Daily Newsings: 1st May

Who are our cities for?

In today’s edition of The Hindu, we see an article that raises the question: who are our cities for?

The article, written by Aravind Unni and Shalini Sinha, talks about the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act. It is an Act that came into effect on May 1, 2014. The authors argue that ten years after the law came into effect, there still remain large issues with its implementation.

The Act provides for street vendors to be recognized and protected through legal and governmental structures.

But why do they need to be protected? And from whom do they need to be protected?

Street vending makes cities more liveable

The street vendors of our country are an important part of our cities. They make the city affordable and liveable by providing goods at cheap prices as opposed to supermarkets or big grocery stores. For example, a push-cart fruit seller often sells fruits much cheaper than the local supermarket.

In addition, the option of street vending offers a number of poor people a means of a modest livelihood. Desperate migrants who come to the city in search of better opportunities may pick up street vending as a means to make some money. In addition, many of the urban poor also find street vending a means to support themselves.

Our imagination of the ‘developed’ city

Street vendors are facing harassment from government officials, who still view them as illegal entities to be cleared.

But the bigger concern may be our society’s imagination of the city.

When we think of the ‘developed’ or a ‘world-class’ city, do our imaginative cities have street vendors? It is these imaginations that drive policies such as the Smart City initiative which do not actively think of the street vendors in its policies.

And yet, don’t the street vendors contribute significantly to our experience of “the city life?” Think of your experiences eating pani-puri from the roadside push-cart. Or think of the roadside dosa shop or the grilled meat joint. Some of my favourite moments from my time at Balod were eating Dabeli or Pav Bhaji from a street vendor.

Why then do we not include them in our imaginations of the developed city? Is it that we are uncomfortable by the presence of poor people in our lives? Do we feel uncomfortable with the presence of the poor? Perhaps we’d rather not be inconvenienced by traffic stops due to street vendors clogging up the space.

Or is it that their presence reminds us that we live lives of luxury and plenty, and we’d rather not be reminded of it and instead stew in our sense of injustice at being overlooked for the promotion at work?

Or perhaps we are grieved at the poverty in the world. And we dream of a world without poverty. But poverty does exist in this world. The only thing we can do is to shut our eyes to it, draw up our castle bridges and live lives of safety and comfort within our comfortable churches.

Cities as places of refuge

When we look at the Bible, the city is a place of refuge. When God is leading the people of Israel into the promised land, he commands them to set aside “cities of refuge” — places where innocent people who don’t deserve death can be protected. (Deuteronomy 19:1-10).

Are our cities spaces of refuge for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed? Do we create spaces for the poor to make a living even through the practice of street vending?

Do our imaginations of our ideal cities reflect the heart of God, who identifies himself with the poor and the oppressed (Matthew 25:35-40)? Or do we want to build walls that protect us from the discomfort of seeing the poor around us? Do we want to build cities that help us shut ourselves off from the suffering world around us?

Being Indian and Christian

Being Indian and Christian is my weekly email newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian world-view. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!

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