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

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Politics of Social Movements at the Margins

Reflections Based on a Case Study in Mumbai

Based on the learnings from activists associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movements and participants of a social movement at a slum site in Mumbai, the concepts and processes associated with social movement politics are explored. A social movement is a space- and issue-centric collective that gets invoked only when demands are common. Resistance is central to its politics. A social movement is more than just a negotiation with the state; it is also a domain of thinking and implementing alternatives, and opens up the politics of sustainable social change.

In recent years, resistance politics has been on the rise in India. Be it in the rural hinterlands or urban spaces, people at the margins are resisting a host of issues that affect their daily lives. Various state policies are resulting in enforced evictions, destruction of livelihoods and processes that are undermining the idea of democracy. In this context, the nature of interventions by the people at the margins requires serious analysis as this politics has significant implications for the empowerment of the marginalised sections of people it represents. Recent scholarship suggests that politics at the margins in India is in response to governmental welfare technologies or it is a politics that is short-lived and lacks concrete dialectics (Chatterjee 2004; Chakrabarty 2007). It has also been pointed out that this politics aims at achieving visibility and establishing a communication with the state (Mitchell 2014). Other scholarship points out that at the core of this politics lies attempts at enhancing democratic processes and that its goal is much larger (Nilsen 2007). In this paper, I engage with the questions on the nature of politics at the margins carried out as part of social-movement politics. I hope to problematise the ongoing discussions on politics at the margins and discuss how a social movement as a political phenomenon represents this politics. This paper is based on insights from in-depth interviews with select social movement activists and participants associated with the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), an alliance of more than 200 social movements across India, and in-depth interviews of activists and participants of a social movement at a slum site in Mumbai city.

The process of formation of the NAPM began in 1992 in response to the wake of political churning in the early 1990s when the Babri Masjid demolition rocked India. The formation of the NAPM became more formal in 1996. Since its formation, the NAPM has been active on many fronts, and more than 200 social movements across different Indian states are part of this alliance. These social movements are primarily working on issues of land rights, slum housing, development-led displacements, and a host of other issues concerning the informal labour sector in India.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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