The Regeneration Game

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Khan Market , New Delhi

The signs of regeneration are all over Delhi. Billboards proclaim ‘DELHICIOUSLY YOURS’ throughout the city, and  it is. The pace of work completed between June and now are staggering – the air-conditioned metro, Delhi’s prize feature, works efficiently; lights decorate various hubs of tourist activity and promote a warm, festive atmosphere; and customs takes only ten minutes to get through, as opposed the the previous hour. These are the positive aspects of regeneration and they indicate how far India can go and how much could have been achieved minus the corruption scandals and the delays.

Walk a few metres away from all of this, however, and you are confronted again with real Delhi – unpaved streets, buildings fallen into disrepair and open sewers perfuming the air. There is no sign, however, of the customary wallahs – the newspapers are full of tales of people returning to collect suits from streetside tailors only to find they have been moved on; cigarette wallahs, barbers, fruit-sellers, as well as beggars and the homeless – all have mysteriously disappeared without trace or concern.

According to some Delhi residents affected by the migration, their maids and their families were simply told to ‘leave Delhi for twenty days’ – the duration of the Games and the days preceding and following. Those who did not comply willingly were forced; shacks burned up in inexplicable circumstances and not all dwellers were recompensed. It is an open secret in Delhi that many of the poor were herded to a large slum outside the city, but it has been made extremely difficult for activists and media workers to photograph or document it, and those living there who have tried to fight back have been effectively dissuaded.

Regeneration is a game, of course, even if its prizes do not glide by neatly on a conveyor belt, and so it follows that not everybody wins.

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Chief organiser of Commonwealth Games promotes his services

Suresh Kalmadi, chief organiser of Commonwealth Games, has offered up his services to the 2012 Olympics. He claims the games in Delhi have been such an outstanding success that 2012 would greatly benefit from his input. Despite last-minute worries about the unstable construction work of the Athlete’s village, “unfit for human habitation”; Kalmadi argues the event has shown the world that a Third World country is a perfectly capable host.

The Commonwealth Games were intended to showcase India’s economic rise to the world, but it soon became bogged-down in incompetence and infighting. Its defenders have proclaimed that the opening ceremony was enough to silence critics, although some have stated the games have suffered from poor ticket sales and general lack of interest from the public. Kalmadi denies all criticism and insists it has been an unqualified achievement.

For more information on this story click here

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The Delhi Eye – A Symbol of Innocence and Inexperience?

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With the Commonwealth Games slipping into their final days in Delhi, other construction efforts are rushing for completion in a similar manner. Located away from central Delhi, in Kalindi Kunj gardens on the banks of the Yamuna River, the 45m wheel aspires to evoke comparisons with its more famous London counterpart. However, like much of the city, it remains unfinished and unused, with it’s location unknown to most locals and with the RP20 entrance fee to the gardens likely to prevent it being enjoyed by all levels of society.

It does boast one feature that the London Eye doesn’t – a VIP pod equipped (as rumour has it) with a minibar and a television. In case the view from the top proves underwhelming.

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Are the Commonwealth Games Inevitable?

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Delhi Graffiti, 2010

India is due to host the 19th Commonwealth Games in 11 days. Instead of a continuation of the initial warm support lauded on the South-Asian country as it takes strides to rank itself amongst the political and economic world players, the tone has turned to one of reservation and, by the frankest commentators, criticism. Given the problems plaguing this autumn’s quadrennial sporting event, it is difficult to know which would be worse: the staging of a Games riddled with disgruntled athletes, dubious infrastructure and security concerns; or a cancellation altogether.

The fact that with less than two weeks to go participating teams are seriously considering not going and there is open talk of cancellation among various sporting authorities suggests that the Unthinkable is actually very thinkable. The unstoppable “inevitablility” of Mega-sporting events is a myth. A dangerous myth because in Delhi (as in Athens 2004) workers have been killed by the ruthless logic of its timetable.

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The Downside of Commonwealth ‘Jugad’ : Mega-Event Footbridges

Grafitti Athens 2004

Graffiti Athens 2004

Images of the collapsed footbridge neighbouring New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru main stadium have made front-page news across the globe and shone unflattering light on India’s Commonwealth Games preparation. The Games, which are due to begin in under two weeks on the 3rd October, have been dogged by whispers of corruption, corner-cutting and a lack of leadership. Such whispers have recently descended into deafening shouts as concerns are voiced, by laymen and ministers alike, about the quality of construction efforts. Newly-erected buildings have been left in varying states of dilapidation due to annual monsoons, and the athletes’ village has been denounced as unfit for habitation.

It is possible that such a high-profile setback may become a symbol of the dangers of rushing regeneration into cities and societies unready for it, given that it has ultimately caused more destruction than good and more haste has resulted in less speed. Similarly, another footbridge closer to home, though still un-built, has also caused destruction. Manor Gardens in East London, a 100-year-old allotment, was wiped off the map for an Olympic footbridge, and though this footbridge may not fall apart, the loss of this historic and green site is perhaps a troubling indicator in itself of progress for the sake of thinly-defined progress.

If the concept, as well as the spirit of jugad is alive and well (the idea that things will get done, by hook or by crook), then organisers may be hoping that what is quickly turning into a Commonwealth debacle is only an exception that proves the rule.

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Evicted for Sport

:courtesy: Ravi Chaudhary/Governance Now.

This year, the commonwealth games are held in Delhi. Minister of Delhi 2010 Sheila Dikshit’s  concept of a “World Class” image has convinced local officials to  demolish any slums local to the commonwealth venues.

On the 7th of July 2010, during work hours, a government funded demolition team took bulldozers to the Yamuna Khada school (funded by donations) in order for it to be ruthlessly demolished. Those who attended and worked at the school were given three hours to vacate the property with no alternative. Police were present along with the construction teams and were seen destroying whatever could be demolished by hand in order to put fear into local residents. Many were removed with physical force.

After the destruction of the school, children as young as five years old were seen with teachers attempting to salvage items from the rubble of the school in order to save whatever they could for their community.  The children will have to relocate to the nearest alternative school three miles away in order to have an education. The school as part of the community was by no means a luxury but a necessity. With no immediate community to move to it is unknown when they are next able to continue their education and their lives.

Children from slums (including the Yamuna slums) have come together to produce a book of poems entitled “We Built This City” in order to save at least the memory of the community that they and their families have spent the last 25 years building. This emotional and reflective collection is the only weapon these children have against the bulldozers and police sent in by the government. With India hoping to host the 2016 Olympics it’s a wonder how far this abuse of the poor is going to go.

To find out more about what is happening concerning the destruction of the slum communities and to help support those who have suffered from the effects of the redevelopment of the Yamuna river, please visit Sarai and Governance now. If you would like to see how we have looked at this issue, please see our London / Delhi Project.

With similar effects seen in Beijing (Olympics 2008) and the UK (arguably with less government approved violence), it is questionable whether the development of these cities to create a “world class image” is necessary or progressive. The compaction of poor communities increases the class divide as well as reducing the opportunity for the poor to improve their standard of living.

Interestingly the official explanation for why the school needed to be demolished was “security”, the same reason given for demolishing the 100 year old Manor Gardens Allotments in London. These mega-events last only a few weeks- demolition is forever. There is only one difference between the events in London and Delhi. Eviction with a smile.

Remember- Its not losing that matters, its the taking part.

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London-Delhi work to be showcased

Mediabox is showcasing the work created for the London-Delhi project, more of which can be seen at the Spectacle website. The training and networking day incorporating Spectacle work is taking place on the 24th March at Oxford House in Bethnal Green.

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London – Delhi 2010-2012 Exhibition

Exhibition 5 February – Sun 28th February 2010

Location: Watermans

The London – Delhi 2010 – 2012 Exhibition will be showing at Watermans until the 28th of this month.

London-Delhi 2010-2012 is a digital arts collaboration between artists and young people in London and Delhi, creating and sharing contemporary stories of their two cities.

The research areas that are being explored touch upon large scale structural changes that are happening in Delhi and London, the social worlds that get impacted through these changes and the zones of flux and uncertainty about ways of life that these produce. London-Delhi 2010 -2012 will draw on the different perspectives and transformations of these two cities, each with the eyes of the world upon them, as they prepare to host Delhi 2010 and London 2012.

Learn more about this project:

London – Delhi 2010-2012

Riverfront – Workshop Film

Riverfront – Spectacle’s Film

Watermans

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London – Delhi Exhibition

Exhibition – 4 February 2010

Tonight is the private viewing launch of creative media exhibition, London – Delhi 2010-2012.

London-Delhi 2010-2012 is a digital arts collaboration between artists and young people in London and Delhi, creating and sharing contemporary stories of their two cities.

The research areas that are being explored touch upon large scale structural changes that are happening in Delhi and London, the social worlds that get impacted through these changes and the zones of flux and uncertainty about ways of life that these produce. London-Delhi 2010 -2012 will draw on the different perspectives and transformations of these two cities, each with the eyes of the world upon them, as they prepare to host Delhi 2010 and London 2012.

Read More:

London – Delhi 2010-2012

Watch:

Riverfront-Workshop Film

Riverfront-Spectacle’s Film

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