Congratulations to Dr. Gayatri A. Menon, recipient of the 2009 Sardar Patel Award, for the best dissertation submitted at any American university on the subject of modern India.
Among the most impoverished and politically marginalized populations of Mumbai, pavement dwellers have long been an element of the citys, and the nations, politics of belonging.
The Sardar Patel Award was instituted in 1999 and first conferred in 2000. This annual award of $10,000, endowed by the Los Angeles-based organization known as the Friends of the Sardar Patel Association, is administered by the UCLA Center for India and South Asia. Dissertations are evaluated for their insights into the nature of modern Indian society, the grasp demonstrated by the writer over the scholarly literature, and the clarity of exposition and argument. The dissertation must have been completed at an American university in history, anthropology, sociology, literature, political science, or one of the other disciplines in the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences.
The Sardar Patel Award for 2009 is being awarded to Gayatri A. Menon for her Cornell University dissertation titled Living Conditions: Citizens, 'Squatters,' and the Politics of Accommodation in Mumbai.
Gayatri Menon is currently a Post Doctoral Associate at the department of Development Sociology at Cornell University. She received her PhD from the same department in 2009, as well as her Masters degree in 2001. Prior to graduate school she worked in India for several years on issues related to the livelihoods challenges facing the rural poor in Maharashtra, and on biodiversity and agricultural practices in Garhwal. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College in 1992, having designed her own major in Development Studies.
The following is an abstract of the 2009 award-winning dissertation: Living Conditions: Citizens, 'Squatters,' and the Politics of Accommodation in Mumbai.
“This dissertation provides a historically informed examination of the conditions under which pavement dwellers in contemporary Mumbai are compelled to live in order to survive. Among the most impoverished and politically marginalized populations of Mumbai, pavement dwellers have long been an element of the city’s, and the nation’s, politics of belonging. Their precipitously located dwellings on the city’s pavements, and the frequent evictions that they are subjected to, are indicative of the material and political alienation of pavement dwellers from the body politic. Investigating how these violent conditions of life are produced and legitimized is the task to which this dissertation attends.
The investigation is advanced through a relational formulation of the term ‘living conditions,’ a conceptualization that brings into focus social relations that extend far beyond the sidewalk, in order to apprehend the material and political circumstances under which pavement dwellers are compelled to encroach on the sidewalks of Mumbai in order to live. Through a historicization of the living conditions of pavement dwellers, the ragged encampments that line the streets of Byculla (a locality in Mumbai) are tied to the broader politics of sovereignty in postcolonial India, i.e. the political configuration of land and life, which have rendered pavement dwellers as a population that has run out of place to live.
The methodological exegesis of the figure of the pavement dweller utilizes the analytical tools of historical sociology and political economy in order to pry open the nation-building project of development and reveal the exclusions through which the space and subject of sovereignty is defined, and the poor become Other. I argue that the suppression of the historical relationships that have produced populations as pavement dwellers has been a crucial element in the construction of the squatting figure of the pavement dweller as the predatory Other against whose encroachments ‘the citizen’ must be secured. Further, in order to understand how the urban poor came to squat on the sidewalks of the city in order to live, I find that it was essential to locate this national theater of violence and sovereign power within a broader, geopolitical framework. For, it is in the crisis of sovereignty that the newly independent Indian state faced as it struggled with chronic food deficits, and the consequent embrace of agricultural modernization, that the narrative of transforming rural populations into pavement dwellers - alienated from the land-must be located. The argument thus is that the historicized figure of the pavement dweller – and the challenges that the poor face in having their claim for bodily security recognized within the extant social order – provides a critical vantage point from which to trace the particular modernist organization of life and land that is invested in categories of citizenship and sovereignty.