ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Street Hawkers and Public Space in Mumbai

Street hawking is generally considered as a "menace" or an "eyesore" that prevents the development of Mumbai as a world-class city. But this article explores the essential presence of hawkers in a city, which requires a critical understanding of the functioning of public space. The experiences of hawkers in Mumbai, as elsewhere in India, have taught them not to fear a regulatory state, but a predatory one, a state that constantly demands bribes and threatens demolition, against which a licence provides security.

T he hawker question is central to the debates over public space in Mumbai. Since the late 1990s, elite NGOs and residents associations have been actively promoting, with some success, the idea that hawkers are to be blamed for many of the citys problems. To them, hawkers are a symbol of a metropolitan space gone out of control [Rajagopal 2001:94]; a menace who inappropriately use streets and footpaths, block traffic, depress real estate values and are, more generally, eyesores that prevent Mumbai from being a world-class city. This despite the fact that street hawking has had a long historical presence in Mumbai, provides essential services to most of the population and provides direct employment for over three lakh people, in addition to indirectly employing hundreds of thousands more [Bhowmik 2003]. Their essential and at the same time contentious presence on the streets requires a critical engagement with the function of public space and the role of street hawkers in future plans for the city.

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