Get involved in YOUR city and locality - Improve Your World
Get involved in YOUR city and locality - Improve Your World
Get involved in YOUR city and locality 
Improve Your World Home | About Us | Sitemap | Search | Contact Us 

  Home >> Hawkers >> Hawkers, Demolition Raids and a New Regime of Consumption


Violence of Commodity Aesthetics

Hawkers, Demolition Raids and a New Regime of Consumption

As increasing trends point to businesses and political parties targeting persons rather than masses, forms of patriarchal authority are softened and diffused, leading to a revision of the older distinctions that prevailed between public and private. At the same time, as relations between individuals are mediated more through markets and media, they also generate new kinds of rights and new capacities for imagination along with new ideas of belonging or inclusion that in turn, lead to novel ways of exercising citizenship rights and conceiving politics. This experience of inclusion in new circuits of communication and of sharing intellectual property across classes, such as seen with television, can help to politicise those sections previously marginalised. This paper, examines the implications of this argument in terms of recent debates over the rights of the hawker, or the 'pheriwala', in Mumbai. Arvind Rajagopal 


The evolution of communications has been highly compressed in south Asia. For example, the internet arrived little more than a decade after nationwide television in most parts of India, and many public telephones only arrived when television did. In a short time, an explosion of communicative possibilities has swept across a society of deep linguistic and regional divides and a small, albeit expanding middle class. The uneven character of the resulting development has provoked new forms of social imagination that cannot be understood simply as delayed manifestations of events already seen elsewhere. A range of new practices are seen, for example, more individualised and flamboyant modes of comportment, alongside increasingly public and aggressive definition of singular identities that were earlier more recessed, fluid and fuzzy. A distinctive ensemble of commodity aesthetics is diffusing across not only the stores and bazaars, but other old and new urban spaces as well as more intimate settings, displacing and transforming earlier understandings of harmony and balance.

The media re-order perceptions, and precipitate new ways of seeing and thinking, but they do not emerge in isolation. They arise as part of a far-reaching change in social relations due to the growth and spread of markets. A provisional way of describing them is in terms of the increasing centrality of consumption to the formation of social identities. Previously identified as strictly private, consumption has become a new and unpredictable form of civic participation, distinct from those prevailing in the era of the developmental state. At one level, this is banal, but it deserves more examination. It indexes not simply the market behaviour economists have taught us to recognise, but as well the accompanying circulation of images and information via the media. One way of characterising the latest phase in the globalisation of capital (to use Partha Chatterjee’s gloss on the word) is in terms of the exponentially increased circulation of non-material forms of property that require public dissemination to ensure their realisation as privately appropriated value. Such forms of intellectual property are characterised by plenty rather than by paucity, since they are essentially inexhaustible. They can therefore sustain modes of participation distinct from the competitive, zero-sum activity of markets. These new forms of solidarity are already being mobilised, and require to be more accurately understood.

Thus, as businesses and political parties both target persons rather than masses, there arises a new intimacy of address, reinforced by sensuous evocations of images in the public domain, softening and diffusing the forms of patriarchal authority, and revising older distinctions between public and private. Simultaneously, relations between individuals tend to be mediated more and more through markets and media, increasing the distance between individuals even as in imagination, they grow closer. If markets circulate private property, whose value increases with scarcity, the media generate abundance and gain value with circulation. Together, markets and media generate new kinds of rights and new capacities for imagination that are not well recognised or understood in existing forms of regulation or in prevailing academic schema. New ideas of belonging or inclusion lead to novel ways of exercising citizenship rights and conceiving politics. The experience of inclusion in new circuits of communication and of sharing intellectual property across classes, such as occurs for instance with television, can help to politicise actors who were previously more marginal. In this paper, I will examine the implications of this argument in terms of recent debates over the rights of the hawker, or the ‘pheriwala’, in Mumbai.

The Culture Industry and Workers in the Informal Economy

If the work of the culture industry for Adorno and Horkheimer was the production of a logic of commodification that inhibited critical awareness, Walter Benjamin understood culture rather as the politicisation of aesthetics, so that participation in, not pacification through the image was central to mass-mediated society. Here, we can think of the moment of market liberalisation in India through Benjamin’s notion of the relationship between the cultural and the political, but focus also on the ways in which metaphors of the economy and spectacles of consumption underwrite the political work of images. In doing so, I will focus on the relationship between acts of consumption and scenes of destruction occurring under the sign of emerging markets. Pheriwalas (lit., those who move around), or hawkers, roam the streets of Indian cities, bearing baskets on their heads or pushing a handcart and calling out their wares, offering customers goods and produce cheaper than in the stores. They are a part of the economy that spurs consumption, while functioning quintessentially as vagrant figures requiring to be disciplined. The pheriwala is thus a figure bridging consumption and destruction. The pheriwala is a real figure, working in circuits seen as illegal in relation to the formal economy, but is also metaphorical, symbolising a kind of disorder, as a struggling but nevertheless illicit entrepreneur. The institutionalisation of television (nationwide broadcasting beginning as recently as the 1980s) has in fact worked to illuminate the illegitimacy of this life-form while rendering the pheriwala vulnerable to absorption in a new visual economy, with political consequences deserving examination.

There are several examples I can offer of pheriwalas appearing in street scenes in news or feature films shown on television. However, I will begin by considering an example from advertising, since it is the genre making the closest connections between culture, the economy and the new visual regime instanced in television.1  We should note that, given the limited purchasing power of most Indian consumers, and advertisers’ own orientation to urban middle class ‘people like us’ (or PLUS), we cannot take for granted the existence on television of an aesthetic acceptable to popular audiences. With the establishment of national television, it has only recently become viable to address large consumer markets not only as an economically viable proposition, but also as an aesthetic one. Until this time, it was assumed that ‘creative’ input was required chiefly for the premium market, which is a minority Anglophone population. With market liberalisation, the advertising industry in India has begun investing in the cultivation of more indigenous regionally inflected tastes. 2  In the ad discussed below, conceived for a more ’downmarket’ product, we can glimpse the traces of the stratification and reorientation of sense perceptions, and their enfolding into a new commodity aesthetics.

A Scene of Consumption: the Cup that Cheers

The ad is for Brooke Bond A-1 ‘kadak chaap’ tea. Kadak chaap indicates that this is strong tea (lit., the stamp of strength; kadak means strong, vigorous), and in India, the kind of tea favoured by working and rural classes.3  Tea stalls operating on city sidewalks would vend it. Staged in a melodramatic and filmi style, the ad shows a bulldozer, flanked by sinister-looking figures, demolishing undefined shanty structures on the street. The soundtrack is suggestive of a war-zone, with helicopters and air-raid sirens loud in the background. A swarthy, bearded man wearing dark glasses sits in the shadowy interior of a white car, peering intermittently at his lawyer (or at any rate, a man in lawyer’s costume) and his henchmen as they direct the demolition. Facing the bulldozer is a young woman in a white sari, drinking tea. Her costume suggests she is a social worker or an activist. The camera pauses a moment to focus on the glass of tea in the woman’s hand. On the street, tea is drunk in glasses, and at home, it is drunk in cups. A roadside tea stall is being demolished, and the woman has decided to resist it. Sitting in front of the bulldozer, the woman challenges the man at its wheel to run over her. A sharp exchange of words ensues in the bulldozer operator taking to his heels, while the crowd lies down prone, all around the machine. Brooke Bond A-1 kadak chaap works its magic, and an unarmed woman triumphs over a gang of toughs.4 

The ad stages a typical scene in Mumbai and other cities in India, of the confrontation between the majority who dwell and make their livelihood on the street, and the minority, who view the streets as but the circuitry of the formal economy in which they themselves work. The ad offers symbolic redemption for the sidewalk residents and vendors who are invariably vanquished in such confrontations, but through the image of a consumer brand and the rhetoric of a young, female consumer.

Now, everyday scenes of demolition are accompanied by police squads and city workers; as representatives of the only institution with usufruct in public space, namely, the state. The ad boldly dramatises the popular belief that the state is ruled by a class fraction partial to itself, or that it is hand-in-glove with criminals. The conundrum of a state undertaking illegal action is answered, appropriately enough, by a charismatic figure, a pretty heroine matching the goons’ tough talk with her own fluent, idiomatic slang. Gendering the confrontation lowers the political threshold for its reception, we may note, bringing as it does aspects other than the class contradiction central to this conflict. For the ad to feature real pheriwalas might perhaps distract from its aesthetic. Indeed the life and work of pheriwalas themselves are nowhere to be seen here; their existence has to be inferred from the image of the bulldozer, the glass of tea, and Brooke Bond A-1 kadak chaap. Characteristically, the growing market for national and global consumer brands, which in part replaces the informal economy of roadside stalls, seeks to absorb the image of that which it replaces. But the audio track, shifting from a melodramatic announcement of the brand, to the soundscape of a battlefield, and the snappy repartee of street-talk, invokes the rhythms and lexical repertoire of popular cinema. The arcs of the visual and audio narratives both culminate in a global brand gone local, but in the ways they traverse the lexicon of popular culture, their moral economies overlap but do not coincide.

Despite its limitations, the ad offers more vivid acknowledgement of the rights of street vendors and of the depredations suffered by them in the terroristic regime of Mumbai city politics than is to be found in most news reports; the latter tend to regard street vendors as illegitimate or as anachronistic, and serve mainly as vehicles for middle class and corporate campaigns against pheriwalas. The ad excludes the faces and voices of pheriwalas, but a crucial aspect of their contemporary experience is portrayed: demolition is implied to be a violation of their rights. Aimed at a lower income segment, but displaying high production values, the ad is a symptom of an expanding visual regime in which the viewing pleasures and consuming power of working class audiences have to be balanced against the interests of corporate sponsors.

The ad acknowledges the violence involved in the control over urban space, and the spectacular forms through which it takes effect.The violence is not simply epiphenomenal to a project of political control: it is itself productive, linking its audience in a shared sense of fear and fascination. If in precapitalist society, sumptuary expenditure flowed to poorer classes, in capitalism, for the first time we have a ruling class that spends its income chiefly on itself. The demolitions are perhaps a sign of the devolution of sumptuary expenditure, its rendition into a spectacle for general enjoyment at the cost of the poor themselves.5  With economic liberalisation, more concerted attempts to entice foreign investment, and the growth of a consuming middle class whose mode of asserting their citizenship rights now typically occurs by refiguring their relationship to the poor, such forms of violence have gained emphasis, albeit with a rhetoric that denies their illiberal nature.

Nevertheless, the prominence of the debates over the pheriwala itself indicates the increasing assertiveness of the representatives of this segment of the workforce. The assertiveness can be witnessed only fugitively, as in the above ad; in the majority of news reports, which are in print rather than on film, the pheriwala’s agency has mainly to be read against the grain of news accounts, as I will show.

The Pheriwala as a Contested Figure of Indian Modernity

The education of the senses occurs through the mass media, and through localised struggles that disclose the particular historical changes being wrought in different city spaces. The media create systems of disembodied perception that not only alter sense-ratios, but also prise existing sensory combinations apart, to be put together in new ways. New technologies of perception both reflect and precipitate shifts and divisions in class-divided sensory vocabularies, and selectively reinforce and transform the authority they carry. The capacity for groups to influence the forms of their public representation is symptomatic of these and other qualitative and quantitative differences in power and status. Tracing the shifts occurring through the institution of a new economy of the visible can help indicate the ways in which new knowledges acquire value, and are contested. Recent debates in Mumbai over the pheriwala help illuminate these shifts. Pheriwalas are entrepreneurs, not wage slaves, but the condition of their survival is that they remain marginal, exposing their bodies to the elements while underselling those not obliged to do so. That an economy seeking to advance itself should retain ancient means of circulating goods suggests many things about it, but interestingly, what becomes controversial is not the inhuman treatment of pheriwalas or the grotesque form of modernisation this represents. The most prominent part of the criticisms are in fact aesthetic and political; street vendors are seen as offensive, inconvenient and illegitimate. Attempts to impose order on city spaces are also about the value of the real estate involved; order and value are recurring themes in the aesthetic, economic and political arguments waged here. Given the ability of the pheriwala to weave through the heterogeneous zones of the city without necessarily having the right to reside in them, it is perhaps not surprising that in a time of unchecked urban growth, they become a symbol of metropolitan space gone out of control. As such they become the exemplary image of an unattainable disciplinary project. A climate of terror is instilled through demolition and destruction, illuminating the despotic character of state power under market liberalisation.6  The furore over pheriwalas is a symptom of larger shifts this paper will attempt to clarify, in the relationship between politics and culture.

In his meditations on the shopping arcades in 19th century Paris, Walter Benjamin chose a figure who seemed the best example of commodification rendered spectacular: the sandwich (board) man. The sandwichman was, for Benjamin, suggestive of the paradoxes of commodified social relations, as a person reduced to a walking advertisement, and forced to make his living in this way. If the sandwichman was a marginal figure destined to be overtaken by superior methods of disseminating commodities, this indicated the relegation of his function by society as a whole, rather than rendering it obsolete. The eclipse of the sandwichman thus indicated the diffusion throughout society of commodity relations whose presence was until then only partial.7 

In India the radical shifts underway in the restructuring of economy might be symbolised in the somewhat analogous figure of the pheriwala, against whom a furious campaign is currently under way in the press and by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (formerly the Bombay Municipal Corporation). Pheriwalas are entrepreneurs, not wage slaves, but they must expose their bodies to the elements while underselling those not obliged to do so. But objections to pheriwalas tend to regard them as perpetrators of an injustice to the public, rather than as victims. Such debates signal, perhaps, the obstinately incomplete character of modernity in a country like India (reflected in news stories with titles such as “Can Mumbai Ever Become a Global City?”8 ).

The hawker belongs to the informal economy, and indeed provoked the concept itself.9  In India at least, the distinction is an invidious one, since the economy would collapse without its innumerable ‘informal’ components; ‘informality’ refers mainly to the lack of protection against exploitative conditions of work, and indicates the different rhetoric of state power operative in this segment. Unlike the sandwichman, pheriwalas are not about to disappear, quite the contrary. As a whole the formal economy excludes the majority of the population. This highlights the inseparability of political from economic relations in Indian capitalism; the law must sanction violence in order to protect the salaried classes’ privileges and deny the rest their rights. What then brings the otherwise unremarkable exercise of violence against this segment of the informal economy into the news?

A brief discussion of the background may help illuminate the recent scandal constructed around pheriwalas. With exploding population, pheriwalas in Mumbai have found it convenient to remain stationery rather than mobile. Their right to occupy public space is hence increasingly under dispute. But over half the population in Mumbai are squatters, occupying less than 2 per cent of the city’s land; as such if encroachment is a problem that diminishes public space, it is also a solution to a larger problem of maldistributed resources. But the juristic climate today is less sympathetic to the poor, with a new generation of judges in court who view older, more inclusive ideals of Nehruvian development partly responsible for the country’s failure to become a world power. If during an earlier wave of public interest litigation, the right to life included the right to earn a livelihood,10  today it is rights to ‘unrestricted’ public space that are understood to be threatened by pheriwalas. If campaigns for pheriwala rights partake in the general, all-round increase in public assertiveness, they are more than matched by a wave of middle class activism championing varieties of nimbyism.

Practices of surveillance and control in the west are relatively advanced, with, for instance, high tech optical and pressure-sensitive devices, and new systems of architectural and urban planning that take all-too-seriously the idea of the city as a ‘space of flows’. If ‘flânerie’ was the model of urban pleasure in an earlier time, the concern of planners today is in producing spaces that are ‘clean,’ that is, easily surveillable, ‘bum proof’ and hospitable above all to the rapid movement of people and things.11  The meshing of finely-honed information systems with sophisticated assemblages of policing and control renders the city more of a controlled environment where the derelict, ill and unhoused are made invisible.12 As a result the increasing social polarisation of the city occurs relatively imperturbably, beneath the political radar.

The disappointment of managers and planners is undoubtedly great that they are unable to reproduce metropolitan conditions in Mumbai. The chaos and violence of their efforts to achieve it suggest that in Mumbai as elsewhere, the promise of globalisation is fulfilled in distinct ways. For one thing the numbers are too great; pheriwalas in Mumbai number half a million or higher, a significant fraction of the population. The costs of controlling them are unaffordable for a city whose police are so underpaid that many of them moonlight for the ganglords they are supposed to restrain.13 The will to curb them is weakened by the enormous fines and bribes collected by the city corporation and the police (totalling between 1.2 and 3 billion rupees a year).14  Pheriwalas fight back, in court and on the streets, determined not to let their right to survive be taken away from them.15 

The informal sector was supposed to provide the reserve labour force that fed the formal economy as it expanded. Precisely the opposite has happened, interestingly. In 1961, 65 per cent of Mumbai’s workforce was employed in the organised sector and the remainder in the unorganised sector; 30 years later the proportion was reversed. By 1991, 65 per cent of employment was in the unorganised sector.16 Although middle classes are fond of claiming that pheriwalas are well-to-do freeloaders, most vendors are poor and marginal.17 Nevertheless, these figures suggest that the dynamics of this segment of the economy might illuminate the changing forms of state regulation with liberalisation, and the differentiated political capacities made available to citizens.

The pheriwala is a figure not simply of an inability to shed the past; s/he may even be seen as a harbinger of the new Indian economy, where middle classes need reassurance that they can move ahead and still retain the privileges of human servitude. The following, somewhat awkwardly written, extract from a marketing column in The Economic Times, subtitled ‘Hardsell: Inside Indian Marketing’, is revealing.


The pheriwallah, for the uninitiated, has been an enduring Indian symbol of business at your doorstep. What does he sell? Well, he can be selling anything from fruits to fragrances or even readymade eatables to green vegetables. What does he signify? He is a man on the move for your sake thereby eking out a living for himself and baking his cake! In marketing lingo, he is the convenience man reaching out to his customers far and wide.

For a moment let’s go down our respective memory lanes. Can we re-live those lazy summer afternoons when, after being back from morning schools we used to wait for someone. It was siesta time for most households when suddenly piercing the tranquility ‘clang’ rang the bell. The ice-candy man cometh!…These guys rang the bell along with their customary yell. The accompanying yell underlined the product sold….Don’t we marketers spot here a zillion possibilities to sell something or other to a large spread of audience ranging from the young to the young at heart?

…The pheriwallah denotes three virtues and a singular vice. He provides us with convenience shopping at our doorstep, value deals and recurrent service but he is low on the quality front. The reason can be that he is mostly selling unbranded goods or cheap commodities. If a deliberate transition can be made here from the unbranded to the branded platform, this lowly pheriwallah can become an invincible brand icon.… Companies looking for avenues in morph marketing may find an ideal bundle of services here to augment their product with. Can’t we have Coke pheriwallahs in red T-shirts serving us chilled bottles of the real thing right at our doorstep? Even FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) major, Hindustan Lever has plans to go this way...Such branded service can be very convenient to working couples and others whose leisure time is always at a premium. They would not mind paying a bit more for this premium service.18


Pheriwalas are relegated to the past although they could augur the economy of the future, in view of their exploding numbers. For pheriwalas to be entrepreneurs is anachronistic, it emerges. Properly uniformed and positioned, they can be folded into the premium service trade. Memories of an idyllic past, appearing as sounds that disrupt/invoke the calm of bygone siestas, are re-enacted as red T-shirted ‘Coke pheriwallahs’. The shift from an auditory to a visual register is accompanied by the changing character of products sold, from a petty commodity basis to one of global brand icons. The intimate pleasures of a middle-class child in being waited upon can be recollected and transmuted in the more sophisticated upmarket consumption of adults. Branding the persons and products of workers in the informal economy emerges as a way of overcoming underdevelopment and keeping it too. When Marx defines the work of capital, he invokes the emergence of a single unqualified and global subjectivity, reflecting the extension of capital across the world: “all activities without distinction”, “productive activity in general”, “the sole subjective essence of wealth….” Together with the abstract universality of practices generating wealth arises the universality of what is understood as wealth, viz, “the product in general, or labour in general, but as past, materialised labour”.19  When developments ascend to this level of generality, labour is no longer perceived as this or that particular form, such as slavery or serfdom, but as naked labour, and wealth is no longer seen as trader’s wealth or as usury but instead as homogeneous, independent capital. In such a context, labour and capital become categories firmly rooted in popular prejudice, and the state, which ensures the conditions for capital extraction, would be superfluous. Political domination, which exists to enable accumulation, becomes unnecessary, as economic appropriation is self-sustaining.20 

In fact, of course, this never happens. Capital and labour both appear obstinately heterogeneous, unable to discipline themselves within any given boundaries, constantly spilling over and violating their terms of existence, in other words posing the banal truths of accumulation and exploitation as against their pure image.

At the level of the image, however, it becomes possible for diverse and contradictory forms to abut each other in apparent harmony. Vision in capitalist modernity is the least intimate sensory datum; thus fleeting glances between strangers are preferred forms of interaction in an urban setting.21 By the same token, vision becomes more important as a medium facilitating the institution of a more generalised system of exchange, alongside the economy and in interaction with it. Detached and isolated from the other senses, vision masks the multiple forms of perceptual experience, and helps in the propagation of abstracted and objectified systems of knowledge.22 Auditory information requires, in comparison, more situated semantic knowledge, inflected as it is through the multiple registers of accent, cadence, pitch and tone.

The aesthetics of display at a pheriwala’s facilitate more direct sensory interaction with the producer/seller of the goods, and offers the consumer more access to a fuller experience of the product or service being offered. The emphasis is usually on the pheriwala who is the focal point of the stall, and as well on a small range of products and services, e g, telephone calls and coconut milk, or, cigarettes and chewing tobacco. The arrangements are usually minimal; a sackcloth on a wooden platform, a matchbox-like structure with shelves, a handcart with a wooden or aluminum top. Decorations are functional where they exist, and might consist of gaily coloured sachet strips, e g, of betel nut, chewing tobacco or of shampoo, suspended from a string running horizontally across a shelf, or of plates of artfully cut fruit. If food is being made, the smell of the oil, the condition of the utensils, the quality of the foodstuffs and the personal hygiene of the cook are all on display. As a former pheriwala pointed out to me, in no restaurant can one follow so minutely every phase of the process of preparing a dish. Conditions in restaurants are typically worse, he observed, because the owners feel sure that few will venture within.23 

Transactions with pheriwalas, in all their nakedness, enact the most elemental form of market exchange. The market, Braudel reminds us, brings the arenas of production and consumption into contact with each other. It thus acts as the interface with the outside world for each of these realms, with the unknown and unpredictable. The market, he writes, is like coming up for air, bringing one face to face with the other.24 Here we have the unruly energy of the bazaars, the assault of different sensations, and varieties of costume and countenance. Commodities lie available for inspection and comparison across competing stalls, mediated only by the typically fluid, dialogical encounter over pricing and payment. It is here more than in any other market environment, we may remind ourselves, that the customer is truly king.

This is of course worlds away from the manicured precincts of the modern departmental store, whose efficiency in sourcing, pricing and selling are known. As the power of sellers increases, it becomes important to control the point of purchase, to render it static and predictable rather than allow unforeseeable elements to proliferate.25 And here enters all the wizardry of consumer seduction, of imagery, illumination and design, whether of packaging, shopfloor arrangement or storefront display. No one can deny the power such displays can attain. A strictly economic calculation of return on investment is not adequate to explain the form of display. There is a distinct aesthetic at work, fashioned so that on seeing it, investors may be satisfied their money is well spent.26 The aesthetic works to build layers of meaning around the commodity, mediating the act of consumption to buyers. In comparison, the pheriwala provides only herself as a mediating body, and this is precisely the problem. For a new visual regime to be instituted in the process of metamorphosing a pheriwala economy into a store and mall-based one is no simple matter, however, especially if the wish to transcend pheriwalas is destined to be in vain. Violence is inseparable from this shift, and in the imagination of the process, television is an accomplice. Theorising television in terms of the social relations it interweaves with is helpful in understanding this process.

Television and the Politicisation of Aesthetics

In most critical accounts, television is understood in terms of its ideological power, by virtue of the ruling order it springs from, and in terms of the ideas it helps circulate. A certain abstraction characterises these arguments, so that domination occurs without viewers being aware of it, and despite the fact that viewers’ own experience of television (including that of critics) does not imply such an outcome. Any adequate analysis of television must address this omission.

As a medium, television’s work is parallel to and interlinked with that of the economy. Both disseminate information to help circulate goods as well as to socialise members of society.27 Television is thus active in the material and symbolic reproduction of capitalist relations. Todd Gitlin has pointed out that just as, under capitalism, the surplus value accumulated in social labour is privately appropriated, men and women are estranged from the meanings they produce socially; these are privately appropriated by mass media and returned to them in alienated forms.28  But the sense of exploitation that inhabits the workplace is absent before television. There is a sense rather of viewing as an autonomous act, done on one’s own time. This experience of autonomy is an indivisible part of television’s effect, and must be incorporated in any understanding of the medium’s power.

Raymond Williams’ work on the medium as both ‘technology and cultural form’ points to its dual character, and offers the concept of ‘flow’ as a means of specifying television’s distinctness.29 At one level, the term refers to programme composition as a sequence of unrelated items, governed by broadcasting rather than audience interests. As Williams points out, within the flow of television programming is embedded another flow, that of advertising, that appears on no published schedule and yet is the motor of the entire process; audiences are the creation of an economic process designed to serve sponsors.30 We can extend Williams’ metaphor to what is perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the technology, namely its ability to tether diverse temporal flows together.31 Television audiences across society ‘tune in’ to programmes, their time of viewing flowing alongside but separate from the time of the image.32 If they inhabit the same space in clock time, as lived duration, they are not the same. Thus the packaging of audiences for sale to sponsors and the use of ratings to signal popularity may both occur without the knowledge or consent of viewers, and indeed are thereby more effectively achieved. At the same time, viewers can entertain programmes at their leisure, unconstrained by any authority the messages might claim for themselves.

Television yokes together different temporalities in one communicative event. Electronically mediated messages from diverse and far-ranging sources, often at best partially related to viewers’ own experiences, tend to lack the relatively deeper, more situated meanings of oral or print culture. This indexes a thinning of time, hence meaning, experienced as a reduction of social control, and as relative freedom. Yet the experience of communication, as Marshall McLuhan correctly describes it, is of participation and sociality, and a tactile sense of being ‘in touch’, regardless of the content communicated.33 The existence of an ongoing stream of communication shared by others engenders a sense of  intimacy across social boundaries, as Claude Lefort has suggested.34 Thus on the one hand, television offers respite from the compulsions of actually existing social relations, creating a space of temporary immunity from the inhibitions and proscriptions they would impose on any member. On the other hand, it evokes feelings of closeness and reciprocity to unknown participants who may exist only in imagination.

There is a contradictory character to this process. Although television operates within the logic of capitalist exchange, the implicit logic of audiences’ own transaction, I suggest, can be better understood in terms of anthropological arguments about the gift, with the experience of the medium being one of an unconditional, mutual interaction with others. The time interval between the reception of programming and viewers’ own ‘counter-gift’, of talking back to others, to the medium or its sponsors, preserves the impression of unqualified reciprocity underlying an idealised notion of gift exchange. This temporal structure serves as an instrument of denial, as Pierre Bourdieu has shown, allowing a subjective truth (of reciprocity) to exist alongside a contrary, objective truth (of the absence of reciprocity, i e, of the impossibility of talking back to a monological medium).35

Gift and commodity exchange are always implicated in each other; neither ever exists by itself in a pure sense. No commodity transaction is purely instrumental; there is always a sense of reciprocity involved; similarly any exchange of gifts always has an element of calculation in it. Television does something distinct to this entanglement. It invokes the logic of the gift within the private space secured by commodity exchange. (And what it offers is actually a commodity: communication in exchange for which audiences offer their time, which is in turn sold to advertisers.) Because the transaction is intangible, what audiences receive has all the appearance of a ‘free gift’, the gift that entails no obligation, like a manufacturer’s promotional item. The experiences of gift and commodity exchange can hence be separated, and thereby imagined as separate as well.

Similarly, communication systems impute the sense of an intimacy across society, and presume the existence of an ongoing social connection independent of audience response. The terms in which this connection is experienced, however, do not entail the costs or obligations through which social interaction otherwise occurs. The private space of reception enables the imagining of a ‘free’ engagement with media messages, and the latter thus become open to imaginative reconstruction. Audiences can thus imagine new communities of sentiment, in fantasies of complete acceptability where the disciplining presence of other minds can be made to retreat, so entailing none of the usual costs of social membership. At the same time, this newly crafted autonomy provides them the critical distance with which it is possible to reflect on society itself as an external object of thought, independent of their own place in it.36 

As Arjun Appadurai has argued, the imagination has an unprecedented provenance in contemporary society, due in part to the media.37  I suggest that we can locate the present-day salience of the imagination, as well as the forms it takes, in the context of media and markets, and at the intersection of commodity exchange and the affective economy of the gift. Pre-existing understandings are of course inadequate to grasp the ways in which social relations are transformed by widening circuits of exchange. Moreover, if audiences feel independent of prevailing constraints, they can imagine themselves within altogether new kinds of associations that arise from, but do not in any simple way reflect, the market conditions of their existence. If media and markets have typically been conceived as advance guards of modernisation and secularism, my analysis here indicates why their political outcomes might lead in very different directions. Crucially, any elite-led process of development must confront the irreducible and indeed mushrooming existence of popular affiliations that a medium like television provokes, and acknowledge the new ‘communities of sentiment’ it may give rise to.38 

Critical arguments about television tend to point to the ways in which it replicates the logic of commodification by extending it to communication, and thus intensifies processes of capitalist alienation and expropriation. Socially produced meanings are privately appropriated, through television’s generation and distribution of cultural products, and returned to audiences in alienated forms, in this account. The circulation of images both enables the circulation of capital and takes it to another level, deepening the reach of the production of value by embracing more spheres of life within the joint work of media and markets. But a strictly utilitarian calculus does not adequately capture the power of images here – there is an excess that they represent over and beyond facilitating economic exchange, that is disciplinary, in subjecting the visible world to a visual regime, structuring the mode of its admissibility onto the stage of representation, and thus introducing a new principle for the self-representation of people and things. We can think about the production of images as a kind of naming, whose quintessence is represented through the brand and the logo; this presupposes the power of conferring singularity, and points to the violence implied in this imposition.

But this is far from a one-sided process, since by the same token, television creates a new field for the imagination, where, in the private space of commodity consumption, individuals can conceive of dialogical social communication independent of their place in society. The private space of reception enables the imagining of a ‘free’ engagement with media messages, and the latter thus become open to imaginative reconstruction. Audiences can thus imagine new communities of sentiment, in fantasies of complete acceptance where none of the usual costs of social membership are entailed. At the same time, this newly crafted autonomy provides them the critical distance with which it is possible to reflect on society itself as an external object of thought, independent of their own place in it. If television participates in elevating the stakes of representation and in instituting symbolic violence, it more generally indexes not only the aestheticisation of politics, but as well the politicisation of aesthetics, enlarging as it does the field of politics and lowering the cost of admission at the same time.39 

On the one hand, the work of television helps commodify virtual space, and this process is accompanied by the commodification of real urban spaces, and their subordination to globalising visual regimes (i e, that accomplish their task partly by declaring their status as global). What this leads to is an escalated contest over the right to reconvert homogenised urban spaces into lived places, and the battle by authorities in turn to recommodify them, and render them spaces of traffic in goods and people rather than domesticated spaces resistant to incorporation in larger circuits. A brief discussion of the demolition raids carried out last summer in Mumbai affords a sense of how this activity itself turns into a spectacle for public consumption.

Demolitions: a Glimpse of ‘Field Action’

At the helm of the demolitions in Mumbai in 2000-2001, was G R Khairnar, former deputy Municipal Commissioner, and for a period Officer on Special Duty (OSD), in charge of demolitions. He became famous for his fearless targeting of affluent builders violating zoning rules, and for his public accusations that the chief minister was associated with criminals, a charge he continues to make against successive governments. He is considered both incorruptible and ruthless.

Khairnar is a man with a soft voice and a hard stare. He is slim and unassuming in appearance, and steadfast in his purpose. He has been attacked ‘more than 100 times’, he says, by builders intent on stopping his demolitions, on one occasion being shot in the leg and on another, wounded in the head with a sword. (While in his post, he had an armed escort at all times.) Through all of it he has been unflinching in his demolition of illegal constructions, which in Mumbai, luxuriate like weeds. This has meant going after high rise apartments in elite localities like Malabar Hill as well as bulldozing slums and roadside stalls. The political parties are gangs, he says, and the politicians gangsters. He corrects himself. Politicians are devoid of even that spark of humanity dacoits might have, he says. They care nothing for people. A nexus between bureaucrats, the political mafia and business has replaced the rule of law. Ordinary people do anything they can to survive, compounding the lawlessness, he claims. Instead of cultivating a scientific temper, emotion, religion and caste issues are used to get peoples’ votes, and deepen the problem, Khairnar argues. His own duty is to uphold the law. Hawkers, and many others, ignore or defy the law, and Khairnar’s contribution is to teach them the value of discipline, as he sees it. “My job is to convert shops (that encroach on public space, back) into hawkers,” he said. “I try to warn them, tell them to enforce discipline on their own. If my warnings are not heeded then I will demolish.”40 

But he invited me to accompany him on ‘field action’ and see for myself. His smiled as he invited me. Without his saying anything further, I felt a certain exhilaration at the prospect.

On the appointed day, I boarded a Maruti van with Khairnar and a French documentary team doing a TV series on global cities. In Mumbai, Khairnar was their first stop, interestingly. The convoy that accompanied us was an impressive one: a bulldozer, two jeeps with policemen, two trucks to carry away confiscated goods, and Khairnar’s van. As we arrived at an open air vegetable market, the halt of the convoy had an impressive effect. Baskets of vegetables began to be hoisted on the heads of their anxious owners, as they fled the scene. Those vendors who had invested most in their produce were in for the greatest loss, as it was not possible to remove everything from the advancing crew in time. Brilliant red tomatoes rolled in every direction. In seconds, scores of people gathered from all around to watch, and the whole street was suddenly crowded. Khairnar strode in briskly, pointing here and there, and the bulldozer went into action, clawing off here a gunny awning with its slender bamboo supports, and there crumpling up patchwork roofs. The BMC staff darted around to grab produce to deposit in their goods trucks. The spectacle of destruction is riveting: the abrupt obliteration of carefully gathered and nurtured matter, of accumulated time and energy. That such devastation can be wrought without reprisal deepens this fascination, since it confirms the sense of the extent of the power at work.

What must it feel like to have demolition victims at your mercy? One woman whose roadside shack was being torn down at the same time was weeping and begging Khairnar with folded hands to save her home. Her child was crying too. Addressing the girl Khairnar asked, “Who taught you to weep like that?” His sympathies had hardened over time. But the child’s tears were genuine; for some reason the roadside shack, miserable as it was, ought not to have been demolished, although the task was already half-finished. The crew departed, assuring the poor woman that she should come to ‘Sir’s office’ for compensation.

When I described the events I’d seen to friends who lived in Mumbai, I expected to hear sympathetic cries of indignation. Although each of them was left of centre, in each case I was given a talking-to. Hawkers were taking over the city, setting up shop wherever they liked and interfering with the rights of long-standing residents, one said. The owner of one of the stalls came to work in a car every morning, another friend said. These people might work by the roadside, but they were making loads of money while paying no taxes or rent. A third friend gave me the example of the Harbour train line in the city, on which trains ran at a fraction of their former speed because of encroachments on either side. Half a million people were ferried on that line everyday, and spent at least 30 minutes more than necessary; huge losses in man-hours resulted from misguided compassion like mine, it seemed.

Some friends described it candidly as an attempt to wreak such losses on the hawkers that it would become uneconomical for them to do business. Others saw it as an attempt to clean up public space, to restore pedestrians their long-denied rights. Everyone formulated it in terms of an attempt to restore rationality, to overcome illegality and to assert the law. This was itself interesting. In fact, vendors and newspapers both report that bulldozers are regularly sent to destroy them without warning.41  Although Khairnar claims always to issue a preliminary signal, the president of the Hawkers’ Union, Sharad Rao, accused politicians of turning a blind eye to the ‘rampage’ being carried on in Khairnar’s name. “For the past two months, the indiscriminate eviction of hawkers and destruction of their goods has been going on, but not a single MLA or MLC has spoken against it,” he said.42  K Pocker, general secretary of Bombay Hawkers Association was careful to specify his objection: “We are not challenging the demolition action, but destruction of goods is not permitted by law”.43 

But the issue of encroachment, whether by hawkers or slum-dwellers, could not even arise if it was not sanctioned by local political bosses and ward officers, who operate to deliver votes to members of the legislative assembly or of the legislative council, and receive favours from the organised building trades that erect shanties. (Naik) Builders violate zoning and other laws with impunity, encroaching on public space, protected by politicians who draw on their votes at election time, and in some cases, provide free utility services to the residents in return. Many problems arise and persist because of the inadequacies of urban planning and the connivance of politicians and bureaucrats, but recently, pheriwalas become the scapegoats for a range of them, being the most visible links in the chain, and the least protected.


Violence, Geography and the Figure of the Pheriwala

A recent volume published by the Urban Design and Research Institute, which seeks to help restore the heritage value of Mumbai’s architecture, observed, in one of the more liberal statements made nowadays on the subject of hawkers:
In recent years a phenomenon that has been on the rise and has acquired alarming proportions has been that of street hawkers and unauthorised hawking activity…. There is no doubt that while the hawkers are a hindrance to the movement of pedestrians, they serve the contemporary need. Moving them to some out of the way location is an impractical solution. The majority of office workers need these very hawkers for their everyday needs. It could be proposed to formulate a series of ‘otlas’ (platforms), each of which could accommodate four hawkers with a clearly demarcated space. The licence number of the hawker is laid in-situ into the otla, so that any unauthorised occupant can be immediately spotted and apprehended.44 

The chaos of pheriwala activity is thus sought to be regulated by arranging them for optimal surveillability. Another scheme offered by an urban planner recommended dress codes “to help the public identify registered hawkers”.45 A more characteristic account, however, is the one that follows:

Mumbai’s most tenacious resident apart from the slum-dweller – the hawker – has had the civic authorities searching their collective imagination for over four years to find a solution to the ubiquitous problem they pose….The legal stop-signs at every turn almost mock at the authorities, who for decades have allowed the street vendors to proliferate any which way….And experience has shown that once they set up shop there is no wishing them away, even for a few hours…. Then there is a more linear though equally baffling impediment – the vendors’ sheer numbers. For one, there is no official estimate of how many hawkers use Mumbai’s network of roads as a giant establishment….Still, one thing’s for sure, their numbers…are multiplying with every passing day.46 
Hawkers are like vermin in this and other accounts; their main tendency is to proliferate, and that is by definition, a problem. “One hawker will lead to many more, which in turn will create an unhygienic, unsavoury environment,” in the view of Yusuf Malani, advocate, of the Save Versova Beach Association.47 

The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, formerly Bombay Municipal Corporation) proposed, in 1998, to create hawking zones outside which vending would be prohibited. As soon as the location of the zones began to be marked out, residents of neighbourhoods erupted in protest, and filed suit against the corporation. With its right to sanction hawkers’ ensconcement in particular neighborhoods challenged in court, the BMC proposed creating non-hawking zones instead.48  This of course hardly resolved the problem, as the rest of the city was implied to be fair game for the hawkers. With every part of the city reserved for one purpose or other, as public thoroughfares, parks, gardens, etc, legislative amendments are required to de-reserve them, before reserving them anew for hawking (or not). But the informality of the situation is convenient for those in power who depend on the hawkers’ insecurity to ensure a flow of votes and money. Hawkers in busy city areas may be threatened three to four times a day by city workers, paying upto Rs 4500 to keep them at bay.49  With an estimated Rs 120 crore being collected annually in the form of haftas, many ‘stake holders’ have emerged to successfully challenge any attempts at reducing their hold or imposing rules. The irony is that much of the restoration work is led by older inhabitants of the city, living in apartments they retain against landlords’ pleas to vacate, paying rents that remain at 1950 levels. This is thanks to pro-tenant court rulings that works against new in-migrants by raising prices of available properties and restricting the supply of new housing.

The national emergency imposed by prime minister Indira Gandhi between 1975 and 1977 saw the imposition of many draconian policies, among them, so-called urban beautification programmes that violently displaced thousands of squatters and slum dwellers far away from their erstwhile homes. With the reinstitution of the Congress government at the centre in 1980, state use of violence to open up city spaces began again, starting with A R Antulay’s government in Maharashtra, of which Bombay (now Mumbai) is the capital. Public Interest Litigations (PILs), which emerged in the early 1980s as a response to the emergency, broadened the avenues for disadvantaged persons to approach the courts. The landmark case in pheriwala rights was a judgment by the Supreme Court in 1985, stipulating that as long as they did not erect permanent structures in public spaces, the right of hawkers to seek a living was constitutionally protected.50 Licences for hawkers were discontinued in 1962;51 there exist only 15,000 licensed hawkers in the city, and current estimates of their total population range from 1,30,000 to 5,00,000. The closure of textile mills in Mumbai over the last several years, and the sale of mill lands in violation of land-use restrictions, forced tens of thousands of workers into the informal economy, burgeoning the numbers of hawkers.

The recent wave of attacks on encroachment began, auspiciously enough for the well-to-do in India, with Operation Sunshine in December 1996, a drive launched by the Left Front-ruled West Bengal government. In it, nearly 1,00,000 pheriwalas from Calcutta’s streets were uprooted. The drive was allegedly launched to make the city look attractive for foreign investment on the eve of the visit of the then British prime minister John Major. A few weeks later, the West Bengal legislative assembly passed a bill making hawking a cognisable and non-bailable offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment upto three months, a fine of 250 rupees, or both.52 The general secretary of the Communist Party (Marxist)-affiliated Calcutta Street Hawkers Union, Mohammed Nizammeddin, demanded of a reporter, “What is going on? Are hawkers our new class enemy?”53 

In Mumbai, however, the discourse focused on issues of appearance and hygiene, although it was dismissive rather than hortatory. Here for instance is an account of a roadside food stall:


After the lunch hour, the vendors pull out plastic tubs filled with used steel plates and soak them in dirty water. The plates are dried with a soiled rag and reused. Water meant for cooking is stored in rusted tins to be used later. For these and other reasons, those who eat in roadside stalls are exposing themselves daily to gastroenteritis, jaundice, typhoid and a host of other diseases.54 


Whether it is the eye of this reporter that is jaundiced or the bodies of consumers, it often appeared that the problems of urban space devolved entirely onto street vendors.55  Thus: “The plight of pedestrians in Mumbai is pitiable. Most roads in Mumbai (including newly laid Development Plan roads) do not have footpaths. And footpaths, wherever they exist, are encroached upon by hawkers.”56  “[W]here they are reinstalled is not our problem,” said M S Vaidya, president of Sion (east) Residents’ Forum, one of several associations against the drive to create hawking zones in their neighbourhood. 57  “Clearly, we are not interested in throwing hawkers into the Arabian Sea”, a member of one citizen’s group assured a reporter.58 A residents’ association in Churchgate complained to the ward authorities that hawkers “had left practically no space for pedestrians and customers and made it convenient for small-time thieves and shop-lifters to indulge in pickpocketing, misbehaviour with ladies, etc”.59  Many shopkeepers, for their part, claimed hawkers diverted business from their stores. For example, shopkeepers around Flora Fountain who deal in books and cassettes claimed to suffer due to hawkers “who sell pirated cassettes and duplicate books at about half the price”. “Legitimate business of shops is being robbed specially on the D N Road area where several hawkers sell smuggled luxury goods”, according to Gerson Da Cunha, convener of the solid waste management committee of Bombay First. A convener of the Citizens’ Forum for Protection of Public Spaces, a voluntary movement to deal with ‘the hawking woes’ (sic) declared, “By patronising such hawkers we are giving rise to a cancer in the society and abetting crime”. The hotel industry claims it loses at least Rs 5 million daily due to hawkers. They are snatching away business from right under our nose”, acording to Association of Hotels and Restaurants vice president Ravi Gandhi. “On days when hawkers are on strike, our business goes up by 30 to 40 percent.”60  Hawkers are thus described as illegitimate competition, and as a drain on the legitimate economy.


The Power of Hawkers

In fact, as I have already observed, hawkers provide services to the majority. Drivers, masons, carpenters, building security staff and other workers are regular customers of the food and tea stalls.61  “For the same ‘pulav’ in a restaurant, I will have to pay Rs 200 rupees, while here it costs me Rs 10, and there is no difference in quality”, one customer at Nariman Point observed.62  The Bombay Hawkers’ Association president K Pocker explained, “Our clientele is completely different from theirs (ie, regular stores). We do not sell branded products and offer cheaper products. We cater to the poor and weaker sections.” 63 

The heterogeneity of the hawkers’ activity emerges against an unspoken sense that the formal or organised sector’s work is none of these things. “We work honestly in order to eat, and yet we are attacked for doing so”, remarked Ram Singh, a pheriwala at a hawkers’ organising meeting. “What are we supposed to do?”64 

“Pheriwalas will always be with us”, Munna Seth, who controls the handcart business in Ghatkopar (West), in Mumbai. “If the BMC tear down our stalls, we will use handcarts. If they confiscate the handcarts, then we will spread our goods on the footpaths. If they push us off the footpaths, then we will be walking the streets with headloads. If they send us off to Bhayander or Dahisar, we will still board the train and come back into town everyday. We will keep coming back. Nothing will stop us, because our survival is at stake.”65 

Sobha Singh, who runs the handcart business with his brother Munna Seth, explained:


The pheriwala is the cause of trouble. The pheriwala is a very poor and small person. A poor man has to learn to behave himself. If the public says that the cart is in the way he should say yes and move his cart. But today’s pheriwala says “Gandu tum bolne wala kaon hai.” ((Expletive) who are you to tell me?). The road is of the public and he has the right to say that. But he does not respect the public.


Sobha Singh puts his finger on the issue: today’s pheriwala fights back, and doesn’t take violations of his rights quietly. Indeed, despite being marginal, hawkers, as energetic residents of India’s most enterprising city, find many sophisticated means of fighting back, if necessary using the very levers the city mobilises against them. To take one example, city officials levy ‘paotis’, or refuse collection charges, and issue receipts against payment. Paotis have become, in the absence of other official acknowledgement of their existence, the vehicle for street vendors to move courts and win injuctions in their favour against civic authorities.66 

Hawkers have also learned to use the courts instrumentally. Some hawkers were thus appealing for injunctions against demolitions or eviction in different courts under different names. When a hawker lost a case in the city civil court, he or she would move the high court without revealing the details of the earlier case. Sometimes, a wife or a brother would move another court over the same hawking spot. The hearings and adjournments translated into valuable business time for the hawker.67 Construction magnates of course, routinely used such strategies to evade challenges to their violations of zoning and construction requirements; what made news, however, was that the lowly hawkers were now doing so too.

Hawkers too are committed to serve society, wrote M K Ramesh in the Afternoon Despatch and Courier. Ramesh, himself a hawker, was writing a letter in response to a news article that described hawkers as ‘merciless’. They could not survive unless they pleased their customers, Ramesh pointed out, expressing a view that seldom made it into the regular news columns.68 

Hawkers have not been slow to engage in speculative activity either, and in constructing the kind of virtual economies usually associated with more high profile businesses. Thus for instance, the ward officer for Churchgate, R K Vale observed, “(T)here is a racket to create non-existent and ghost hawking sites or hawking spaces in non-existent and fictitious names with a view to secure hawking spaces for (the) future….”69 


In their rudimentary form, the market will always be with us, because, as Braudel writes, “in its robust simplicity it is unbeatable…the primitive market is the most direct and transparent form of exchange, the most closely supervised and the least open to deception”.70  Even if airconditioned stores are seen as the destiny of Indian markets, and the pheriwala is thought to be either a relic from the past or a symptom of corruption and regulatory laxity. “There is no simple linear history of the development of markets. In this area, the traditional, the archaic and the modern or ultra-modern exist side by side, even today.”71 Where cultural or political difference is encountered, it cannot be easily absorbed within a perceptual apparatus whose chief value is precisely the blurring of differences in favour of a homogenised apprehension of a loosely understood whole.

Partha Chatterjee has argued that the Indian state, on account of its limited resources, is confronted by a population the majority of whom are de facto denied the full privileges of citizenship. In such a situation, the state necessarily has to address itself serially to informal representations by excluded groups, on terms that are particularistic, since to apply them to everybody would be unaffordable. Community, Chatterjee argues, survives as the mode through which the state negotiates with groups who find themselves outside the ambit of formal citizenship rights. That is, it is not by arguing for the liberal rights of individuals that these groups manage to be heard by the state. Rather, they make demands based on group right and community identity, transcending their limitations as disempowered individuals. Nowhere in received understandings of the liberal state can we find models to assess such non-rational and non-formal negotiations, Chatterjee points out. There is an entire realm of politics not captured by the ideas of liberal politics, where in fact a different and more fluid set of norms operate, partly for historical reasons and partly for reasons of resource constraint (themselves historical of course).

It can be argued that the pheriwala is one such extraordinary class of citizen-subjects that the developmentalist (and now liberalising) state in India produces as a vulnerable category of persons. The protection of pheriwalas as workers engaged in the informal economy (with the Olga Tellis v BMC case in 1985) was also precisely the moment when their legal classification as ‘hawkers’ rendered them available for all manner of regulation.72 The renewed interest in controlling city space as a corollary to new regimes of accumulation and the enforcement of a new commodity aesthetics must be located against this historical process.

Where Chatterjee’s argument encounters difficulties is in its assumption that the informal relam of state negotiation retains its populace within an ethical discourse, even if legal rights are denied to them. A certain arbitrariness attends the state’s interactions with those outside the law, exemplified in violence such as that against pheriwalas. And when the law seeks to pronounce on their condition, a neoliberal climate dispels the informal guarantees that safeguarded hawkers’ lives under an earlier dispensation.

Thus a Mumbai High Court judgment on July 5, 2000 ruled that only licensed hawkers (of whom there are 15,000) could operate in the city; allowance would be made for an additional 23,000.73  But the city had not issued licences since 1978, and, as the president of the Hawkers’ Union pointed out, the larger issue was the accommodation of the several hundred thousand unlicensed hawkers.74  Hawking was to be carried out only in specified zones, and banned entirely in the city’s C ward, which contained prime locations such as Victoria Terminus and Flora Fountain. Solid or cooked food was to be banned for ‘health reasons’, but fruit juices were allowed.75  The order was plainly absurd, but it put a question mark over earlier victories such as the Olga Tellis judgment, which guaranteed the constitutional right to seek a livelihood in public spaces. Citizens’ Forum for the Protection of Public Spaces, the petitioner in the case, was “slightly dazed by the extent of its victory” with this sweeping court verdict; “pavements”, one columnist wrote, “are for pedestrians, at last….”76  The only way to enact the apparent civility of this statement, and fructify the homogeneity of vision it represents, is unfortunately through violence on the majority polulation excluded from its sight.



[My thanks to Maharukh Adenwalla, Darryl D’Monte, Colin Gonsalves, Nayana Kathpalia, Sandeep Yeole, and the archivists at the Centre for Education and Documentation in Mumbai. An earlier version of this paper is forthcoming in Social Text No 68.]

 1 I draw from Claude Lefort the idea that one society can be distinguished from another in terms of its regime, i e, the manner of shaping of human coexistence. The institution of a new visual regime thus involves a process of the reconfiguration of politics and the reshaping of the public; it simultaneously presents a technology for the perception of social relations and for staging them before society at large. Claude Lefort, ‘The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?’ in Democracy and Political Theory. Tr David Macey. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, p 217.
 2 For a more detailed argument, see Arvind Rajagopal, ‘Advertising, Politics and the Sentimental Education of the Indian Consumer’Visual Anthropological Review, Vol 14, No 2, pp 14-31, 1999.
 3 The ad was scripted by Piyush Pandey, and was made by Ogilvy and Mather. Thanks to Ashok Sarath for this information.
 4 I thank Santosh Desai of McCann-Erickson for making a copy of the ad available to me.
 5 Georges Bataille has argued that a society is determined not so much by its mode of production as by the mode of expenditure of its surplus. See The Accursed Share, Vol 1: Consumption. Tr H Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books, 1988, 167-181. In this formulation, consumption and destruction can be equally accommodated.
 6 Since the 1980s, state-led economic development formulated under prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru is being abandoned in favour of market liberalisation. Although the state retains enormous power, its class biases are sharper, and the forms of its legitimation reflect this shift in interesting ways. See my Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,UK,2001.
 7 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project tr Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Harvard University Press,Cambridge:1999, 827-891; Susan Buck-Morss, ‘The Flaneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,’ New German Critique 1984, 99-140; Allen Feldman, ‘Cultural Anesthesia: From Desert Storm to Rodney King,’ American Ethnologist, Vol 21, No 2, 1994.
 8 Bombay Times, TheTimes of India, 15 July, 2000.
 9 Keith Hart, ‘Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 11(1), pp 61-89, 1973. See in this context the special issue of Seminar (New Delhi) on street vendors in India, No 491, July 2000.
10 The landmark judgment in this respect is Olga Tellis and Ors v Bombay Municipal Corporation and Others (1985) 2 Bom CR 434 1985 (3) SCC 545 AIR 1986, 180.
11 See Mitchell Duneier, Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Girouzx, 1999; Mike Davis, City of Quartz. London and New York: Verso, 1992.
12 See Allen Feldman’s essay in this volume.
13 Y C Pawar, Additional Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, personal interview, July 2000.
14 Lina Choudhury, ‘Mumbai Turns Streetsmart as BMC Does a Clean-Up Job’ The Times of India, July 9, 1998. See also Ranjit Khomne, ‘Poor Hawkers Complain of Extortion by Police’, The Times of India, 23 Nov 1998.
15 Here what is interesting is the way in which state apparatuses devolve onto and work out through the middle classes and the English language press (see below), through much more decentralised and therefore chaotic mechanisms. Thus for instance the clippings files of citizens’ organisations lobbying for and against hawkers both feature news almost exclusively from English language papers.
16 Bombay Metropolitan Development Authority, Draft Plan for 1995-2005, Mumbai 1997. Cited in Sharit Bhowmick, ‘A Raw Deal?’ Seminar, ibid, 21.
17 A study of hawkers determined that one-fourth of them could not read or write, and that the cost of their wares ranged from Rs 500 to Rs 2000. The most common reason provided for engaging in hawking was that it provided a more respectable form of existence than most of the jobs available in the unorganised sector. From Sharit Bhowmik, ‘Hawkers’ Study: Some Preliminary Findings’, unpublished ms, nd. The report is based on preliminary results of study of hawkers in eight cities: Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Patna, Bangalore, Indore, Bhubaneshwar and Imphal. The data for the study was collected by the National Alliance of Street Vendors of India (NASVI). For discussion of conditions of work and life amongst the informally housed and the informally employed in Mumbai, see also Brahm Prakash, The Urban Dead-End? Pattern of Employment Among Slum-Dwellers, Somaiya Publications,Bombay: 1983, Chapter 5; and Heather Joshi and Vijay Joshi, Surplus Labour and the City: A Study of Bombay. Oxford University Press, New Delhi:1976, Chapter 3. For more general discussions, see Jan Breman, Footloose Labour: Working in India’s Informal Economy: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 1996; Hernando de Soto, The Other Path,: Harper and Row, New York 1990.
18 Samrat Sinha, ‘Pheriwallah Marketing’, The Economic Times, August 5, 2000, p 7.
19 Karl Marx, ‘Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy’, in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, tr N I Stone, Charles H Kerr, Chicago: 1904, p 298 (tr modified). Cited in Gilles Deleuze, ‘Capitalism’, in The Deleuze Readered Constantin V Boundas. Columbia University Press, New York: 1993, p 236.
20 Deleuze, ibid, p 236.
21 Christophe Asendorf, Batteries of Life: On the History of Things and Their Perception in Modernity Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
22 Nadia Seremetakis, The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado 1994.
23 Sandeep Yeole, Secretary, Ghatkopar (W) Pheriwala Samiti, personal interview, Mumbai, July 12, 2000.
24 Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce: Civilisation and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Vol 2, tr Sian Reynolds. Harper and Row, New York:1982, p 26.
25 Vikram Kaushik, General Manager, Colgate-Palmolive personal interview, Mumbai, June 2000.
26 Jean Renoir has made this point about commercial cinema. Jean Renoir and Roberto Rossellini interviewed by Andre Bazin, in Roberto Rossellini, My Method : Writings and Interviews, tr Annapaola Cancogni, Marsilio New York, November 1995, 96.
27 Here I consider commercial television as emblematic of the work of television in capitalist society.
28 Todd Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA: 1980, p 3.
29 Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form, Schocken, New York: 1975.
30 Ibid. p 90.
31 Williams’s own analysis however, distinguishes between the true flow and what appears as the flow, “the published sequence of programme items” (p 90), and thus misses the multiple flows that television brings together. Arguing that the distinguishing characteristic of the flow is the fact of its being planned, he identifies audience experience as well as a flow insofar as it is an effect of this planned flow (pp 95-96). He thus takes the concept literally and misses its most productive insights, I suggest.
32 Richard Dienst utilises an important distinction, between the “time of the image” and the “time of viewing,” in Still Life in Real Time: Theory After Television. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994, pp 58-59. Mary Ann Doane has written that television’s greatest ability is to be there – both on the scene and in your living room. Mary Ann Doane, ‘Information, Crisis and Catastrophe’ in Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism ed Patricia Mellencamp, 1990, p 238. According to traditional notions of time and space, as Samuel Weber points out,television can be neither fully here nor fully there; it is rather, “a split or a separation that camouflages itself by taking the form of a visible image. That is the veritable significance of the term ‘television coverage’: it covers an invisible separation by giving it shape, contour and figure”. See Samuel Weber, ‘Television: Set and Screen’ in Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media by Samuel Weber, ed, Alan Cholodenko, Stanford, 1996, p 120.
33 Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media.
34 Claude Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed John B Thompson, : MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass1986.
35 Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, tr Richard Nice, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA:1990: 107. My invocation of Bourdieu here is not without misgivings. See footnote 39 below.
36 Here we can recollect the arguments of Jurgen Habermas, about the intimate space of bourgeois domesticity, and its freedom from instrumental and market relationships, that laid the foundation for the possibility of the public man, who engaged in rational-critical dialogue. I suggest that, while such gendered, bourgeois relations may anchor the development of rational-critical sensibilities, Habermas is in fact elaborating on aspects of the communicative logic of print capitalism, by identifying it with a particular phase of west European history. This logic becomes clearer with electronic capitalism, I suggest. See his Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Tr Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989.
37 I am indebted to the work of Appadurai for its sustained effort to think through the contradictions of a broadly located historical conjuncture, and in challenging the applicability of received notions to understand new cultural forms. See his Modernity at Large: The Cultural Forms of Globalisation, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis:1986, p 3.
38 See Appadurai, ibid, p 8.
39 For a more elaborated argument, see Arvind Rajagopal, Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK: 2001, Introduction. 40 G R Khairnar, personal interview, August 15, 2000, Mumbai. A few details about the practicalities of demolition. The cost of demolition is estimated at Rs 15,000 per day for demolishing nearly 500 structures in the 12 to 14 hours of duty. This included the cost of 8 vehicles, staff and constables. This cut into the BMC budget as the corporation received a mere Rs 20,000 when the goods were auctioned after a month of its seizure. To release a loaded handcart, the cost is Rs 5000, and for a stall, Rs 3000. Demurrage charges ranged from Rs 100 to 500 per day per item. It is then cheaper to buy the goods back from whoever purchases them at the auction, usually at a much smaller priceRajshri Mehta, ‘BMC Gets Order for Bonfire of Demolition Debris’, Asian Age, 15 June, 2000.
41 Suresh Kapile, general secretary, Mumbai Hawkers’ Union, quoted in ‘Sold out: Hawkers at Nariman Point’, Bombay Times, The Times of India, March 8, 2000.
42 ‘Hawkers Threaten to Demonstrate Outside Legislators’ Homes’, The Times of India, June 22, 2000.
43 Ibid.
44 Horniman Circle Association, Restoring a Banking District, Urban Design Research Institute, Bombay: 1999, 19.
45 Jagdeep Desai, ‘Theirs or Ours?’, The Indian Express, March 13, 2000.
46 Prasanna Khapre-Upadhyay, ‘Trouble in the Twilight Zone’, The Express Newsline, April 24, 1999.
47 Namita Devidayal, ‘Impasse Over Hawking Zones Continues’, The Times of India Sept 15, 1998.
48 The proposal for non-hawking zones was made by Vishnu Kamat, a retired BMC officer. See ‘Mumbaiites Oppose Hawking Zones Plan Tooth and Nail’, The Times of India, February 3, 1999.
49 At the time of writing, US$1 equals approximately Rs 45.
50 Olga Tellis and Ors v Bombay Municipal Corporation and Others (1985) 2 Bom CR 434 1985 (3) SCC 545AIR 1986, 180.
51 Sobha Singh, handcart rental operator, personal interview.
52 Vidyadhar Date, ‘Hawkers Come Together to Form National Union’ TOINS, The Times of India, September 17, 1999.
53 Sujan Dutta, ‘City Lights’, The Telegraph, December 1, 1996.
54 Himanshi Dhawan, ‘Roadside Stalls ‘Offer’ More than a Meal’, The Times of India, August 1, 1999.
55 However, one study in Pune showed that the cheapest street food was equally or less bacteria-laden than restaurant food. Irene Tinker, Street Foods: Urban Food and Employment in Developing Countries, Oxford University Press, New York: 192. Cited in Geetam Tiwari, ‘Encroachers or Service Providers?’ Seminar (New Delhi) No 491, July 2000, 31.
56 Raju Z Moray, ‘Trampling Over Footpaths’, The Indian Express, September 19, 1998.
57 Namita Devidayal, ‘Impasse Over Hawking Zones Continues’, The Times of India September 15, 1998.
58 Namita Devidayal, ‘As Frustration Levels Increase, A Citizens’ Movement Takes Shape’, The Times of India, March 8, 1999.
59 ‘Hawker’s Paradise’, Afternoon Despatch and Courier, May 5, 1999.
60 Tina Chopra, ‘Vested Interests Hold-Up Solution to Hawkers Impasse’, The Times of India, February 8, 1999.
61 ‘Nepean Sea Residents Try to Curb Hawker Menace’, The Times of India, October 11, 1999.
62 Mohan Chauhan, quoted in ‘Sold Out: Hawkers at Nariman Point’, Bombay Times, The Times of India, March 8, 2000.
63 Quotes from Tina Chopra, ‘Vested Interests Hold-Up Solution to Hawkers Impasse’, The Times of India, February 8, 1999.
64 Ghatkopar (West) Pheriwala Samiti meeting, August 2000, Field notes.
65 Munna Seth, handcart supplier, Ghatkopar (W), Mumbai, Personal interview, August 2000.
66 In a sign of the escalating war against hawkers, even paotis are no longer officially issued. This merely meant, however, that revenue was diverted from the BMC to private hands, often of public servants. Express News Service, ‘Scrap Paoti System, HC Orders BMC’, The Indian Express, April 21, 1999.
67 Namita Devidayal, ‘How Stay Orders Become the Order of the Day’, The Times of India, April 22, 1999.
68 M K Ramesh, Letter to Editor: ‘Hawkers too are Committed to Serve Society!’ Afternoon Despatch and Courier, April 19, 1999.
69 Namita Devidayal, ‘How Stay Orders Become the Order of the Day’, The Times of India, April 22, 1999.
70 Braudel, Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce: Civilisation and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Vol 2, tr Sian Reynolds, Harper and Row, New York, 1982, p 29.
71 Ibid, p 26.
72 Olga Tellis and Ors v Bombay Municipal Corporation and Others 2 Bom CR 434 1985 (3) SCC 545, AIR 1986, 180.
73 ‘HC Judgment allows BMC to Set Up Separate Hawking Centres in City’, The Times of India, July 6, 2000.
74 ‘Hawkers’ Union to Challenge High Court Order’, The Times of India, July 7, 2000.
75 HC Judgement allows BMC to Set Up Separate Hawking Centres in City, The Economic Times, July 6, 2000.
76 Gerson da Cunha, ‘Victory Crowns Citizen Efforts’, Bombay Times, The Times of India, July 8, 2000. 

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner