The policy and the grassroots: Transparency and accountability activists working through class, gender and space in Delhi
In this paper I examine the role of class, space and gender in the practice of a Right to Information sangathan (grassroots non-governmental organisation) in Delhi. The sangathan brings together activists from the city’s upper middle class and poor working class areas in projects aimed at empowering local residents to monitor the performance of government and claim their rights as citizens. In practice this involves sangathan workers acting as mediators, helping people, often poor and illiterate and living in Delhi’s slum neighbourhoods, to engage with bureaucratic processes, paperwork and officials in claims concerning access to welfare schemes, education and the provision of utilities and sanitation for slum areas by local government.
By presenting detailed ethnographic and life history data I show how working with the sangathan requires that Delhi’s ordinary social relationships and spatial boundaries are challenged and crossed to a certain extent, and how different people associated with the Sangathan, across the blurred boundary between activists and clients of the group, can benefit from their engagement with this type of local non-party political formation. However, the crossing of a boundary should not be confused with breaking it down. My paper also highlights the ways in which the informal organisational structure of the Sangathan actually accommodates and reproduces the social and economic hierarchies and spatial boundaries present in the city. The social, cultural and economic capitals of different members of the Sangathan, and their access to different spaces and social and political networks in the city inflect the everyday practice of the group. Although association with the Sangathan can have positive effects on the lives of activists and clients ultimately the group works with the grain of power and inequality in the city rather than against it.
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