poor in new resettlement colonies established since 1990 (see Chapter 2). The social spaces of the poor listed above are not survey categories or inert spaces that merely correspond with the mental and abstract faculties of planners and the physical realm of nature (Lefebvre 1991); rather, they are historically and socially produced. In other words, they are social spaces that provide settings embodying a range of social relations at particular historical conjunctures. My focus in this book is on a jhuggi jhopri settlement, a transit camp, and a resettlement colony, that is, those at the “top” of this list of precarious and vulnerable groups. These social spaces provide me with an analytic anchor to examine the processes of displacement and resettlement in the specific settings I have studied. After careful consideration, and in order to be as representative as possible, I chose these three neighborhoods with the aim of understanding the politics of claiming a “legal” home (along with basic amenities) on the part of the urban poor. The residents can claim a legal resettlement plot or flat upon displacement only if they reside in a recognized jhuggi jhopri neighborhood. Thus, while urban poverty is spatialized in different social spaces (pavements, unauthorized colonies, urban villages, etc.), it was only the poor in state-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlements who could claim resettlement housing in an old resettlement colony, a transit camp, and a new resettlement colony in the past. By looking at the incremental aspects of entrenchment, I examine how the temporal politics of citizenship relate to the processes of displacement and resettlement. As a consequence, this book shows the conjoint relationship of spatial and temporal practices of the poor in claiming citizenship entitlements. I discuss the nature, features, and instability of these state-designated categories and spaces in more detail in Chapter 2.

<>Gautam Nagar jhuggi jhopri settlement was incrementally established and developed in the 1970s (Chapters 2 and 3). A part of the settlement was demolished for the construction of an underpass in early 2009. Even after the demolitions, Gautam Nagar residents were not provided with resettlement plots because the government invoked the Right of Way clause of the Municipal Act. The residents have fought court cases in the High Court of Delhi and Supreme Court of India since 2009. Their legal fate has oscillated as judges delivered both favorable and unfavorable judgments between 2010 and 2017. In February 2010, the residents received a favorable decision from the High Court of Delhi, only to have government officials file a review petition, which was later dismissed by the High Court in January 2011. Subsequently, the residents filed a contempt petition in 2013 for the delay in resettling the residents. However, in a twist of fate, the petition was dismissed by the High Court in December 2014. Following the unfavorable verdict, the residents filed a Special Leave Application in the Supreme Court of India in early 2015. Ultimately, the favorable verdict of the Supreme Court was delivered on December 12, 2017, but only after the Delhi Urban Improvement Shelter Board (DUSIB) decided to resettle the residents on August 22, 2017, representing a complete reversal of its earlier decision.

Approximately 300 residents who were considered to have “encroached” on a road were displaced from Gautam Nagar in early 2009. Although I also conversed with non-displaced residents and intermediaries, my research primarily focused on the displaced residents of the area. After displacement, the residents rented jhuggis in Gautam Nagar, lived in makeshift huts beside the dug-up road, or rented houses in nearby areas. Most of the displaced people who moved away visited the area for work, social contact, and resettlement-related struggles almost daily. My analysis therefore focuses on how residents have gained recognition from the local state in order to receive infrastructure, services, and basic amenities through their struggles against displacement and to receive resettlement plots or flats. The political and judicial struggles of the poor in Gautam Nagar bring to light how the commissions and omissions of the various agencies of the state become critical for the citizenship projects of the poor. The residents continue to be actively engaged in a struggle to prove their resettlement eligibility by producing proof documents.

The general struggles to prove residence and recognition are similar in informal settlements given their precarious legal status across various contexts. Along with the politics of numbers, the claims for resettlement and basic services are predicated on documentary and inscriptive tactics of proving existence in particular neighborhoods (along with the other tactics that I outline in the book). Although an ethnographic study in another state-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlement would have allowed us to understand its contextual specificity, the findings are likely to be similar between another state-recognized jhuggi jhopri settlement and Gautam Nagar jhuggi jhopri settlement. An ethnographic study in an existing unrecognized settlement could have yielded further specific insights. But my general argument about the process of the establishment of a jhuggi jhopri settlement would still hold, as I also analyze the pre-recognition history of Gautam Nagar. The struggle is primarily aimed at occupying and distributing land parcels, fighting antagonistic host populations, and dealing with the vagaries of police and municipal authorities (see Chapter 3 for an analysis of these issues).

The state recognizes a jhuggi jhopri once it has fifty households. However, other factors—the location of a settlement, political patronage in the initial years (for instance, an MLA who instructs the police officials to leave the fledgling settlement alone), the urgency of cleaning up city spaces at different conjunctures on the part of various state agencies—shape the existence or demolition of the settlement. Most importantly, the collective struggles to navigate the bureaucratic and municipal authorities explain why a settlement will manage to grow precariously and gain recognition at some point. As a part of Gautam Nagar is still undemolished, this case also provides an opportunity to understand the politics of claiming basic services by residents still living in a jhuggi jhopri settlement. And, of course, the case offers insights into post-demolition hardships and the struggles to claim resettlement. Thus, the struggles of the poor to build a locality, resist demolition, claim resettlement, and obtain basic amenities in Gautam Nagar resonate with other cases elsewhere.

The case of the Sitapuri transit camp demonstrates how the poor are pitted against the middle classes. Transit camp residents were displaced in 1984–85 from jhuggi settlements on “prime land” that was designated as urgently required for various projects in the city. Sitapuri has two blocks, named simply Pocket A and Pocket B. The land use for Pocket A is “recreational” and Pocket B is partly “recreational” and partly “residential.” The Sitapuri transit camp adjoins the Lakshmi colony, a planned colony of middle-class residents. The Resident Welfare Association (RWA) of Lakshmi colony petitioned the High Court of Delhi to demolish Sitapuri in 2003, a legal battle discussed in Chapter 5. However, the case was dismissed in 2010. While the fate of the neighborhood remains uncertain, the residents have steadily advanced their claims to remain and obtain basic amenities in the same neighborhood against the abstract imagination of planners and judges. This case exemplifies the widespread phenomenon of middle-class RWAs making use of the judiciary to initiate the demolitions of jhuggi and low-income settlements across Delhi and beyond in recent years. Class-based antagonisms (as epitomized in court battles) between low-income neighborhoods and middle-class neighborhoods could be analyzed by considering any other type of low-income settlement. But I achieved two objectives by choosing the case of Sitapuri transit camp: (1) map the temporal struggles to access basic amenities over the decades under the norms of the earlier resettlement policy and (2) examine the dynamics of class-based struggles between the poor and middle-class residents.

To elaborate on these two points, transit camps are fewer in number compared to old resettlement colonies. However, transit camps that do not face any immediate threat of demolition can be regarded as old resettlement colonies. In fact, both the residents and state officials designate transit camps and resettlement colonies interchangeably according to their own convenience. (The state has also designated Azad resettlement colony as a transit camp, thus alerting us to the uncertainty of this massive neighborhood in the future.) Thus, the case of Sitapuri transit camp illuminates how the poor staked their claims and availed themselves of basic amenities since they were resettled in the 1980s prior to the inauguration of the new resettlement policy and the establishment of new resettlement colonies. It also allows us to understand the changes in state calculations with respect to the housing of the poor over the last decades, especially if we compare old resettlement colonies, transit camps, and new resettlement colonies. Furthermore, this case illustrates how a middle-class RWA may wage a court battle against a low-income neighborhood. The case provides insights into the vexatious relationships and spatial practices of the poor and middle-class residents living in the adjoining areas. Here my aim is to show how the lived space of the transit camp is a joint product of spatial practices of the poor, the middle class, and the planners. Like the Gautam Nagar case, this case also underlines the intersection of planning and legal relations, representations, and arrangements that shape particular modalities of politics.

Finally, I provide an illustration of the production of social space through coping strategies and struggles in Azad resettlement colony. Through this case, I analyze the stakes of the poor in claiming housing and basic amenities in new resettlement colonies, especially in light of massive demolitions and the establishment of new resettlement colonies since the 1990s. Azad resettlement colony was established in 2000 to accommodate “eligible” poor people displaced from various parts of the city. Most of the residents had fought unsuccessful battles (including legal battles) against demolitions at their earlier places of residence. On a brighter note, the residents did succeed in procuring resettlement plots according to the resettlement policy. The case provides insight into the effects of impoverishment after displacement, and it raises questions about the lived practices of political struggles that the poor engage to start a new life in the city. The cases of Gautam Nagar jhuggi jhopri settlement, Sitapuri transit camp, and Azad resettlement colony underscore the dynamic process of public decision-making and the abstract imagination of planners that contribute to impoverishment in Delhi (see Baxi 1988: vi). However, the case of Azad resettlement colony also draws our attention to the coping mechanisms, the inventiveness, and the political tactics necessary in beginning a life in the abandoned spaces of the city through the assertion of a community’s numerical strength. Although a unique case with its own specificity, Azad resettlement colony is also representative of the new resettlement colonies in Delhi.

These different kinds of social spaces reflect overlapping yet distinct planning, political, social, legal, and organizational arrangements. These arrangements mark specific patterns of displacement and generate unique kinds of struggles. Furthermore, the cases discussed reemphasize the point that the transition from being a migrant to being a resident in a legal resettlement/transit neighborhood in Delhi is not a unilinear and homogeneous process. The complexity of different social spaces is mind-boggling, and each specific social space (as listed in Chapter 2) will tell us something uniquely interesting. In choosing not to do ethnographic work in other social spaces, I was able to employ a longer temporal frame to understand the complexity of the issues in three sites rather than a shorter temporal frame to understand more sites. At the same time, the general theoretical arguments that I make still hold for informal settlements to the extent that the state actors use similar tactics of surveillance and enumeration across Delhi, elsewhere in India, and in the cities of the Global South. In this respect, my arguments may provide a broader comparative framework for understanding a myriad of rann-nitis of claims-making by poor communities.

Social Cleavages and Political Tensions

Before considering the logic and cultural idioms that inform the political practices of poor people in the city, we must scrutinize the category “urban poor” itself. Delhi’s poor are differentiated along the lines of caste, income, gender, and regional origin. These divisions among communities must be taken into account in order to fully understand the struggles surrounding their citizenship and thus their right to claim space in the city (Datta 2016; Doshi 2013; A. Roy 2003). A majority of the urban poor, especially those living in jhuggi jhopri settlements, belong to marginalized castes and communities (Datta 2016: 14). The diverse experiences and identities of these impoverished communities give rise to distinct neighborhood-specific political struggles. Nandini Gooptu’s (2001) methodological argument for the category “urban poor” instead of “working classes” or “labor” is useful. Gooptu avoids the latter categories as they connote “organized, formal sector industrial workers,” while the term “urban poor” avoids suggesting “a distinct social class arising from a particular set of production relations” with a singular identity arising from “shared interests and plight.” Gooptu deploys the term “urban poor” to “encompass various occupational groups and to highlight the diversity and plurality of their employment relations and working conditions” (Gooptu 2001: 3). Thus, the category “urban poor” must be qualified since it intentionally implies specific vulnerabilities associated with varying social locations, even among urban poor populations themselves.

The vulnerability of the urban poor originates from economic relations among different occupational groups as well as non-economic relations among groups identified by caste and religious affiliations (Breman 2004; Gooptu 2001: 2–3; Harriss 1986; Saberwal 1977: 15). However, the precarious and vulnerable situation of the urban poor in contemporary Delhi is also related to the legal definition of the neighborhoods where they reside, to whether one possesses proof documents for resettlement and welfare eligibility, and to the nature of patronage structures. Thus, the most vulnerable poor in the neighborhoods I studied are oppressed castes and Muslim women engaged in casual work without permanent jobs living in jhuggi jhopri settlements without requisite proof documents, and who therefore lack eligibility for future resettlement. Their vulnerability is compounded if a rival politician wins the election and shows lukewarm interest in extending basic amenities to members of the neighborhood.20

Most poor residents in the three settlements earned between 2,000 and 10,000 Indian rupees per month in 2010 (approximately US$45–$220).21 In 2017, the earnings ranged from 5,300 to 18,000 rupees (approximately $80–$275). During my research between 2009 and 2011, the lowest daily wage was between 70 (for women) and 100 (for men) rupees (approximately $1.50–$2.20). The corresponding figures were 170 and 300 in 2017 (approximately $2.60–$4.60). The income among the poorest also varied when both parents and their children contributed to the family incomes. Extensive unemployment was also a factor. The highest-paid residents among the poor were the intermediaries, petty contractors, and traders who typically earned between 10,000 and 50,000 rupees per month in 2010 (approximately $222–$1,111) and between 20,000 and 70,000 rupees in 2017 (approximately $308–$1,077). Most often they lived outside the neighborhoods but possessed jhuggis or houses and actively participated in neighborhood politics.

The population of Gautam Nagar is predominantly composed of casual workers, daily wage laborers, contract factory workers, and construction workers. This is the most vulnerable population in the city, apart from the homeless and destitute groups, which include street performers, petty workers, and abandoned residents who are often physically and mentally challenged. The only housing option for the latter is in one of the night shelter facilities, which remain chronically insufficient in size during inclement weather. The urban poor residing in Gautam Nagar have managed to gain access to some form of shelter. Thus, the primary aim of their struggle for survival following the demolition of their neighborhood in 2009 is to delay further demolitions, obtain basic services, and procure resettlement plots or flats. Generally speaking, inequalities and political mobilizations in jhuggi jhopri neighborhoods like Gautam Nagar are defined by the ability to procure proof documents, appropriate scarce resources, acquire or exchange suitable plots or flats upon resettlement, build additional structures, and carry out local business activities. In this respect, the intermediaries and other residents with political and social connections often position themselves favorably in accessing rudimentary infrastructure and basic amenities in the city, as I elaborate in Chapter 3.

While income differences exist among the urban poor living in informal settlements prior to demolitions and relocation, other factors become more pronounced over time when residents are relocated to “transit camps” or “resettlement colonies.” Without access to work nearby, many poor people are forced to sell their resettlement or transit camp plots to cover living expenses and emergency medical care, as discussed in Chapters 2 and 5. As resettled neighborhoods become integrated as a result of adjacent land acquisition and city expansion, families with relatively higher income move into these neighborhoods. New resettlement neighborhoods like the Azad resettlement colony have become affordable places for small contractors, lower-rung government workers, and service providers in private firms. These new entrants to the neighborhoods must coexist with the original allottees, who are often initially looked down upon by newcomers. Inequalities of income in transit camps and resettlement colonies become more pronounced over time, shaping the politics of accessing resources and infrastructure. The politics of the poor are likewise shaped by the ideological and political affiliations, the status of allottees or purchasers of houses in the transit camps and resettlement colonies, and the location of houses in the neighborhood.

There is a constant process of upward and downward mobility in these low-income neighborhoods. While employment in the new economy, relative job security in factories, and successful entrepreneurship may contribute to upward mobility, such advances are often thwarted by retrenchment, factory closures, losses incurred in businesses as a result of lack of political patronage, precarious relocation upon demolition, and the lack of proximal work resulting from urban-restructuring policies. The majority of residents in these neighborhoods barely make a living from daily wage labor, even after living there for fifteen to twenty years. Most of the residents navigate both the formal and informal sectors of work in the city (Breman 1996; Gooptu 2001; Holmstrom 1984). Survival in Delhi demands flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to cope with unexpected exigencies and the constant threat of downward mobility. Even in this context, there are rare cases of upward mobility. Upward mobility is experienced most often by transport operators, scrap dealers, and construction-related contractors. Most often these residents start off as daily wage laborers in scrap-dealing and construction sites, or as drivers for transport operators. However, significant upward mobility may be afforded by social and political connections, funds from trusting moneylenders, risk taking, and entrepreneurial skills. The residents who acquire significant economic capital, who cultivate social and political connections, or who create dependencies to control and manage other residents are often the ones who manage to shape specific political outcomes at the individual and community levels in the neighborhood.

Differences along caste, community, and gender lines precipitate distinct modes of political negotiations in each of these sites. For example, neighborhood residents refer to Muslims using global and local terms that are often Islamophobic. These characterizations include Muslims’ perceived uncontrollable fertility; predisposition for fighting, terrorism, and slaughter (referring to the profession of meat cutting); how they celebrate Pakistan’s wins over India in cricket matches; how the Hindus feel insecure in predominantly Muslim areas like Batla House, Turkman Gate, Okhla Mandi, Jamia Nagar, and Seelampur; and the daily disruption caused by offering namaz (the ritual prayer of Muslims) over loudspeakers. Islamophobia distorts their perceptions of the numerical strength (or numerical insignificance) of Muslims in these neighborhoods and contributes to the civic and political marginalization that Muslims face in the city. In neighborhoods like the Azad resettlement colony, which has a numerically significant Muslim population, residents often articulate their citizenship struggles in redistributive terms as well as along identity lines, as discussed in Chapter 6.

The neighborhoods are also characterized by caste-specific gallis (lanes or alleyways) such as the Kabadda (scrap) camp in Gautam Nagar, where Dalits22 engage in “scavenging” and recycling work. Residents prefer intermediaries from their own caste, although they attest that the gallis are not as homogeneous as they once were. A sense of superiority exists among many upper-caste residents who secretly divulge details about the caste identities of other residents. As a resident in Gautam Nagar expressed his caste bias, “People do a lot of dikhawa [showing off]. They are of lower caste, but they would use surnames like Singh to hide their own identity.” The rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party in local municipal elections has also challenged the hegemony of upper-caste interests. One resident remarked that “bhangi ka raaj hai” (the bhangis [Dalits engaged in scavenging work] rule). Similarly, alarming casteist comments are also widespread, such as when residents defend the pride of Rajput (the dominant military caste of northern India) or Brahmin (the dominant priestly Hindu caste), mock the “lowly” occupations of Dalits, or recall disproportionate punishment and violence by upper-caste police officers working in the neighborhoods.

Bhed-bhav (discrimination), antagonisms, and fighting can also be observed along caste and community lines. Petty quarrels over the distribution of water and electricity, garbage disposal, and fights among children often end in name-calling or deepening suspicions and hatred for other castes, religions, or regions. It is not uncommon to flaunt one’s caste identity and the propriety of voting for a party that supports a particular community (mostly the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Bharatiya Janata Party). The real and imaginary sense of historical injustice experienced by members of each community adds a further layer of mistrust among residents that often compounds their suspicion of neighbors, activists, and state officials.

Despite the survival of caste prejudices and discrimination, evidence of a crumbling caste hegemony exists in how the leaders of the oppressed castes engage in political battles. As a resident of the dominant Rajput caste in the Sitapuri transit camp remarked, “I would like to return back to my village. I do not like it here. There is so much gandh [dirt] here. Back in my village the bhangis will bow, take off their shoes and touch my feet, and utter a respectful form of greeting from a distance. But here they want to sit with you.” This resident, whom the other residents refer to as mad, is unhappy with the political agency exercised by oppressed caste residents and feels helpless to the point of considering a return to his village where his brethren reproduce familiar caste prejudices, exclusions, and violence.

Despite differences in caste, religion, and regional origin, there is a palpable feeling of solidarity among residents concerning critical issues affecting their shared locality. As one resident in the Sitapuri transit camp noted, “Politicians, factory owners, or religious leaders may try to divide us, but the reality is that we need to have bhai-chara [brotherhood] to survive here. Unless we have bhai-chara we cannot exist and bargain for our rights.” Building bhai-chara often involves a display and performance of strength and solidarity in the neighborhood, which also entails various kinds of exclusions. Residents are thus aware of their marginality in the larger urban economic and political landscape. The coexistence of various social groups necessitates solidarity and unity in mobilizing for basic services. As Auyero (2000b: 70) in the Argentinean context has observed, “Clientelist problem-solving involves constructing personalized ties, an imaginary solidaristic community, and a protective and predictable network that buffers the harsh everyday reality of the slum.” Residents build community through compromise and relations of trust in order to deal with the exigencies of life. Solidarity is required to confront the police; to get an electricity connection from a neighbor, especially if paying for a connection from the company is outside one’s means; to reciprocate favors by standing in a queue for water; and for babysitting or lending money during times of emergency. As one resident in Gautam Nagar put it, “In galli-mohalla [lane-neighborhoods], the neighbors are more important than your own relatives.” Despite the divisions that separate them, residents share a common identity that stems from living in the marginalized niches of the city. While in some cases the social divisions may produce favorable outcomes for certain groups or individuals in these neighborhoods, residents nevertheless consistently forge a common identity and assert their numerical strength in resisting displacement, claiming resettlement, or obtaining infrastructure and basic amenities in the city. However, the collective solidarity is often contingent, tenuous, and disrupted. The disruption of collective solidarity was evident after the Government of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 (discussed in the Conclusion), which in principle extends citizenship to persecuted Hindus in three neighboring countries but excludes non-Hindu persecuted minorities (both religious and non-religious) in neighboring countries and people of foreign origin, especially Bangladeshi Muslims residing in India. Furthermore, the plan to build an official National Register of Citizens (NRC) based on proper documentation and family legacy data (Birla, Jha, and Kumari 2020) has increased the suspicion and anxiety of poor Muslim residents in these neighborhoods.

The Urban Poor and the Activists

Ranajit Guha’s seminal work calls for investigating the politics of subalterns on their own terms. He suggests that assuming subaltern politics are pre-political, spontaneous, or lacking consciousness is not only erroneous but also elitist (Guha 1999: 4–5). Like Guha, I analyze the politics of the urban poor on their own terms by illustrating highly coordinated, systematic, and politically conscious patterns of thought and action among individuals and groups in particular contexts. Of course, such thoughts and actions also reflect contradictions, ambiguities, and conflicts in various scenarios. The politics of the urban poor intersect with the interventions of activists, lawyers, and politicians in the city who often do not share their life experiences. Nevertheless, these alliances are celebrated despite being fraught and contested. The contribution of activists and interlocutors to their struggles is significant and entails complex and contradictory logics in contemporary Delhi. On the one hand, the political strategies of Delhi’s urban poor are independent of outside activists and the well-meaning interventions of interlocutors. On the other hand, these strategies benefit from active mediation on the part of the activists. The poor actively seek certain interventions from “experts” and activists as a response to the structural difficulties they experience with the judiciary, the Delhi Development Authority, and other state bodies.

While many activist organizations and NGOs are working in these neighborhoods, three organizations have figured prominently: Lok Raj Sangathan, Delhi Shramik Sangathan, and Jan Chetna Manch. Lok Raj Sangathan is an organization run by human rights activists, trade union leaders, retired judges, and people with socialist leanings from various walks of life.23 The organization has a local office near the Sitapuri transit camp. Local Lok Raj Sangathan activists organize the poor around a range of issues, including struggles to procure ration cards and voter IDs in Gautam Nagar and in the Azad resettlement colony. The organization played an important role in the road blockade demonstrations in Sitapuri (discussed in Chapter 6). The activists of Lok Raj Sangathan continued to organize and intervene energetically in everyday politics in Gautam Nagar, although their activities had diminished in Sitapuri by the time of my fieldwork in 2009–2011 and 2017. Delhi Shramik Sangathan, another important organization, is a federation working among the poor in Delhi.24 The organization works in nearly one hundred low-income neighborhoods and holds cycle rallies to raise awareness about rights, policies, and legislation. During my fieldwork in 2009–2011, the organization facilitated a range of activities in Gautam Nagar especially related to the High Court case. However, in the course of my fieldwork in 2017, the organization had retreated from the neighborhood to a considerable degree. Finally, V. P. Singh, a former prime minister of India, established Jan Chetna Manch in the mid-1990s. The organization campaigned against jhuggi demolitions and industrial closures in Delhi. After the death of V. P. Singh, Jan Chetna Manch became inactive, but there were periodic attempts to revive it during my fieldwork. The residents of Gautam Nagar, Sitapuri, and the Azad resettlement colony often recalled Jan Chetna Manch’s active role with appreciation.

Three phrases used by residents were commonly associated with the work of well-meaning activists: marg darshan (path-showing or guidance), chetna badhana (consciousness raising), and rann-nitis. Marg darshan and chetna badhana may connote an element of condescension when understood in abstract terms in the sense that the poor receive guidance in a passive manner. Nevertheless, their usage in everyday contexts usually connotes a positive meaning, especially when the marg darshan and chetna badhana work of activists is solicited as part of the general rann-niti. Thus, it was only after losing hope in the politicians that Gautam Nagar residents reached out to the activists for marg darshan and a fresh rann-niti. Activists may often be understood to be an integral part of a particular rann-niti. However, rann-niti connotes an open-ended dialogical act and usually requires the appraisal of multiple possible routes for collective action, some of which may not require the activists or experts. Further, rann-niti connotes an act of evaluation based on one’s own experiential knowledge. As a result, the advice components of marg darshan and chetna badhana are selectively adhered to on the basis of a community’s own calculations and affective considerations, especially when members recognize the structural barriers or inadequate knowledge they encounter in appealing to state policies and in taking legal recourse.

In other words, not all the advice provided to residents as part of marg darshan and chetna badhana is considered useful, sometimes to the bewilderment of the activists. In Gautam Nagar, for example, suggestions by activists to avoid politicians (or what is regarded as vote-bank politics) and to wage independent struggles were carefully calibrated in order to appeal to skeptical residents. While marg darshan and chetna badhana constitute important components of political mobilization on a local level, the poor in Gautam Nagar and Sitapuri routinely reach out to politicians as part of a tactic of resistance or rann-niti. The efforts of activists are praised at times, but the failure of a particular rann-niti can also invite censure of those same activists. Further, certain groups of residents sometimes reach out to Dalit and Muslim activists or leaders who work primarily for these marginalized groups. Thus, while the course of political action may be coherently thought out, it may also present various ambiguities, contradictions, and conflicting feelings.

Thoughtful and coherent political action can also be illustrated with reference to the efforts of the poor at auto-archiving. Many residents I spoke to as part of my fieldwork showed me files of documents containing information and newspaper clippings about their neighborhoods, government policies concerning urban poverty, and pictures of themselves with activists and politicians during rallies. These residents had stored newspaper articles about their political engagements and performances, often spreading these files out for me to see, explaining the sequence of events, and identifying or evaluating the persons (mostly themselves) in the photographs that accompanied the news articles. This practice was most common among illiterate residents, which suggests that the poor archive their own stories despite their illiteracy (see also Auerbach 2018; Auerbach 2020; Bandyopadhyay 2011; Bandyopadhyay 2016). In fact, many times after they had told me stories, they asked me to read aloud certain portions of the articles and to examine the pictures to verify their accounts of the events. Auto-archiving thus creates a repertoire of potential collective action to pursue in the future as part of rann-niti while at the same time contesting the invisibility of the poor and consolidating their claims to citizenship in the city.


Analyzed in the framework of numerical citizenship, the schemes and policies of the state underwrite the politics of planning and give rise to the politics of the poor. I have discussed some of the methodological and theoretical dimensions of my argument with respect to the general themes of spatiality and politics, social cleavages and politics, and the urban poor and the activists who form alliances with them. To conclude, I want to elaborate on my ethnographic approach to the study of planning, poverty, and politics. An exploration of numerical citizenship relies on a rigorous ethnographic approach that offers “thick descriptions” of the events and everyday realities of the poor, not just theoretical generalizations (Geertz 1973: 7). I record the layers of meanings, inferences, and implications of accounts by the urban poor of their own experiences of displacement, resettlement, and political engagements in particular social milieus. My ethnographic approach thus entails a “historically situated mode of understanding historically situated contexts” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 9) in particular by examining the calculative rationalities of the state in detail, the specific effects of recurring and emerging social inequalities in various contexts, and citizenship struggles at the intimate level of everyday and interpersonal experience. In understanding everyday experiences, I attempt to record those experiential and contextual realities with “empathy and mutuality” (Stacey 1988: 22) while at the same time documenting how the social relations and experiences of the poor are shaped by the contemporary history of urban restructuring and modes of political engagement (see Willis and Trondman 2000: 6).

More importantly, I examine how the poor “embody, mediate and enact the operations and results of unequal power” in their attempts to engage with political mediations, to document their legal struggles, and to stage performances of resistance (Willis and Trondman 2000: 10). Through sustained and ongoing ethnographic observations, I explore how affects and emotions mediate social and political relationships (Raffles 2002: 326) while remaining attentive to spatial politics over extended periods. In this regard, The Right to Be Counted shows how ethnographic sensitivity can be used as a tool to explore the richness of culture and politics as well as the complexity of human agency (Ortner 1995; see also I. Roy 2018). My approach offers a middle ground that avoids the extremes of overly “abstract theoretical categories” and the “empirical fallacy” (Willis and Trondman 2000: 12) in attempting to illuminate the local and larger significance of these struggles for numerical citizenship.

I carried out twenty-five months of field research—twenty-two months from November 2009 through August 2011 and three months from June to September 2017—in Gautam Nagar, the Sitapuri transit camp, and the Azad resettlement colony. In addition to my daily interactions with residents, I attended court proceedings, grievance-related meetings with councilors, and public events organized by the activists in these neighborhoods. My long-term involvement within these communities afforded me insights into the complex dynamics of numerical citizenship struggles spanning almost a decade. The temporal frame of my field research provided me with a critical vantage point for examining the processes of planning and the politics of the poor (see Cerwonka and Malkii 2007; V. Das 1996; Stoller 1989). To document the effects of displacement, the experience of social suffering, and the logic of political mobilization on the ground, my ethnographic research entailed interactions with approximately 140 residents across the three neighborhoods. My work involved ethnographic observations among twenty-five households in both Gautam Nagar and the Sitapuri transit camp, and in the Azad resettlement colony, I carried out ethnographic work among twenty households.

On average, I interacted with two members of each family through conversations, informal interviews, and discussions. While I met some residents repeatedly on an everyday basis over the course of my fieldwork, non-participant observations and informal discussions with many of my research collaborators were occasionally restricted to only two to three encounters. I did not live in any of these neighborhoods. Rather, I traveled to the neighborhoods by appointment. While I usually met residents in the morning before they left for work or in the evening after they came home, there were times when I visited in the afternoon. Mostly I sat in front of eateries, grocery shops, and teashops to discuss issues that concerned the residents. These were popular places where residents congregated, played cards, and conversed about common problems. In the winter, residents burned sundry materials to produce improvised fireplaces at various sites in the neighborhoods. At times I joined these gatherings to discuss issues regarding their displacement and the difficulties they had in accessing basic amenities.

My ethnographic work also involved visits to a range of offices, including the Food and Supply Department, Sub-divisional Magistrate’s Office, Public Works Department, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, and Delhi Secretariat. In addition, I joined monthly meetings of grassroots organizations, events hosted by state bodies in the neighborhoods, political rallies, and a range of demonstrations and celebrations. My firsthand observations at these events animate my empirical arguments in the chapters that follow. In addition to ethnographic research, I conducted interviews with twenty-four planners of various planning institutions, ten activists, and four representatives of Lakshmi colony’s Resident Welfare Association (RWA). I spoke with planners, activists, and RWA representatives in English mostly, though we also switched to Hindi at times. In contrast, I always conversed in Hindi with the residents of the three neighborhoods. My activist friends introduced me to key residents from various groups and communities in the neighborhoods I chose to study, which are often divided along lines of caste, community, gender, regional origin, and political affiliation. I did not have survey records to analyze each demographic category, but I carefully designed my household study to be as representative as possible. My initial plan to follow the electoral rolls to identify residents proved too difficult once I realized the extent of under-enumeration in these neighborhoods and realized that this lack is itself an important topic of investigation. I selected households that reflected differences in terms of income, caste, community, political affiliation, and gender distribution in various streets and blocks of the neighborhoods.

I have drawn on a range of documents to analyze the politics of planning and the politics of the poor in Delhi:

a. Delhi planning documents. I draw on planning documents including Master Plans published by the Delhi Development Authority, a compilation of zonal plans in Delhi, and other reports published by the Government of India, the Planning Commission, and the National Capital Regional Planning Board. I have also taken recourse to Shah Commission reports to examine the planning process during the “Emergency” period.

b. Archival documents concerning Sitapuri Transit Camp and Azad Resettlement Colony from the Delhi Development Authority, Vikas Sadan. I have mostly used policy reports, letters, background information, minutes, handwritten notes, and quotes from various officials about the unfolding events regarding Sitapuri transit camp and Azad resettlement colony. Most of the information is repeated in multiple documents. I have provided the document number, dates (where available), file name, and the name of the office where I found the document. Often the documents have handwritten notes and signatures from various officials on various dates. Some of the documents are excerpts of other documents (for instance, excerpts of court verdicts). Some documents are torn, and some others have not been paginated. The documents have been stored randomly without any order. Some documents do not have titles, as they are basically correspondence among various officials about Sitapuri transit camp and Azad resettlement colony. In the absence of a title, I have described the document’s contents in parentheses in the endnotes. The notes and correspondence start randomly at times. Most documents have a number, which I refer to by the document number. The above description itself is an important point in analyzing the production of bureaucratic knowledge (a topic I do not take up in the book).

c. Documents from activist organizations. I have relied on newsletters, pamphlets, and a variety of letters collected from activist organizations, especially Jan Chetna Manch. Most of the documents at the Jan Chetna Manch office were previously part of the private collections of V. P. Singh, a former prime minister of India who started Jan Chetna Manch from his personal residence.

d. Documents received from residents of the three neighborhoods. I use information from letters and petitions to government offices and the Delhi Development Authority; Right to Information (RTI) applications and responses; proof documents; self-survey sheets; and court verdicts (mostly excerpts), all collected from poor residents of the three neighborhoods. The residents also provided me with pamphlets and newsletters from various activist organizations. I also draw on information from the websites of urban planning institutions, state bodies, and activist organizations.

Taking a cue from Ann Stoler, I use the documents as “sites of state ethnography.” Thus, my documentary research does not merely entail the extractive collection of facts and data (Stoler 2002: 90). Rather, the documents provide an ethnographic perspective on the everyday functioning of state institutions and details on social relations in the neighborhoods. Through ethnographic and documentary research, I analyze the specificity of social life, everyday interactions, and power dynamics along the lines of class, caste, literacy, and gender relations. Thus, along with examining the effects of state power, I also investigate the embodiment of various kinds of capital in terms of the economic resources, cultural competences, social connections, and political power that shape each of these sites. I scrutinize the complexities of human agency in everyday life by illustrating the hopes, aspirations, contradictions, and ambiguities among individuals as well as collectives. I attempt to produce multiple perspectives that are coexistent and competing in particular contexts (Bourdieu 1999: 3). Following the advice of Bourdieu (2003: 281), I have tried to avoid perpetuating “pre-reflexive social and academic experiences of the social world” while carrying out research in these sites and writing up my findings. In this respect, in order to understand the complex logics of numerical citizenship struggles, I provide detailed and textured accounts of the poor, intermediaries, local leaders, middle-class residents, planners, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists in their negotiations with the technologies and practices of the state.

I provide a historical context for understanding the struggles for numerical citizenship among the poor in the first two chapters. In Chapter 1, by examining the political economy of Delhi, I explore shifts in the parameters of planning and technologies of the statecraft implemented through planning protocols. In Chapter 2, I investigate the effects of the structural violence of mass displacement and resettlement. Throughout the remainder of the book, I describe and analyze the political mobilizations of the poor. In Chapter 3, I examine the tactics and techniques of various kinds of intermediaries, who acquire a range of forms of capital in their political engagement on the terrain of numerical citizenship struggles. Chapter 4 develops a discussion of the documentary and inscriptive practices embedded in a range of counter-tactics of enumeration used by the poor in order to claim resettlement and food subsidies. In Chapter 5, I explain how the poor engage with the judiciary to explore how the law is lived, appropriated, encountered, and challenged by them in order to realize numerical citizenship. I show how the poor engage with the judiciary by contesting judicial classifications and by developing social relationships and alliances in order to maneuver legal outcomes in their favor. Finally, I delve into the cultural idioms and strategies of resistance among the residents of these neighborhoods by examining how they engage in a range of demonstrations. Throughout this book, I examine the double-edged idea of numerical citizenship in Delhi. On the one hand, the state addresses the poor through surveillance, enumeration, displacement, and welfare policies that entail residency requirements and “proof documents.” On the other hand, the poor deploy numerous rann-nitis to realize substantive claims to citizenship and their right to the city.


1. In addressing the agency of the poor, I analyze the complexity of individual as well as collective political imagination and action, the building of social relations and allegiances, everyday improvisations, and the public performance in which the urban poor engage in the face of state power and agencies of urban governance. In other words, the poor participate and negotiate with and even resist state ideas, calculations, and practices in order to subsist and claim citizenship entitlements in the city.

2. The phrase “the right to be counted” has also been used in academic and media debates and in church sermons to address the extent of undercounting of various communities during census recording in the US. My use of the phrase is to underscore the quest of poor migrants in the city to attain visibility, legibility, and eligibility to obtain citizenship rights. In doing so, I also show how the poor assert their numerical strength and demographic calculus to obtain welfare rights. I owe the phrase “demographic calculus” to Ajantha Subramanian and other participants in my book workshop at the Political Anthropology and Political Ecology Working Group meeting at Harvard University.

3. I deploy the idea of governmentality as understood and used by Foucauldian scholars. Thus, I analyze the techno-bureaucratic ensemble of discourses, calculative interventions, and practices of the state that are aimed at governing, improving, and rehabilitating the urban poor in Delhi (see Ferguson 2006; Sanyal 2007). See also endnote 9 for a discussion of Foucault’s theory of governmentality.

4. The jhuggi jhopri hutments are made up of bricks, bamboo, iron railings, asbestos, and a variety of other materials. The terminology assigned to settlements inhabited by the poor is often derogatory and politically loaded. Nevertheless, I retain the state-designated terms—such as jhuggi jhopri, transit camps, and resettlement colonies—to illustrate ambiguities in planning discourse and distinct modalities of struggles and in order to avoid confusion.

5. I formally started my ethnographic research in April 2010. However, I also draw on my interactions and experiences during court proceedings, public events, and meetings from November 2009 through March 2010.

6. I use pseudonyms or abbreviations of names for my research interlocutors to protect their privacy throughout this book.

7. I discuss the category of unauthorized colony in more detail in Chapter 2.

8. There is a growing body of scholarship on the politics of urban restructuring in Delhi. Amita Baviskar (2003) has analyzed “bourgeois environmentalism” and middle-class activism, and Veronique Dupont (2011) has addressed neo-liberal reforms shaping the space and politics in Delhi. Additionally, many scholars have investigated the role of the judiciary (Bhan 2016; Bhuwania 2017; Ghertner 2015; Ramanathan 2006; Sharan 2002) in “slum” demolitions in the city. The changing logic of the judiciary has been analyzed in great detail. For instance, Asher Ghertner (2015) analyzes the aesthetic codes promoted by planning organizations and the judiciary that contribute to disenfranchisements in the city, and Gautam Bhan (2016) examines the “emergent rationalities” of the judiciary, which in turn are shaped by the planning protocols of Delhi Development Authority. In a thorough examination of public interest litigations (PILs), Anuj Bhuwania (2017) provides an analysis of the procedural departures and peculiarities that characterize the arbitrary vision of the judiciary, which make possible both progressive and regressive judgments with respect to the urban poor. Similarly, Usha Ramanathan (2006) has analyzed how the judiciary has invented a legality that turns the poor into encroachers without any rights in the city, and Awadhendra Sharan (2002) has questioned the notion of “public interest” proffered by the judiciary to legitimize slum demolitions in the city. Furthermore, the accumulation strategies in real estate development and the building of malls, expressways, and metro railways have exacerbated land conflicts and dispossession in the city (Dupont 2011; Bon 2016; Searle 2016). Thus, the poor have endured enormous suffering as a result of “slum” demolitions, industrial closures, and resettlement in Delhi (Batra and Mehra 2008; Menon-Sen and Bhan 2008; Nigam 2001; Padhi 2007; D. Roy 2000).

9. Drawing on Foucault’s conceptualization of governmentality, critical scholars have shown how the generation of bureaucratic statistics constitutes a “technology of power” that establishes classifications, regularity, and probability (Hacking 1990: 181). Governmentality encompasses the “art of government” of every aspect of life, including the moral conduct of the self, with continuity between different kinds of government such as the economic management of resources and the political regulation of populations (Foucault 1991: 90–91). As Foucault argues, “We find at once a plurality of forms of government and their immanence to the state” (Foucault 1991: 91). Thus, Foucault’s conceptualization of government is also a relational theory of how various spheres of life interact with each other both inside and beyond state control. In Foucault’s conceptualization, population is the object of government of various spheres and kinds of government (Foucault 1991: 100). Thus, utilitarian measures, enumeration procedures, and welfare distribution aimed at populations all constitute tactics within the art of government. In Foucault’s schema, statistical prediction techniques employed by modern state systems and arts of government weave a complex web of power relations that define deviant, vagrant, and criminal populations. Similarly, Ian Hacking (1990: 185) argues that statistics establish laws around probability, which he describes as the “taming of chance” that has eroded assumptions about natural and social determinacy while contributing to information and population control.

10. Foucault’s insights offer critical perspectives on seemingly innocuous utilitarian measures that promote “pedagogical and disciplinary” doctrines (Appadurai 1996: 125) and the objectification of social life tendencies (Cohn 1987: 230) in modern state systems. It is also useful to explore the cultural practices of populations as a reflection of “the legitimation project of the state,” as Cohn and Dirks (1988: 227) suggest.

11. Nikolas Rose (1999) also argues that the perspectives on “regimes of authority . . . share with Marxism and critical theory a profound unease about the values that pervade our times. . . . They share a suspicious attention to the multitude of petty humiliations and degradations carried out in the name of our best interests” (60). In this sense, statistics are “one of the key modalities for the production of the knowledge necessary to govern” (209).

12. In the concluding chapter, Legg (2007) alludes to an analysis of resistance against colonial governmentality by analyzing both violent and non-violent protests in nationalist and also communal politics.

13. Chakrabarty and Chatterjee challenge the historicist idea of an empty, homogeneous time that defines capital and Western modernity and thereby direct our attention to the need for an ethnographic understanding of the lifeworlds of people in various cultures and settings (Chakrabarty 2000: 23; Chatterjee 2004: 6). Their attention to the peculiarity of practices addresses the heterogeneity of space-time against the inexorable march of capitalist modernity. Partha Chatterjee and Sudipta Kaviraj discuss the contradictions inherent in the norms of universal citizenship and how disadvantages and vulnerabilities shape the demands of particular groups (Chatterjee 2004: 4; Kaviraj 2005). Kaviraj argues for a sequential understanding of democracy and modernity that is accountable to historical difference (Kaviraj 2005: 497). Such an understanding challenges the commonplace view that the typical processes accompanying modernity—such as capitalist industrialization, the centralization of state power, and secularization in politics—emerge symmetrically and are functionally related (Kaviraj 2005: 508). In contrast to this historicist idea of modernity, he argues that the trajectories of capitalist modes of production, levels of wealth, poverty, literacy, universal suffrage, and processes of secularization and individuation are markedly different in post-colonial societies like India (Kaviraj 2005: 513). In general terms, “differences in historical conditions” give rise to differences in the nature and pattern of democracy, as epitomized in the improvisational character of “unprecedented features and institutional idiosyncrasies in different historical settings” (Kaviraj 2005: 522; see also Chatterjee 2011).

14. With a focus on the specificity of Indian democracy and drawing on the work of Kalyan Sanyal, Chatterjee (2008b) asserts that there is simultaneously a process of capitalist disenfranchisement and a reversal of the effects of these accumulation strategies through certain welfare policies for populations in India.

15. For instance, Chatterjee develops a Gramscian perspective to analyze how civil society is synonymous with bourgeois society, which in turn has taken on a hegemonic role in protecting the interests of the dominant class and also the middle class in India (Chatterjee 2004; Chatterjee 2008b). In the Gramscian definition, hegemony epitomizes a dynamic kind of class alliance wherein the dominant classes represent their own particular interest as the universal interest by securing the active consent of other groups of subordinated and exploited people (Gramsci 2000). Thus, according to Chatterjee, the dominant class is invested in the rapid growth of capital and metropolitan lifestyle, but the state has provided certain concessions by transferring a fraction of the accumulated resources to address the concerns of the subaltern classes in order to create the necessary political conditions for the functioning of capitalist democracy (Chatterjee 2008b).

16. Ananya Roy (2011: 224) provides the framework of “subaltern urbanism” to provide “accounts of the slum as a terrain of habitation, livelihood and politics.”

17. In commenting on statecraft, Chatterjee (2011) distinguishes between dharma and niti. He refers to dharma as “right or appropriate conduct” and niti as political policy or tactics (54–55). Chatterjee notes a gradual preponderance of the principles of niti over dharma in Indian democracy. In turn, niti ties in well with his concept of political society. The poor deploy their rann-niti in dealing with the politicians and political parties in ways that often correspond with some of the niti aspects of statecraft. However, the poor also use the term rann-niti to refer to their negotiations with a range of state, para-statal, and non-state actors.

18. See Bjorkman (2014b) for a summary of the debates between liberal and post-colonial scholars on the theme of vote-bank politics. On the one hand, Bjorkman contests the liberal perspective that the process of vote banking manipulates and victimizes the poor by offering particularistic goods and by departing from programmatic politics of government provisioning and services (see also Breeding 2011: 74). On the other hand, she also departs from post-colonial scholars who celebrate the redistributive dynamics of political and legal exceptionalism inherent in vote-banking politics. Instead, she aptly suggests that vote banking constitutes the “very stuff of democratic politics” (Bjorkman 2014b: 180) wherein the poor successfully navigate the political and legal opacities to secure their entitlements in the city. In another perspective, Mary Breeding argues that vote banking has ceased to socially protect the poor; instead, it provides an opportunity for “conspicuous consumption on the part of political parties . . . during electoral canvassing” (Breeding 2011: 71). However, it can be argued that the reduction of vote banking to electoral canvassing does not provide insights into the everyday and complicated nature of the relationship between politicians and voters and social provisioning in the city (see also Auerbach 2020; Auerbach and Thachil 2018; Berenschot 2010). Furthermore, scholars have argued that vote-bank politics has furthered redistributive claims, but also deepened the vulnerabilities of the poor in the cities (Edelman and Mitra 2007). In this respect, as S. Benjamin and Raman (2001) argue, it is important to distinguish between party-based vote-bank politics (commonly associated with vote buying and trucking people to attend political rallies) and vote-bank politics that democratize access to resources, make local bureaucracy more responsive to everyday problems, and support claims against demolitions.

19. DUSIB, Agenda for the First Meeting of the Board, December 23, 2010, p. 17,, accessed May 18, 2020.

20. The political preferences in low-income neighborhood are not static. As I demonstrate throughout the book, the residents vote for various parties and often change their preferences in different points of time. However, various parties assess their political strength during elections and during a political tenure subsequently. If the elected members of a ruling party realize that a particular neighborhood did not vote for the party in a major way, then they may show lukewarm interest in extending services to the neighborhood. This was often asserted to me by the residents themselves.

21. US$1 was equivalent to approximately 45 Indian rupees in 2010–11 and 65 Indian rupees in 2017.

22. Dalit means oppressed. Dalits are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in India.

23. For more information, visit Lok Raj Sangathan’s website at, accessed March 14, 2018.

24. For more information, visit Delhi Shramik Sangathan’s website at, accessed March 14, 2018.