Window Seats: Making Connection through Transport and Mobility in Bengaluru, India
In Bengaluru city, the state, corporations and business elite invest billions of dollars in big-ticket transport infrastructures (such as freeways, the metro and airconditioned buses) to make the city “world-class.” These actors use the rhetoric of “connection” to justify their plans to remedy a city that they portray as otherwise disconnected and fragmented by heavy traffic congestion and a lack of modern planning. Such visions of city-making favor certain industries, especially information technology and consequently valorize the image of the normative user of public transit as a modern professional employed in a multinational corporation, especially information technology. Moreover, these visions of transport planning prioritize transport for mobility sake, without attention to locally meaningful ways of making socio-spatial connection. Against this broader context of transport planning, and based on seventeen months of ethnographic research conducted in Bengaluru between August 2016 and December 2017, this dissertation examines how people in Bengaluru move. Why do they make the transport decisions that they do? By paying close attention to embodied uses of transport, this dissertation explores the following: Chapter 1 focuses on transport as a means by which “informal” drivers who were previously landowning farmers, differentiate their work from that of their competitors to assert that they belong in a rapidly urbanizing milieu, contrary to public discourse which paints them as chaotic and antithetical to projects of world-class city-making. Chapter 2 focuses on how women across the class and caste spectrum access and use public transport. I show that public transport mirrors middle-class ideologies of gender and public space and that transport access is entangled in social institutions such as family and aspirations for social mobility. Chapter 3 focuses on the impact of visions of world-class city-making on local marketplaces and housing markets. Finally, by exploring mobilization among middle-class citizens for bicycle infrastructures, Chapter 4 shows that transport infrastructures can also enable collaborations between citizens and the state. In my dissertation, I present a critique of world-class city-making and the preoccupation with instituting transport for mobility sake without attention to meaningful access. Given that from my interlocutors’ experience transport emerges in analytic pairs along with housing, kinship, ties to land, assertions of urban belonging, caste, gender, class, markets, education and industry, I argue that transport needs to be studied by examining embodied use. I argue that different forms of public transport enable different kinds of gendered everydayness from the heteronormative productivity of the cis-woman, middle-class IT worker, to the hyperlocal masculinity of auto rickshaw drivers, which serves to maintain ties to their lands by keeping competitors at bay, to the disproportionate working-class femininity of rickshaw users in local marketplaces whose everyday transactions necessitate flexibility. While transport like other infrastructures has the potential to disenfranchise, my dissertation asserts the uniqueness of transport in being able to serve as a means to individual and collective social mobility in locally meaningful ways.