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

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The Colonial Roots of India’s Air Pollution Crisis

Tracing the genealogy of the scientific claim that Indian lung capacity is deficient vis-à-vis the “European norm,” it is argued that the pathologisation of the Indian lung that once justified colonial-era segregation has made a troubling contemporary return, producing state imperceptibility of pollution-induced illness. Specifically, colonial theories of tropical air suggest that the Indian lung is uniquely suited to a dusty environment. When invoked in the present, this obviates the need for urgent pollution abatement action.

Neo-liberalising Inclusion?

Non-governmental organisations and civil society actors have mobilised in several Indian cities around issues facing informal waste pickers. Data (surveys, narratives, visualisations) is a key basis on which ngos premise such negotiations with the state. How a data-based ngo–state collaboration can provide the state new modalities of intervention and control over informal labour and its unaccounted value chains is discussed. However, the state’s response, as observed in Chennai, had been fractured and idiosyncratic. Given this, it is also shown how this selective “hearing” by the state is articulated with certain dynamics of data and ngo activism to facilitate the roll-out and rollback processes of neo-liberalisation in Chennai.

Numbing Machines

What forms does manual scavenging take after its legal abolition? Analysing the recent deaths in Bengaluru’s sewage treatment plants and underground drainage systems, the understandings of manual scavenging as an “archaic” practice and opposed to the “rule of law” are rejected. The contractualisation of sewer maintenance instrumentalises “untouchable” bodies, making the calibration of caste power coincidental with the calibration of urban sewerage. Urban manual scavenging is shown to be an emergent application of caste power that resolves ecological impasses in contemporary sewerage. The objectification of caste power in urban infrastructures nevertheless opens up new locations for politicising normative caste embodiment.

From Balmikis to Bengalis

The reorganisation of informal household garbage collection work in Delhi is analysed, as migrants from eastern states like West Bengal have begun doing manual waste work, even as their Balmikis deal only with monthly cash payments. Drawing on fieldwork, the effect on the Balmiki jamadars is noted, and the Bengali Muslims, who newly contend with the practices of untouchability in their neighbourhoods of work, are focused on. These newer migrants come to justify the shame they experience by focusing on the equivalence of scrap with money, which has redemptive potential. This reveals a dynamic process through which caste differences are being remade—”casteification”—in relation to economic life.

Urban Waste and the Human–Animal Interface in Delhi

It is well-documented that urban waste contributes to the economy by creating livelihoods. Less is known, however, about the role of urban waste in producing human–animal ecologies involving livestock and wild birds. Here, four aspects of human–animal relationships in two urban subsystems involving waste as raw material for both stall-fed livestock (focusing on cows) and foragers (focusing on kites) are discussed. These are the roles of waste as feed; complex spatial relationships between animals, humans and their wastes; high densities of animals and humans leading to conflict over waste; and emerging threats of diseases spilling across social and physical barriers between animals and humans mediated by waste, with implications for the health of urbanised living beings.

Becoming Waste

Colonial municipal planning discourses imagined waste as infrastructure to build Bombay city by filling creeks and reclaiming land. Waste as land was reassembled through the judiciary’s remaking of the landfill as a zone of pollution to be “scientifically” closed through waste treatment technologies. Even as science attempts to comprehend its complexity and contain it, waste possesses an agency of its own that disrupts the social, haunting reclaimed real estate with its fugitive gaseous presence.

Eco-labour’s Challenge to the Neo-liberal Understanding of Nature

A conversation is constructed around three themes that mediate the encounter between labour and nature. The first is external pollution and internal hazards, that workers know it is the same toxins affecting their workplace that are responsible for the impact on the environment. The second is collective labour and cumulative nature, that as workers collectivise at work to press their demands for justice, they become conscious of the cumulative impact of labour on ecosystems. The third is externalities and exertions, that the invisible costs of production immanent in waste streams are similar to the invisible appropriation of labour’s surplus. These three streams are brought together to show how labour’s alienation from nature is not rooted in the nature of labour, but is a construct of capitalism that can be overcome only when industrial society is challenged and transformed.

The Scientific Worker and the Field

Drawing attention to scientific work as labour, the need for a closer examination of the subjectivities of educated, trained government employees in charge of field data collection on marine fisheries is emphasised. Field sciences such as fisheries science offer an opportunity to examine how workers engage with the field to produce value. Tracing historical influences that contribute to dissimilar identities and experiences with the field among scientific workers in India today reveals how value in routinised forms of field-based scientific labour is better understood through embodied skills and cultural relations forged by fieldworkers.

Many Environments

An ethnographic analysis of the interconnectedness of labour and landscape in North Andaman reveals a distinct discourse on the environment among the descendants of settlers there. They acknowledge that the labour of their ancestors created the landscape they inhabit. Yet, this entanglement of labour and nature seems irrelevant to their current understanding of the environment. This shift in discourse mirrors development and conservation expertise that imagines the environment of the Andaman Islands as devoid of labour. Unpacking the discursive, environmental and material circumstances in which the descendants of settlers produce their lives, allows us an insight into the widespread legitimacy accorded to the state to remake nature in the Andaman Islands today.

Towards a Conception of Socially Useful Nature

This article provides some theoretical and methodological reflections on the way in which the relationship between humans and nature has been captured in dominant forms of valuation of nature.It makes a critique of these methods and highlights the need to articulate a concept of “socially useful nature.” It uses this concept to interrogate dominant perspectives in the contemporary debates and methods on valuing nature from a Marxian perspective and shows the limitations of the tools and conceptual frameworks based on the principle of the commodification of nature in and for the market. In the context of this general theoretical framework, the article considers the methods promoted by the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting in valuation of nature and shows its inadequacy in arriving at a non-commoditised conception of “socially useful nature.”

Water and H2O

The contemporary water crisis is dehydrating, disturbing and undermining the foundation of the existence of all living beings. The most significant aspect of this crisis is the efforts to make manufactured water (h 2 o) available for human beings, leaving behind contaminated poisonous water for all non-human living beings. To tide over this crisis, it will be necessary to recognise that only the hydration of non-human living beings will ensure water availability for human beings. The primordiality of water in landscapes (and not h 2 o) will have to be given a foundational position in the modern world view, as the reflexive labor it metabolises can restrain the instrumental labour metabolised by h 2 o.

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