‘Beautification work is in progress,
Apologies for the inconvenience caused.’
The authorities seem to have taken this sign way too seriously during the G20 summit. In the recent months the country has witnessed an extravagant showcase of preparations in lieu of hosting the G20 summit. By taking over the presidency this year, India has hosted over 200 meetings across 56 locations. What ensued, naturally, was that the cities underwent a process of revamping with the famous ‘beautification drive’ being carried out which also became a hot topic of conversation. The capital city was completely immersed in this ballyhooing, gearing up for hosting the heads of forty countries in the G20 leaders’ summit. In addition to finding its place in the print as well as the digital news forums, the ‘beautification drive’ especially of the capital city, was extensively discussed and shared across various social media platforms. For the first time such a colossal event of immense importance was conducted in the country, which is undoubtedly a milestone for the nation. Nevertheless, amidst all the praises that were prominently displayed in the foreground of the ‘green sheets’, the authorities paid little attention to all that was hidden behind them. By literally drawing the curtains on the marginalised sections of society, the act brought into question the lack of humanitarian considerations, lost somewhere beyond those green sheets, driven by various social, economic, cultural, and political factors, that continue to thrive on the prominent chasms of class and caste, with the gloss of the summit dominating the scenario.
Through these acts of deliberate removal of the poor from the so-called aesthetic centres of the city, one is reminded of what Babasaheb Ambedkar observed in the context of untouchability in India, as recorded in BAWS, that “It is not a case of social separation…It is a case of territorial segregation and of a cordon sanitaire putting the impure people inside a barbed wire into a sort of a cage.” The people on the fringes are considered an eyesore in the artificiality of the city adorned with flowers, treated almost like a disease that is to be kept at a distance, who are not to be touched or seen. A migrant labourer who was forcibly evicted from his dwelling told ThePrint that they were removed because, in the view of the government the ‘dirt and the destitute are the same’. This account takes us back to the crisis that pervaded in the coronavirus lockdown, when all the migrant labourers were compelled to leave the city and had to embark on an extremely demanding journey to their hometowns on foot, while the privileged lot were living in the comfort of their homes. The system never really learns, it persistently exploits the marginalised, be it in times of crisis or of important events.
These people that had become a liability, were, in fact, the same people who were hired by the Public Works Department (PWD) for accentuating the aesthetics of the city, the ones who actually laboured for the beautification. According to a report by Newslaundry, Deepak, a worker who was employed for the beautification drive told, “The PWD contractor under whom we are working, instructed us to go to the village for the next 15 days.” In this scenario, it is glaringly evident how their work is greatly flaunted while the workers are compelled to abandon the city. Going back to Marx’s concept of alienation, the workers are seen not as persons but as instruments in a capitalist society, who have been reduced to mere things. This society is built on segregation and takes its strength from the ‘division of labour’ as well as the ‘division of labourers’. And by merely giving itself a tag of being the ‘people’s presidency’, this segregation does not ebb away. In fact, what does not go unnoticed here is the intentional neglect by the authorities of actually taking into consideration the entire population of the country, irrespective of their position in society. Where are the people in this people’s presidency? And according to the system who exactly are these people that are included in this presidency?
Furthermore, while two of the central themes of the G20 summit held in the year 2021 were ‘people and prosperity’, with an aim of reducing poverty and inequality, and the focus of the G20 summit this year was on ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, affirming the value of life in all forms, it is ironical to observe that these values go down the drain during the beautification project carried out for this very summit. The method that is implied to remove poverty from making its appearance before the delegates involves the removal of the poor altogether. It is carried out by hiding the poor behind the sheets with posters of the summit accompanied with the visuals of its leader plastered on them. It is carried out by driving the marginalised out of the city centres to the peripheries. It is carried out by actively getting rid of the people on the peripheries and by brazenly tearing down their homes. It seems that the concept of ‘One Family’ exits only till the conditions of selective inclusions are enforced. This, perhaps, depicts the best method that the authorities could come up with, for ensuring that ‘One Future’, full of prosperity and sans poverty (or sans poor?). It probably aligns with the agenda of the system, a step towards the promise of making India the world’s third-largest power, that is being pursued by incorporating various unsettling methods, one such being that of hide and rule.
The budget that was allocated for the summit was approximately nine hundred crores, however, around four thousand crores have been spent on the mega event. The question being asked is where is this extra amount coming from and who is paying for all of this? If such numbers can pop up for a mere beautification drive, why aren’t any steps being taken towards actually addressing and removing poverty? Towards removing the huge gap between the rich and the poor, rather than drawing the poor away? Opposition parties are questioning the government’s extra expenditure, which according to them is being used for its personal publicity. The excessive flamboyance, that came with a cost three hundred times more than what was expected, is also set in tune with the upcoming elections. While the world is watching and appreciating India’s presidential debut in the summit, it is also keenly observing and critiquing the bluff of the system.
In the process of eviction under the garb of beautification, several ironical instances could be witnessed at the forefront. One such is that the railings under the IIT flyover, from where at least fifteen families were asked to leave, have been painted in the tricolour of the national flag. Despite the railings being adorned in the tricolour of the nation, the people of the country who had their dwelling under the flyover, continue to suffer. These symbolisms then become vain attempts when the nation, that is the people of the nation, are not allowed within several metres of those tricoloured railings. Who dictates what/who should or should not be included in the so-called aesthetics? The concepts of beauty and aesthetics, their subjective and objective positioning, are brought into question through these barbaric enactments. What is the deciding factor that renders something or someone beautiful? And what are the different forces that implement these factors?
Another gory facet of the beautification drive was the sterilisation and forcible eviction of community dogs. Disturbing videos regarding the same had surfaced across digital platforms, depicting how the dogs were brutally picked up using metal loop catchers and shoved inside rags and cages. The stray dogs were being cruelly cleared off of the streets to avoid any hindrance in presenting a ‘neat and clean’ city to the delegates and creating a visual appeal for them. With these cruel acts of forceful sterilisation and brutal relocating methods, casts a shadow of doubt on the summit’s aim of life affirmation, of its focus on ‘One Earth’. What life is it affirming? Whose Earth, is it? Is it reserved solely for a few privileged humans to live and flourish upon?
These ongoing exploitations and disturbing practices seem to be the basic consequences of almost every other beautification drive that had been carried out. The problem is that questions are not raised enough. And even when such questions are raised, they get suppressed and curbed by the hegemonic systems of power. And ultimately, they get lost somewhere deep in the void of all this artificial glossing. These workings are very much a part of the society that prospers on the tenets of divisions and hierarchies. As Marx observed in the Communist Manifesto, it is starkly evident that ‘the exploitation of one part of society by the other’ is a common phenomenon across the globe. The vanishing of this common phenomena requires ‘a total disappearance’ of not just class but of various other sociocultural antagonisms.
About the author
Saundarya is a Junior Research Fellow, pursuing M.Phil. in English from the University of Delhi. She researches Dalit literature and culture and explores the politics of marginal literature and its representation. She has an M.A. in English from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
In her spare time, she experiments with her brush and paints anything and everything.