Accepted Paper:

Building Protesting Publics: Local Trade in New 'world-class' Delhi  


Diya Mehra (Centre de Sciences Humaines)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the mobilizing of a political community in New Delhi in opposition to a Supreme Court ruling ordering the shutting down of hundreds of local businesses. The paper focuses on how a citywide protesting public was mobilized discursively, metaphorically and practically, as well as through the local media, most critically by deploying the imagery of anti-colonial struggles, local understandings of ethical governance, and violent street based disruptions.

Paper long abstract:

In 2006, the Supreme Court of India ruled that between 50,000 to 500,000 retail businesses in Delhi would have to shut because they were illegally operating in residential areas. In the year following, a massive campaign was organized against the order, involving thousands of shopkeepers who could be potentially evicted, brought under the banner of Delhi's 'trading' community. In the conspiracy world of the 'traders', as they came to be called, their planned eviction was financed by new, large-scale, and international real estate capital, seeking to dislodge local competition for their own retail projects.

This paper follows the campaign and the modes by which a citywide trader identity and community was mobilized, as one did not exist before the campaign started. The paper explicates on the discourses, metaphors, poetics and cinematic images utilized to build an affective collective among traders, distilling the local legacies of the anti-colonial nationalist struggle. It also shows how Gandhian repertoires of street based protest were used to visually present a mass protesting citizenry - images further disseminated through local media to galvanize even greater participation in the demostrations. Fueling the movement through the twists and turns of the campaign were metaphorical assertions of what ethical governance was, as well as the repeated creation of 'spaces of violent disruption', suggested as the only media and street driven language, that the government responded to. By its end, the campaign brought together hundreds of protestors from widely differing backgrounds, working a common language of protest. The paper shows how this came to be.

Panel P04
Beyond the Arab Spring: the aesthetics and poetics of popular revolt and protest