This paper written by Kamath and Vijajyabaskar looks at studies conducted by Resident Welfare Associations (RWAS) in Bangalore to explore the middle class in urban spaces. It opposes the homogenous bracket labelled for the middle class and explores how fragmented it is. The paper looks at the limits of collective actions such as RWAS and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and their claims to better public services.
Studies have shown that due to the predominantly middle class, the voices of the poorer sections have been subdued. The paper goes on to talk about how due to this, the middle class has been put in a singular bracket. Focusing on Bangalore as it has the largest middle-class population, the paper goes on to question how collective action helps such a vast, diverse and fragmented group of individuals with a singular approach. Some reforms are helpful but some are not and some even tend to hamper progress and reform.
The concept of consumer-citizen has been unevenly mapped across the middle class. There is a trace of convergence in the middle class between urban reforms and the voice of the elite middle class. This dualism tends to hide other factors shaping middle-class mobilisation, conflicts, economic interests and access to arms of the state. Local histories and geographies of the area also have an impact. These are also linked to land values of the place. This mapping helps to understand the structuring of middle-class urban spaces. Due to fragmentation, a lack of second tier leadership, a distrust of democratic modes of functioning, and weak associational, the paper concludes that there are considerable limits to middle-class collective action. While RWAS has been helpful in resolving local public delivery problems, scholars tend to overestimate the significance of RWAS in terms of actual activities and influence as well as shaping state policies, programmes and reform ideas. The paper further breaks down to explain what they perceive as major segments of the middle class in the context of collective action around urban services.
Towards a Typology of Middle-Class RWAS
This section of the paper looks at the division of the middle-class RWAS. The members in RAWAS are segmented. The first is the members employed in higher levels of the bureaucracy, older public and private corporate sector firms, and defence personnel. The second employed in middle and lower levels of the bureaucracy, police and private sector, involved in wholesale and retail trade, and other better paying informal sector jobs. The next segment is largely traditional middle-class RWAS consisting primarily of retired or older middle and higher level bureaucrats and formal sector employees. Finally, there are RWAS of the new elites working in new globalised service sectors. These ‘new rich’ depend more on commercial ways to solve issues rather than the traditional approach. The stakes for collective action tend to be less high for this section of the middle class. The paper looks at a survey as well as information on the RWAS database collected through NGOs and secondary sources. The rest of the paper looks at a series of structural conflicts to throw light on the collective action taken by different segments of the middle class. The final section looks at the limits to collective action and argues that the influence of middle-class life has been overstated.
Themes and Variations in Middle-Class Mobilisation
This section focuses on the conflict between property values, use and ownership. Two rapidly growing neighbourhoods in the city core, Indiranagar and Koramangala are subject to a set of problems centred on commercialisation. Many shops have also opened in these areas, increase in traffic and factors causing to raise the property value of these areas. This has led to large numbers of violations forcing a number of RWAS to look into these issues. There are several areas within which are extensions of old villages such as Ejipura village or Koramangala village. These less affluent areas are characterised by more middle and lower-middle-class populations working. There are therefore various settlements that are “deteriorating quality of life”. The discrepancy in basic services of roads and water supply between upper incomes and lower income localities in the neighbourhoods, demands much of the ward money to be spent to bring them on par with richer localities. This has been a further source of tension between elite RWAS and RWAS of the upwardly mobile middle classes.
Both the upper and lower middle class engage in unauthorised constructions. There is also conflict between residential and commercial use of land, which has resulted in further conflict between the two sections. The court ordered that the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) should not sanction further commercial licences in the area without surveying how many already existed and how this affected the quality of life for residents.
Another source for conflict is construction of the Metro line through Chinmaya Mission Hospital (CMH) Road, a commercial corridor of Indiranagar. To combat eviction and loss of income, the traders association has made several representations to officials to change the route. Their protests included hartals, court cases and submissions to local, state and national level politicians. They also sought the support of RWAS, however, the RWAS thought it was good to have a “world-class” public transport system passing through that area. This incident highlights the need to take all views into consideration and not just property owners. While tenants have a majority in the area, traders have played a massive role in the development of the same.
Unlike these areas, residents of older inner-core neighbourhoods like Malleswaram have access to basic services and rarely feel the need to mobilize. Instead, they are more active in organising religious and cultural programmes like festivals and organising community development activities. RWAS have little interaction with other middle-class RWAS in the periphery.
A majority of residents in the periphery live in unplanned areas with basic infrastructure. Some of them also live in cooperative housing societies promoted by public sector firms or utilities. They consist of a combination of middle-class workers who cannot afford to buy plots/houses in the city. Revenues are acquired by the taking over agricultural land by private developers and converted into “unauthorised” areas without the necessary planning permissions (Schenk 2001; Benjamin 2000). Since they are cheaper than planned layouts, amenities do not meet acceptable standards prompting such “revenue layout RWAS” to engage in struggles and negotiations with local governments to access basic amenities.
Many residents of gated communities earn much higher incomes and reside in areas that are not close to their work. This highlights the lack of time due to which these residents cannot work for the Association. Due to this, it gets difficult to conduct meetings, campaigns, etc. Basic amenities are provisioned through markets and not by the state, therefore less incentive to associate for services. Private companies provide international standards of amenities, like private parks, security and maintenance systems, including street lights, underground drainage and internal roads. This ability to wish away public provisioning and exit from claim making is unique to these new neighbourhoods.
Since enclave RWAS do not face problems in accessing basic amenities, there is less chance of collaboration with other RWAS in the peripheries (Puri 2008). Often the disparities in basic services in the same locality creates tensions between them. The impact of this creates further tension.
A case in point is the recent notification published by the BMP stating, “it is hereby brought to the public notice that under the Town and Country Planning Act, there is no such concept of a ‘Gated Community’. Once when any layout is formed, the roads in the said layout automatically come under the jurisdiction of the respective municipal corporation the general public has free access to use the roads within the layout (Notification dated 20 May 2008). This order created further tension and the enclave RWAS fought back to maintain controlled access to this “private road”. The conflicts reflect how claims made by one segment exclude or undermine the rights and claims made by other segments.
Urban Reforms and Multiple Citizen Selves
Recent urban reforms being implemented across the country emphasise a role for citizen participation that is principally based on the citizen as the consumer (World Bank 2004). The paper, however, reveals variations across the middle class in terms of a customer’s voice. There are differences in the way the elite members of the RWAS work and what motivates them to be an active citizen. They felt it was their duty to help out as a citizen.
The discourse on citizen responsibilities is also clearly tied to ownership of property. The need to remove “unauthorised” or “illegal” occupation also creates a difference in understanding of responsibilities. Other RWAS are not even aware of such avenues of participation.
Different RWAs not only access policymakers in different ways but also use different strategies to make claims on land and resources. The elites tend to draw upon privileged networks based on a common socio-economic background and the use of English language communication. Middle-class RWAS are often successful at resolving problems related to amenities in their neighbourhood through local officials and bureaucrats. Elite groups interact less with political parties and politicians compared to upwardly mobile and revenue layout RWAS who tend to be more comfortable conversing with councillors and work more closely with them for improving public services and are therefore more aware of public processes. The paper quotes various examples of such events.
Elite Capture or Elite Influence?
Though many RWAS have elections to nominate officers, existing ones usually retain their positions. There is low participation and decisions are taken only by a few. Elite members rely on private contractors to do the same. Associational ability across neighbourhoods is affected by weak ties within RWAS and conflicts of interest with local political networks. The paper goes on to give instances for the same. While RWAs are more visible in the sphere of local public service delivery, they have not been successful in influencing bigger issues requiring policy or legislative changes. A number of RWAs have struggled to gain control over public land for uses like parks and playgrounds. Overall, middle-class residents have limited expectations as to what they can achieve at the city or policy levels. The paper concludes to emphasise the multiplicity of the middle class to understand how public service delivery gets shaped by their actions.
Kamath, Lalitha and Vijayabaskar, M, 2009 “Limits and Possibilities of Middle-Class Associations as Urban Collective Actors”, Economic & Political Weekly, June 27, 2009 vol XLIV No. 26 & 27, Pp 368-376