Award Information

Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Transport Democracy: Small-Scale Transport Operators and Political Action in Delhi

This project undertakes an anthropological study of the small-scale transport sector in Delhi, India, as a window to investigating urban democracy in a postcolonial mega-city. Thus, the project explores law, politics and democracy by focusing on transport operators, who despite plying in fairly informal ways, have long used the whole continuum of formal to informal politics to make claims. It is hypothesized that the heavily regulated nature and constant monitoring of urban transport forces the small operators to learn and engage with bureaucratic procedures, the law and political parties. This project will be the first in India to follow the narrative of legal and political claims-making of these operators—the erstwhile hackney carriage drivers, the motorized auto-rickshaw drivers, manual cycle-rickshaws and new electric rickshaws--as they interact with governmental institutions. Translating paper laws into actionable regulation is critical for all legal systems. This research queries how the laws, rules and regulations are framed, contested and finally implemented in actual practice. The project accomplishes this by mapping the every-day co-operation and contestation around regulations, between the communities of operator unions, transport bureaucrats, courts, lawyers and civic associations to sustain the city level operation of the law, within the broader narrative of urban politics and constitutional rights language. In this way, the project anthropologically studies the full range of street protests, legal engagements, and bureaucratic encounters, through which the urban working poor participate in postcolonial democracy in contemporary India. The study uses anthropology and its methods to examine collective action and urban politics, traditionally not its forte (Edelman 2001). It significantly adds to socio-legal research in the city in a non-western context.