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Ethnic Diversity and the Demand for Public Goods: Interpreting the Evidence from Delhi

Why do India's urban poor not make concerted efforts to demand public goods? Given the widespread deficits in public services, one would expect low-income groups to make claims on the state to improve them. However, collective action for public goods is at best short-lived and sporadic. Based on prior research, but also drawing from field studies in two low-income communities in the city-state of Delhi, this paper identifies the main reasons for the lack of effective demand for public goods.


Ethnic Diversity and the Demand for Public Goods: Interpreting the Evidence from Delhi

Madhvi Gupta, Pushkar

Why do India’s urban poor not make concerted efforts to demand public goods? Given the widespread deficits in public services, one would expect low-income groups to make claims on the state to improve them. However, collective action for public goods is at best short-lived and sporadic. Based on prior research, but also drawing from field studies in two low-income communities in the city-state of Delhi, this paper identifies the main reasons for the lack of effective demand for public goods.

Part of this study borrows from Madhvi Gupta’s PhD thesis “When Democracy Is Not Enough: Political Freedoms and Democratic Deepening in Brazil and India” submitted to the department of political science, McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Earlier versions of this paper were prepared for a workshop on “Citizenship and Ethnicity” organised by the Centre for Developing-Area Studies, McGill University, 13-14 March 2009, and the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Ottawa, 27-29 May 2009. The paper is part of a larger study in progress.

Madhvi Gupta ( is at the department of political science, Concordia University, Montréal; Pushkar (p.pushkar@ is a lecturer in International Development Studies, McGill University, Montréal.

large number of writings have found that, with some e xceptions, democracies outperform dictatorships in h uman development outcomes (Halperin et al 2005; Lake and Baum 2001; Navia and Zweifel 2003). One such exception is India. Despite an impressive democratic record, India’s human development performance has been lacklustre. This can be e xplained in a large part by the state’s failure to provide basic public goods such as water, electricity, roads, education, health, and the like. Citizens believe that the provision of public goods is the state’s responsibility (Chhibber et al 2004). However, the same state is not considered to be a credible provider of public services (Mehta 2003). Critics note that in sectors where the state is “desperately needed – in providing basic education, h ealthcare, and drinking water – it has performed appallingly” (Das 2006: 9). India’s failures are all the more curious because economic growth has been steady since independence and impressive since the 1990s. Economic growth is often seen as a fix for many problems in the developing world, including human development (Bhagwati 2004; Dollar and Kraay 2002; Pritchett and Summers 1996; Friedman 2005). If democracy and economic growth are both generally good for welfare, how can we explain the Indian paradox of “a booming private economy” with “despair over the lack of the simplest public goods” (Das 2006: 9) and a ttendant poor human development?

An expansion in public goods provision typically occurs in one or more of the following ways: (1) top-down interventions;

(2) bottom-up pressures; and (3) some combination of 1 and 2 (Banerjee and Somanathan 2007). Top-down interventions are not rare. Even authoritarian and semi-democratic regimes, infused primarily by an instrumental logic but also in some cases by socialist ideologies, have expanded the provision of select public goods (de Mesquita and Downs 2005; McGuire 2001; Riley 2008). However, the current state of public goods provision in most developing countries suggests that top-down initiatives are not routine. Demands for public goods by citizens may be necessary to stimulate top-down responses by political leaders. This is more likely in democratic settings. In particular, through the act of voting and political mobilisation, citizens can force the state’s hand. When political leaders face the prospect of losing power to competitors, they are more likely to become responsive to citizen demands. Different kinds of public action are also facilitated by the existence of political and other rights.

In this paper, we address the demand (or rather the lack of it) for public goods in urban India. Given that public goods provision

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is poor; citizens consider public goods provision to be an i mportant state responsibility; and they enjoy political freedoms to m obilise and force the state’s hand, we would expect to see the urban poor demand public goods. However, incidents of claims-making are weak, short-lived, sporadic, or even absent. Our o bjective is to explain the lack of an effective demand and to d etermine whether ethnic diversity impedes c ollective action.

We explicitly address the issue of ethnic diversity because a growing number of academic writings have found poor public goods provision to be linked to the ethnic make-up of countries (see especially Alesina and LaFerrara 2005; Alesina et al 1999; Easterly and Levine 1997; on India, see Banerjee 2004; Banerjee and Somanathan 2001, 2007; Banerjee et al 2008). The evidence indicates that ethnic diversity – or more specifically, ethnic p olarisation – leads to lower and more uneven levels of public goods provision. On the supply side, dominant ethnic groups are found to discriminate against other ethnic groups in the provision of public goods. On the demand side, ethnic polarisation fractures the possibility of inter-ethnic cooperation and undermines the possibility of popular mobilisation for universal goals such as public goods. As Banerjee and Somanathan (2007) note, ethnic diversity often “inhibits communities from working c ollectively to extract public goods from a recalcitrant state” (p 288). Members of different ethnic groups typically use their political freedoms to mobilise for “ethnic goods” in preference to public goods.1

The paper is organised as follows. In Section 1, we describe the Indian situation of relatively high levels of identity mobilisation and a lack of collective action for public goods. In Section 2, we provide a survey of academic writings that link ethnic diversity to the demand side of public goods provision. In Section 3, we propose that collective action for public goods is contingent on the specific features of the public good in question, and the e xpectation that individuals have from the state and fellow c itizens. In Section 4, we describe the provision of two public goods in Delhi, water and sanitation, including two adjacent low-income multi-ethnic communities where field research was carried out – Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp. In Section 5, we use interviews with residents to explain the lack of an effective demand for water and sanitation. Finally, we summarise the main findings.

1 The Indian Puzzle

Indians are openly critical of their government’s nonperformance and punish them at the polls. Low-income groups are known to use their political freedoms to vote out “the rascals”. They certainly turn out to vote in larger numbers than the rich and the middle classes and participate actively in protests and demonstrations. Overall, low-income groups use their political freedoms for the individual act of voting and collective action to press for a variety of goals (Varshney 2000a). India records among the highest numbers of protests and demonstrations of all kinds but these are prominently identity-based (Katzenstein et al 2001). However, it is curious that low-income groups do not typically engage in claims-making for public goods despite

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that they, in particular, are short-changed in terms of access to public goods.

The absence of claims-making for public goods has puzzled s ocial scientists. As Mehta (2003) asks,

Why is political mobilisation on these [health and education] issues less effective? Can one just assume that this is simply a product of the state’s failure or is there something about the structure and ideologies in civil society that impedes the formation of effective demand for health and education? (137)

For him, the lack of an effective demand is partly due to India’s caste system, or more generally ethnic diversity and income i nequalities, which create a social distance among members of different ethnic groups and classes. India has been described as “the most heterogeneous and complex society on earth” (Manor 1996: 459) where at least four kinds of diversities are relevant – caste, language, religion, and tribe (Stuligross and Varshney 2002). The struggle for identity rights has typically trumped class-based struggles. This is partly because “with isolated exceptions, caste rather than class has been the primary mode of subaltern experience in India” (Varshney 2000b: 7). Accordingly, lower castes have utilised their political freedoms to challenge upper-caste dominance (Jaffrelot 2003; Pai 2002). A similar a rgument applies to religion, where social injustice is defined with reference to past Muslim rule and current Hindu domination. As a result, substantial mobilisation has taken place in parts of the country along religious lines (Jaffrelot 1996; van der Veer 1994). It has been suggested that the “problem” may be that various castes, tribes, and linguistic and religious groups are “too busy righting all the wrongs of yesterday to focus on what would give them a better tomorrow” (Banerjee 2004: 209).

The Indian experience of an abundance of identity movements and the lack of collective action for public goods suggests that the structure and ideologies of civil society merit closer examination. Accordingly, we raise two questions.

  • (1) Why are low-income groups not using their political freedoms to demand public goods?
  • (2) Do ethnic differences impede claims-making by low-income groups?
  • We focus on low-income groups in the city-state of Delhi to try and understand why they do not make concerted demands for two public goods – water and sanitation. Keefer and Khemani (2004) have addressed similar questions but with an emphasis on rural settings. We opt for an urban bias in the expectation that urban residents are more likely to be educated and more aware of their rights as citizens. Literacy rates are significantly higher among urban residents than among peasants. Higher literacy rates, especially among women, are commonly associated with greater citizen activism and demands for better governance (Krishna 2002).2 Approximately 82% of Delhi’s residents are l iterate. In 2001, 75% of the girls and women above the age of seven in the state could write (Government of the NCT of Delhi [subsequently GND] 2006: 22).

    While the supply of some public goods has improved over time, advances in water supply and sanitation have been limited. These deficits have a direct bearing on people’s well-being, health, and capabilities. Private solutions involve substantial out-of-pocket expenses. Lack of sufficient water leaves people with little choice but to buy water. Inadequate sanitation causes ill-health and poor public health services mean that many spend their own money on private healthcare. Surveys show that people express a desire for a broad range of public goods and identify three “main concerns” regarding their physical quality of life – inadequate access to safe drinking water; poor sanitation and ineffective garbage disposal; and insufficient power supply (GND 2006). People could, therefore, be expected to demand these public services.

    A cursory reading of Delhi’s newspapers indicates that citizen protests for public goods, especially water, garbage disposal, and electricity, are routine during the summer months. Some protests are spontaneous and others are led by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community organisations, and opposition p arties. However, these protests do not endure beyond securing immediate relief. Despite facing deficits in water supply, sanitation, electricity and other public goods, there is an absence of sustained claims-making by civil society actors. Once public

    o fficials provide relief, citizen activism fades away. The cycle of citizen activism and retreat is repeated over and over. Why are citizens not mobilising to make concerted demands for better provision of public goods?

    2 Ethnic Diversity and the Provision of Public Goods

    There is substantial research on the impact of ethnic diversity on both the demand and supply of public goods (Alesina and L aFerrara 2005; Alesina et al 1999; Easterly and Levine 1997; K imenyi 2006; Miguel and Gugerty 2005). Empirical studies confirm there is a supply side link between a diversity-low public and the provision of public goods. In essence, there is an “ethnicisation” of public goods (Rabushka and Shepsle 1972), where the ethnic elites in power provide preferential treatment to fellow ethnics and discriminate against others. For example, in India, Betancourt and Gleason (2000) have found evidence of discrimination on the basis of caste and religion in the provision of medical services at the district level. A high proportion of lower castes and Muslims in the rural areas of a district led to a decline in public services (also see Srinivasan and Mohanty 2004). This p aper, however, is concerned with the impact of ethnic diversity on the demand side of public goods provision, especially whether the nature of social relations between members of different e thnic groups hinder claims-making. The demand side is crucial because, as Chand (2006) has noted, the absence of claimsmaking has adverse consequences on public goods provision. Empirical studies appear to largely concur that ethnic diversity inhibits communities from working collectively to extract public goods from the state.

    There is one broad insight in the academic literature that seems to be especially relevant – members of different ethnic groups are said to be unable to agree on the importance of s pecific public goods (Easterly and Levine 1997). This may be b ecause they have a preference for a different set of public goods (Alesina et al 1999), depending on their location, their socioeconomic status, history, culture or some other reason. Members of different ethnic groups are also said to have discriminatory preferences that make them only care about the welfare of fellow

    66 ethnics (Cutler et al 1993). So, they may even prefer a lower p rovision of public goods if an increase in the provision of those goods will also benefit members of other ethnic groups (Alesina et al 1999).

    The degree of physical and social distance between members of different ethnic groups is crucial. When different ethnic groups occupy the same or proximate physical space, the demand for public goods is found to be lacking (Alesina et al 1999; Cutler et al 1993; Easterly and Levine 1997). On the face of it, this is surprising because despite their differences, members of different ethnic groups experience a similar paucity in public goods. They occupy the same or proximate physical space because they also belong to the same or similar income group. Class affinities among ethnically diverse peoples have the potential to offset their differences. Further, closer interaction between different ethnic groups has the potential to create new bases for understanding, tolerance, and solidarity. Why then do ethnically diverse communities, who share class affinities and experience similar deficits in public goods, not engage in collective action for them?

    The relationship between members of different ethnic groups is said to be characterised by social distance, which determines levels of trust and cooperation between individuals. Social distance is hardly conducive for trust and cooperation between members of different ethnic groups (on India, see Mehta 2003). This is “in large part due to the fact that individuals trust those more similar to themselves” (Alesina and LaFerrara 2005: 231). According to Alba and Nee,

    When social distance is small, there is a feeling of common identity, closeness, and shared experiences. But when social distance is great, people perceive and treat the other as belonging to a different category (2003: 32).

    Not surprisingly perhaps, empirical studies have found greater ethnic heterogeneity to be associated with lower social trust ( Anderson and Paskeviciute 2006; Delhey and Newton 2005).

    The observations above lead us into social capital territory and to the path-breaking and widely critiqued work of Putnam (1995, 2000; Putnam et al 1993), and others (on India, see Bhattacharyya et al 2004; Krishna 2002). Social capital is defined as those “features of social organisation such as networks, norms and s ocial trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for m utual benefit” (Putnam 1995: 67). Communities with lower l evels of social capital are considered less capable of organising themselves effectively. In the language of social capital theorists, ethnic differences undermine levels of trust within a heterogeneous community, rendering them incapable of mobilising for p ublic goods (Miguel and Gugerty 2005; Okten and Osili 2004). While there may be a high level of trust between members of the same ethnic group, this only implies that they may successfully mobilise for ethnic goods or for those public goods that benefit only members of their ethnic group.

    To the extent that social capital matters for community action, it is important to emphasise that ethnic differences are not the only source of social distance and low levels of trust. Class differences have historically mattered as much (Szreter and Woolcock 2004) and this remains true even today. In the US, higher income inequality is one of the main factors that explain lower levels of

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    interpersonal trust (Alesina and LaFerrara 2005). In Latin A merican countries, “huge social distances entailed by deep i nequality” are said to produce “manifold patterns of authoritarian relations in various encounters between the privileged and the others” (O’Donnell 1999: 322-23). Further, as we discuss later, intra-class and gender differences are also causes of social distance and lead to lower levels of trust and reciprocity within a community.

    3 Other Theoretical Considerations

    Before ethnic diversity or any other community-level differences come into play, we need to consider the element of choice that is central to individual behaviour. Democracies offer citizens three broad choices when they face deficits in public goods – one,

  • o rganise to make claims on the state; two, find private solutions; or three, tolerate poor public goods provision. As is well documented, collective action, whether for public goods or any other goal, is subject to a wide range of constraints. People opt for p rivate solutions or tolerate deficits in public goods more routinely than making demands on the state. While low-income groups in India vote more than the rich, their participation in s ocial organisations and in protests and demonstrations is lower than middle- and upper-income groups (SDSA Team 2008: 264, 268). This suggests that political participation by low-income groups is high when the costs of participation are low. The act of voting is not costly whereas membership in social organisations or participation in protests and demonstrations involves considerable time and other resources, which low-income groups, u sually employed in the unorganised sector (GND 2006), cannot afford. They are exposed to a specific set of collective action problems derived from their socio-economic status and their n ature of employment.
  • People’s willingness to make collective demands for public goods is very much influenced by the following factors.
  • (1) The specific attributes of the public goods in question: How important are the public goods in question? Can they be acquired privately and at what cost?
  • (2) The expectation that individuals have of the state and fellow citizens: Will the provision of public goods improve over time due to state action or claims-making by fellow citizens? Will fellow citizens consider it worth the effort to mobilise and make d emands on the state? Is the state likely to respond positively to claims-making by citizens?
  • For low-income groups, public goods compete with their one primary concern – employment. Typically, it may only be when one is employed that concern with public goods becomes important. Public goods are also likely to be ranked in order of importance based on whether they are necessary for survival; yield d irect benefits; are useful in improving one’s quality of life; and can be acquired privately. Some public goods that are needed for survival – like water – yield direct benefits as well as improve one’s quality of life. Others – such as education – yield direct benefits but are not “survival goods”. Some public goods can also be acquired privately. Survival goods are likely to rank higher than others unless they can be acquired privately at affordable prices. We can expect poor people to demand survival goods

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    b efore other public goods. This does not rule out the possibility that there may be a broad demand for a range of public goods at the same time, but only that the people are likely to prefer a b etter provision of some goods than others. The importance a ssigned to a public good is also likely to be shaped by a knowledge and understanding of it. For example, most Indians value education because they know it yields direct benefits. However, if people have inadequate information about the benefits from p ublic goods, they are unlikely to consider them important.3

    Some public goods can be acquired by private means. The p rimary consideration for low-income groups is the importance assigned to a public good and its cost factor. When a sufficient quantity of water is not available, they can buy water. If the quality of public schools is poor, they can send their children to p rivate schools. Of course, such expenses are a drain on incomes and acquiring a whole range of public goods through private means is beyond their means. Low-income groups acquire some public goods through private means and get by without others, depending on the importance and cost of the public good. Private options are also more likely when citizens do not expect the state to provide public goods.

    Finally, collective action for public goods is contingent on citizens’ expectations from the state and fellow citizens. Over time, citizens have developed a set of perceptions about their political leaders and their fellow citizens. They have heard political leaders make promises and not deliver on them. They have voted for leaders who claimed to champion the cause of the poor but i nstead accumulated personal wealth. For Keefer and Khemani (2004), there is a credibility problem with political leaders and citizens do not expect them to follow up on their promises. The findings of the State of Democracy in South Asia (SDSA) Team (2008) hold no surprises – Indians do not trust political parties even though they vote for them in large numbers.

    Citizens also have a history of engagement with their neighbours, friends, and other members of their community. While they might all agree that public goods provision is deficient, and that the state and public officials are to blame, their past success or failure in mobilising their community to make demands for public goods is likely to influence their actions in the present. If past efforts at community mobilisation failed due to ethnic or other community-level differences, residents might expect c urrent efforts to meet the same fate. Even if there has been c ollective action in the past, citizens might consider what they gained from their efforts then. If the collective action of the past is not considered to have been successful, they are less likely to make the effort again. Public action depends on such expectations regarding political leaders and fellow citizens, and the probability of success.

    4 Public Goods Provision in Delhi

    Large parts of urban India, including the metropolitan cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai), are deprived of public amenities that are taken for granted in cities around the world. With migrants from poor Indian states heading to the metropolitan cities in large numbers, the public need for housing, transport, health, education, water and electricity have all fallen behind supply. The most obvious deficit is in housing and there has been a significant increase in the number and size of slums. Indeed, in large cities, the “absolute poor” live in “slums within slums” and compete for scarce public goods with those who are less poor (Ali 1990, 1995).

    Delhi is better off than most other cities and towns. It has the highest per capita income in the country, more than double the national average, and among the fastest rates of economic growth in the country. Income poverty has fallen sharply over the last two-three decades and is now under 10%. Delhi ranks among the top Indian states in most human development indicators. However, despite the growing prosperity of the city, many are left behind, and the lives of low-income groups, particularly slum-dwellers, are under great strain due to poor provision of public goods (GND 2006). Since independence, Delhi’s planners and policymakers have paid little attention to the issues of housing, water supply, sewerage, and health services (Priya 1993). Delhi has witnessed the fastest population growth among the metropolitan cities and the shortage of key public goods is striking. Housing is identified as a grave problem. Approximately 38% of households live in one-room units and 45% of the population is estimated to be living in slums (GND 2006: 4). Only 75% of households have access to tap water and the remaining depends on the informal water market (GND 2006: 47). The poor provision of public goods has social and environmental consequences, and r educes living conditions to dangerously low levels beyond the scope of improvement (Ali 1995).

    Delhi’s problem begins with lack of access to a sufficient quantity of clean water. The provision of adequate water supply was not a major concern in any of the resettlement programmes initiated by the government (Priya 1993). As a result, Delhi faces an “unparalleled water crisis” (GND 2006: 7), to the extent that w ater has become one of the dearest commodities. Among the many problems are the unequal access to water and its poor q uality. According to one estimate, a slum resident gets access to only 30 litres of water a day whereas the more privileged use more than 300 litres a day (Down to Earth, 28 February 1999).

    The state of sanitation and sewerage is also not encouraging. Approximately 71% of Delhi’s population has access to toilet f acilities within their houses (Census of India 2001) but 45% of the population has no sewerage services (GND 2006: 49). Even where sewerage services exist, they are of a poor standard. Poor localities are dotted with open sewers, clogged and overrunning drains, and undisposed garbage. Lack of proper garbage disposal ranks high among the main concerns of Delhi’s residents, especially those living in low-income areas (GND 2006: 69).

    The poor provision of water, sanitation, sewerage, and g arbage removal has adverse consequences on the health and well-being of people. Living in crowded conditions makes people vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis. Water-borne diseases are common in Delhi. Outbreaks of cholera, dengue, measles, malaria, meningococcal meningitis, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis occur year after year during the summer and monsoon months. The overall incidence of some communicable diseases has dropped but remains a threat to vulnerable populations in low-income areas (GND 2006). Partly due to the substandard l iving conditions of a large number of residents as well as the unsatisfactory state of public health, Delhi’s infant mortality rates are more than d ouble that of Kerala. Surveys show that Delhi’s residents identify deficits in water and sanitation among their “main concerns” and low-income groups in particular rate water supply, sanitation and garbage disposal facilities as poor (GND 59, 68-69). Why are they then seeking private solutions or tolerating these inadequacies?

    5 The Urban Poor and the Demand for Public Goods

    Field research was carried out in two adjacent low-income communities – Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp – in an attempt to understand why the urban poor do not make claims on the state for better provision of public goods.4 Dakshinpuri is one of the 47 resettlement colonies in Delhi. These colonies are essentially “planned slums” since they are strategically located at the p eriphery of the city or in cheaper low-lying waste lands, often along drains and ditches; housing plot sizes are as low as 25 square yards; and there is less-than-enough provision for basic amenities (Priya 1993). Subhash Camp is classified as a Jhuggi-Jhopri Cluster (JJC). JJCs are illegal squatter settlements that have come up mostly under political patronage.5 Living conditions in both settlements are characterised by deficits in water supply, garbage disposal, electricity, roads, health, and schools. However, the resettlement colonies are better off since many households are provided with legal tap water and electricity connections, roads (in varying degrees of disrepair), and drains (in a poor condition). The residents enjoy greater security b ecause of their legalised status whereas those living in JJCs d epend on political patronage. In cases where JJCs are located next to resettlement colonies, they compete for scarce infrastructural facilities.

    According to Dakshinpuri’s residents, while public officials had told them to expect water for 15-20 minutes each day, the usual supply was no more than 10 minutes, usually very late at night and only a trickle. Families were forced to store water for days because it was either not readily available through the municipal water supply or had to be carried, village-like, over a long distance from some public tap shared by tens of people. Long waiting periods were common to obtain a minimum quantity of w ater. Water is not only a scarce commodity, but also of poor quality, whether from public or private sources. It usually had a high amount of solid content, which was allowed to settle down before using it. Many residents were not concerned about boiling water to make it a little safer to drink.

    Most residents did not have toilet facilities at home. The rising incomes of some residents in Delhi’s slums have allowed them the luxury of constructing private toilets. However, newer arrivals to the city, who tend to be poorer, suffer the most because public toilets are lacking or poorly maintained, which leads to open defecation. This was quite evident in Dakshinpuri and the situation was even worse in Subhash Camp. The lack of adequate sanitation created unhygienic conditions, making people susceptible to various diseases. The poor had to cope both with deficits in basic public services as well as from the health effects and financial costs of these deficits.

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    (a) The Importance of Public Goods

    Low-income areas typically have lower literacy rates and, in this respect, Dakshinpuri figures very low on the list of Delhi’s resettlement colonies (Ali 1998). Communities with lower literacy l evels are unlikely to have a proper understanding of how their living conditions affect their physical and economic well-being. However, most residents of Delhi, especially those living in low-income settlements, express high levels of dissatisfaction with public goods provision (GND 2006). This suggests that low- income groups take the provision of public goods seriously. S everal residents of Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp noted that, other than employment, one of the reasons for their migration to Delhi was to be able to provide education to their children. They fully understood the direct benefits of public goods like education. Others expressed significant concern about poor sanitation and open drains because they considered them a health hazard that sometimes led to disease, prevented them from working, and made them incur medical expenses. Overall, water supply and sanitation were considered important public goods and women gave them greater priority than men. Despite lower literacy levels in low-income areas, the residents were broadly aware of the physical and economic benefits from better provision of water and sanitation. The absence of claims-making for public goods such as water and sanitation was clearly not due to complete ignorance on the part of residents about their direct benefits.

    (b) Survival First

    Low-income groups are primarily employed in the unorganised sector of the economy, which makes up for more than 80% of employment (GND 2006). Their main worry is retaining their jobs. Residents of Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp expressed deep concerns about employment and inflation, particularly the rise in food prices. As Manoj explained,

    We are worried about jobs. Sometimes I am unemployed like now ... I am worried about employment. Other issues can be solved once we are employed. If I am unemployed, my family suffers. My wife has to work outside the home.

    The picture that emerged from meetings with the residents was that people prioritised their needs, with employment ranking first, even to the exclusion of other needs. Residents felt that if they had a steady basic income, they could address other needs. Otherwise, everyday issues – travelling to and back from work, or the concern of earning enough to provide for their families – left them with little time or inclination to worry about their living conditions. Many interviews were conducted with women who stayed behind at home. Living conditions had a more immediate and direct bearing on their everyday lives. While several of them expressed frustration and anger, they defined their primary r esponsibility as taking care of the family and putting food on the table. Beyond that, both men and women, expressed dissatisfaction with public goods provision but had little time or desire to do more than what was necessary to survive.

    (c) Nothing Is Going to Change

    There is the widespread perception among people that political leaders and parties do not care about their needs. This, and similar perceptions, have been formed over years of engagement with

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    the state. As Mehta (2003) notes, “There is little in the citizens’ experience of the Indian state that leads them to believe that the state will be a credible provider of social services” (138). The state’s response to citizen demands is at best to provide temporary or partial relief before things return to the former dismal state. When political leaders lack credibility, claims-making for public goods can at best secure only empty promises or limited relief.

    Dakshinpuri’s residents recounted several stories of indifference on the part of government officials. As Urmila said, “When we complain about water, garbage, public toilets, electricity or anything else to government officials, they do nothing”. Residents had few expectations of the state and little optimism that things would change. They pointed out that politicians made promises before every election but never followed up with good deeds. Occasional ad hoc improvements did come about but they were meaningless because things usually became the same again or even worse soon after. Overall, the state and public officials were held in low esteem and considered incapable and unwilling to change the lives of the poor.

    The common perception that “nothing is going to change” has a direct bearing on the demand side of public goods. It suggests that the urban poor are caught in a “cognitive trap” where they recognise their situation as unjust but do not believe it can be changed through their actions (Gupta 2006).

    (d) Public Goods, Private Options

    Since water supply in Delhi is insufficient and of poor quality, a parallel industry in bottled water and private water tankers has mushroomed, signalling the widespread reluctance of citizens to seek public solutions and move towards individualistic marketbased solutions. Even in low-income settlements, families procure water from private tankers for their needs. Others get their water from long distances, often after waiting in long lines. The ability to acquire public goods by private means, subject to the costs involved – in terms of money, time, or physical hardship – appear to create disincentives for claims-making. However, w itnessing the hardships and financial costs involved, it is hard to comprehend why private options for water are preferred over public action.

    Even for sewerage or garbage collection, private options are exercised or existing conditions tolerated. If there is no regular garbage collection, residents sometimes pool money and pay to have it removed. In some cases, even residents in JJCs are known to have collected money so that they can have a working drainage system (Statesman, 20 May 2000). At other times, garbage is allowed to rot, indicating tolerance. It appears that residents opt for private solutions to some public problems while letting

    o thers persist.

    While deficits in water supply and sanitation contribute to illhealth and disease, medical attention is easily available when needed. While the indigent are not able to exercise control over their living conditions, they are in a position to seek curative healthcare. In Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp, the residents did not express much satisfaction with the public health services available in their neighbourhood but utilised it when they could. When necessary, they were able to seek medical attention from private providers. The availability of private options diluted the need to make collective demands on the state for public goods.

    Overall, however, it would appear curious that residents seek private solutions for water or other public goods when they b elieve that the state should provide them. Private options typically i nvolve out-of-pocket spending on public goods, which is clearly a financial burden. The only credible answer to why private options are preferred or unhygienic living conditions tolerated is that r esidents do not believe things can change due to their efforts.

    (e) Things Could Be Worse and They Are Better

    During 1991-2001, 2.2 million migrants moved to Delhi, with nearly 70% of them coming from Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttaranchal, and Bihar (GND 2006: 41-42). More than 70% of the slum population in the state is from UP and Bihar (Hindu, 21 September 2002). Despite adverse living conditions in slums, they are mostly better off in Delhi – in terms of public goods provision and human development – than in the places of their origin (Bhat and Zavier 1999). This is probably one of the main reasons why the urban poor put up with miserable living conditions in slums. C ities offer hope where there is none in their villages. For the residents of Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp, there was no better alternative to the city despite its disadvantages. There were

    o pportunities for employment, there was access to education for their children, and there was a better provision of public goods or they could at least be procured privately. They knew from their visits to their place of origin, and from their friends and relatives, that little had changed back home. While the city exposed them to a range of problems, their friends and relatives “back home” envied their good fortune. For many residents, the big gap b etween the quality of life in the city and their villages brought a sense of relief that things were actually better than what they would have been if they had not moved.

    (f) Intra-community Differences

    The ethnic profile of Delhi is quite mixed and this is true of the poor as well, especially in large settlements (Ali 1998). The poor belong to different castes, including the upper castes and dalits, and many are Muslims and Christians. A smaller number of m igrants are from non-Hindi speaking states. Both Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp are characterised by such ethnic diversity.

    Three main kinds of differences were visible in Dakshinpuri – intra-class; ethnicity; and gender. Intra-class differences among residents of Dakshinpuri and between the residents of Dakshinpuri and Subhash Camp were quite pronounced. This is not s urprising given the different status of resettlement colonies and JJCs. In addition, in Dakshinpuri, an unlikely class division e xisted between those who had “made it” and those “left behind” even though both shared the same or similar deficits in public goods. There were some blocks and lanes in Dakshinpuri that were better maintained and more eye-pleasing than others that were in a state of disrepair. Some houses were solidly constructed whereas others were of poorer quality. Income differences were also apparent in terms of the clothes worn by different residents, ownership of consumer goods, and the means of cooking. Those who had made it did not want to associate much with those left behind and the latter did not take kindly to the pretensions of the former. This had the effect of damaging community-level solidarity and trust. As Anjali put it,

    One reason why people don’t have unity is a lot of people think they are better than the other. When they start earning better than the others they think they are too good for you, for this place. They can’t wait to get away.

    The “have-nots” believed that the “rich” considered it beneath themselves to be involved in the community. In conversations with the relatively well-off, it seemed that they had psychologically, though not physically, transcended their previous station in life and considered their further stay temporary or a hardship that had to be endured for a larger good in the future. As Maya explained,

    We would like to move away from here. But it is difficult. A lot of places it is too expensive to rent. But I don’t know if I want to bring up my children in this kind of locality ... My mentality is different from p eople here.

    While one would expect class affinities to exist among the residents of Dakshinpuri, there existed considerable heterogeneity within social classes. There were pronounced differences b etween the not-so-poor and the poor even though it was not u ncommon for the same residents to make references to a common fate because of their lower-class status.

    Ethnic differences were also important and affected communitylevel solidarity. However, a narrative that emphasises ethnic d ifferences as singularly important impediments to collective a ction would be an exaggeration. There were stories of “good neighbours” as well as those where neighbours were described as casteist and prejudiced. There were instances when neighbours from other castes or religious groups had come through when a child had fallen ill, and others when the same neighbours had let them down. Neighbours shared water, took the responsibility of caring for the elderly or children, and helped each other in various ways, irrespective of religious and caste affiliations.

    Caste-based sensibilities seemed to matter more in terms of how residents responded to their living conditions. The attitude of residents towards waste was to get it out of their living quarters first, and thereafter, it was the duty of the Bhangis (a community at the bottom of the caste ladder) to dispose it. There was no individual or collective responsibility towards maintaining cleanliness outside the house. Many residents themselves b elonged to lower castes but the Bhangis were treated as outcastes by both the upper and lower castes. There was considerable resentment that they were paid by the government but did not do their jobs properly or that they demanded money to do what they were already paid to do. On their part, the Bhangis complained that the residents treated them badly. One of their other grouses was that soon after they cleaned up, residents dumped more garbage expected them to get rid of it immediately. Kailash, a sweeper, blamed the residents.

    People think it is our job to be constantly cleaning the drains. They don’t make our job easier. We can’t clean the drains the whole day, we will do it once a day and it is the people’s responsibility to not throw anything once we are done cleaning. But they are prejudiced against us. Because we are Bhangis, they give us no respect and believe it is our job to clean their garbage.

    While ethnic and other differences did matter, neighbours b elonging to different castes or religions were able to overcome their differences on many issues. The sharing of deprivations p erhaps made it necessary for residents to cooperate on more

    october 23, 2010 vol xlv no 43

    than one occasion to address their common problems. However, cooperation and sharing did not extend to collective action. As Manorma explained,

    People are unified in sharing each other’s personal troubles ... But try to act collectively for public goods, to storm government offices, or run a signature campaign against the government for better services and everyone has their work. For women it is the kitchen, children, h usband. For men, it is work, or looking for work.

    The gendered division of labour added to the existing heterogeneity in the community. Men and women perceived deficits in public services in different ways. Poor public goods provision had a direct and greater impact on the lives of women. With men away at work, it was women, many of whom did not work outside home, or worked part time (most commonly as domestic help), who had to pick up the slack. Maintaining the living quarters, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children were their responsibility. Women had to find ways to overcome a wide range of problems emerging from the poor quality of public services. Therefore, one might expect women to be more responsive to the poor provision of public goods than men. However, women seemed resigned to finding solutions on their own or with the help of other women. Both men and women prioritised employment and economic needs to the extent that they downplayed the lack of public goods and, depending on the public good in question, saw private solutions or letting things be as their options.

    The powerfully gendered private space of the family and n otions of what constituted a woman’s work meant that the d omestic world and its associated problems were for women to manage. The gendered structure of power relations appeared to be a hindrance to claims-making. As Manju said,

    It is difficult for us women to take part in political activities. We have to look after our homes. There are so many household duties, and some of us also have part-time work … We are so busy putting food on the table, there is no time. Women here are involved with their own families. They don’t want to do anything political. Our men work hard, come back tired. They have no time for our complaints. All this …it is our job and we have to suffer. And we suffer, but what can we do, we have to. The state is useless. Then, they [the men] don’t like us to go out and do something, to get involved too much with all this, with politics.

    Since women are more directly affected by everyday deprivations, their political involvement would seem to be the key to gener ating claims on the state. However, women were disadvantaged in at least two ways. First, because of their subordinate status, their problems were considered less important. Second, a large majority of women accepted their place as natural in the order of things. As a result, women themselves gave greater importance to the problems faced by men and to some extent downplayed their own. The absence of a discourse of gender equality and work place experiences, both of which could potentially serve to give women greater autonomy and thereby make them agents for seeking change on issues that affected them directly, meant that women depended largely on men to define priorities.

    An obvious impact of the diversity within Dakshinpuri was on social relations between its residents. Many interviewees, including women, expressed concern over the lack of trust and unity in their community. Others pointed to individualistic behaviour on the part of residents. According to Sushma,

    We women have no unity. We are involved with our individual households. Women have become very individualistic, involved only in their own families. They are reluctant to take part in political activities, and our husbands also don’t like it.

    Ramesh even speculated about why there was a lack of unity. It is not that people are illiterate here. Most are educated … at least most of us have done basic schooling. I don’t know why people are just not able to come together. It is just selfishness or lack of trust, or fear.

    Summing Up

    Surveys show that a majority of Indians understand democracy in terms of “justice/welfare” in preference to “popular rule”, “election” or “freedom”. They also believe that “basic necessities for all” is a far more “essential element” of democracy than “equal rights” or “opportunity to change the government” (SDSA Team 2008: 242, 244). However, for a large majority, basic necessities remain elusive. The obvious question is why people are not using their political rights to demand public goods or basic necessities, given their understanding of what democracy means. We propose three main explanations to account for the absence of claims-making for public goods.

    (1) Based on their past experiences, citizens do not trust political leaders and public officials to deliver public goods. They have come to believe that their efforts to improve the situation will not be successful; (2) Citizens have learned to cope with (or adapted to) deficits in public goods by seeking to acquire them privately or tolerating their inadequacy; (3) Differences within communities, based on ethnicity, but also class and gender, weaken the ability of communities to unite and demand public goods.

    Notes 4 Field research was carried out by Madhvi Gupta be-Alesina, Alberto, Reza Baqir and William Easterly 1 By “ethnic goods” we broadly refer to those goods

    tween July and December 2000. All interviews cited (1999): “Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions”, that are sought by members of an ethnic group to

    in the paper date to that period. The authors made Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(4), pp 1243-84. satisfy their specific needs. These may include two shorter visits in the summer of 2003 and 2006. Ali, Sabir (1990): Slums within Slums: A Study of Re setpublic goods when they mostly benefit members 5 Delhi’s rapid population growth coupled with in-tlement Colonies in Delhi (New Delhi: Har-Anand).of that ethnic group and not others. adequate housing has contributed to a continuing – (1995): Environment and Resettlement Colonies of

    2 For example, citizen activism for public goods increase in the number of JJCs. In 1977, there Delhi (New Delhi: Har-Anand).such as health and education has been reported were an estimated 20,000 people living in JJCs. – (1998): Environmental Scenario of Delhi Slums since at least the 1980s in states like Kerala, which Current estimates put the total number of JJCs at (New Delhi: Gyan Sagar). has higher literacy rates, especially among wom-Anderson, Christopher J and Aida Paskeviciute

    1,087 with a total of 3 million people (GND 2006: 4). en (Jeffrey 1988; Mencher 1980). (2006): “How Ethnic and Linguistic Heterogenei3 Banerjee et al (2004) found self-reported health ty Influence the Prospects for Civil Society: A


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