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Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

190 V. Whose

190 V. Whose Futurity? have a place in the vernacular they have come to develop when asked about the future. As Sarojamma declared, “I am really poor but there is nothing I can do about it”. In their work on scarcity, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir consider how such conditions create a “scarcity trap” which not only inhibits the ability to handle unforeseen events, but even the ability to prepare for predictable events, such as school fees, which themselves become “emergencies” due to the lack of available financial preparation; “to the poor juggling their finances, they only become real when they are imminent”. 27 Strengthening the Capacity to Aspire How then, can the capacity to aspire be strengthened for women like Sarojamma? NGOs and unions across the city are employing an array of methodologies to collaborate with and unite workers (both retired and active) and most importantly, give them their own “voice”. 28 Channamma, a woman in her seventies, is a retired construction worker. I last saw her at the town hall speaking to a local news crew during the “bisi uta” (hot meals) protest for retired informal workers regarding the withdrawal of the midday meal for pensioners in slums (see Figure 16.3). Channamma stopped working in construction when FEDINA, a local NGO, provided her with leadership training and since then has achieved much in cultivating her own voice. She speaks confidently and eloquently in Kannada, telling me how the organization “trained us to voice our plight in front of the world” and “told us … we must therefore learn to stand upright ourselves without any support from others”. What then, do such capacity building missions as leadership training achieve? Channamma and other members of her community formed their own organization (AIKEKA) representing pensioners, construction, and domestic workers: “we began to raise funds by ourselves, now we receive donations from the local community and also through registration fees given to us by individuals”. AIKEKA promotes equal pay for female construction workers and campaigns for retired informal sector worker’s rights. Despite being lathi-charged 29 and arrested whilst picketing the former Chief Minister of Karnataka’s residence, Channamma has fought for (and “won”) her pension. According to Appadurai, such success is attributable to the ability of women such as Channamma to utilise both the navigation systems and cultural reference points of the various state figures, NGOs and activists she engages with, whilst employing a vernacular that is accessible to her own community. This, Appadurai claims:

191 “IT’S HARD TO HAVE ANY MISSION FOR THE FUTURE BECAUSE THEY DON’T PAY” is the only way in which the poor might find locally plausible ways to alter what I am calling the terms of recognition in any particular cultural regime … for voice to take effect, it must engage social, political, and economic issues in terms of ideologies, doctrines and norms that are widely shared and credible, even by the rich and powerful. Furthermore, voice must be expressed in terms of actions and performances that have local cultural force. 30 Although the language Channamma incorporates is a discourse partly rooted in NGO politics and the leadership training she has received, the loud, cracked voice and passion with which she delivers her speech on the town hall steps and calls out the mayor (who she berates for “sitting inside comfortably”) whilst wearing the colors of an organization she helped to found, are distinctly her own. In these ways, Channamma is able to appeal to numerous attendees of the protest simultaneously. The local media are keen to interview her, and the protesters respond loudly to her fiery speech. The policemen outside the city’s town hall look uncomfortable when faced with admonishment about taking care of their elders, and finally the new mayor himself emerges into the midday heat, promising a reinstatement of the program. As Agarwalla has noted in her work on female beedi 31 and construction workers, the poor are now holding the state accountable to supplement inadequate incomes and bolster otherwise uncertain futures: “they argue that if the state will not ensure a living wage sufficient to meet the costs of labor’s reproduction, then the state must directly compensate for the efficiency through welfare benefits that can ensure it”. 32 Conclusion The rhetoric of growth that surrounds emerging cities such as Bengaluru and what lies behind it is something that requires due scrutiny. Who do these narratives serve? What exactly are the foundations of growth and what does this rhetoric obfuscate? The real estate industry and the city itself are subject to both speculation and aspiration that mask the exact conditions of the market; becoming entangled in a speculative discourse that incorporates future growth and opportunity with the false promise of a “trickledown effect”. 33 What are the chances of the proposed future infrastructure projects promised in Invest Karnataka becoming actualized and who will get to work on them if they are? Local workers are becoming less visible on bigger projects across Bengaluru particularly in the case of women. If