Fading shore-folks of Kochi: displacement, religion and urban space-making in India
Funding period: 1 February 2021 – 1 July 2021
Type of funding: International Fellowship
Dr Carmel Christy is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi. Her research on the politics of gender, sexuality, caste, religion, media and urban space broadly focuses on spaces and production of marginality in India. She completed her Ph.D. from the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad. Her first book, Sexuality and Public Space in India: Reading the Visible, is based on her Ph.D. dissertation. Currently, she is working on her book about the interconnections between religion and urban space-making in Kochi. She has held positions as a Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz (2015-2016), Charles Wallace Short-term Research Fellow (London, 2017), Affiliated Fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden (2018-2019) and as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the CEM-FMSH, Paris (2019).
As part of her USF Fellowship, Dr Kattithara Joseph also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in November 2021 (see below).
USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Protests and Urban Spaces: Kochi through the Lens of Struggles and Movements
I have been working on my USF International Fellowship project about displacement and urban space-making in Kochi since early this year. It is during this time that I began thinking more about some of the urban protests in Kochi and their role in materially and aesthetically shaping the city. Though I have been frequenting some of these protest sites, I have not had a chance to frame it as a crucial aspect of urban space-making till my USF fellowship term from March 01, 2021 to September 15, 2021. This time also gave me a chance to read some important literature on contested urban spaces and protest movements (see, Thomas, J and Anjuli 2017; Opie 2015).
Despite being an important aspect of urban space-making in the Global South, the relationship between protest movements, development and urban space-making in South Asia has not garnered much scholarly attention. The relationship between community, environment and development in urban spaces is a recurring theme in India as well in other regions where development remains an ongoing process. I had a chance to re-examine some of the materials I had collected in connection with an ongoing protest in Vypeen, one of the islands of Kochi, to protect the seashores and livelihood from industrial pollution. This protest, led by members of the marginalised shore-communities, including considerable number of women participants, is shaping the contemporary city materially, culturally and politically. Protests for rights to save environment and livelihood are common threads of resistance movements in cities. Extinction movements in European cities just before the Covid-19 pandemic are an example of making a claim on right to life on this earth. While this is a more universal question of rights for everyone, some protests combine efforts to protect the environment and also sustain livelihoods, thus bringing the question of ‘spatial justice’ for everyone to the fore (Soja 2010).
The struggle in Kochi is one such movement to protect the seashores from further pollution and also to protect the livelihood of the fishermen who are dependent on the sea. The shore-communities, by actively seeking protection for both the sea and their livelihood, highlights the question of occupying a just space in the urban cosmos. Space is socially produced through contestations and compromises just as much as through urban planning and policies. The shore-communities’ struggles register the need to address the question of spatial justice for marginalised people in urban spaces. As an ongoing movement to protect the seashores and livelihood, and in a broader sense to work towards spatial justice, I think it is an important part of contemporary history that must be documented for future reference. The Knowledge Mobilisation Award gives me an opportunity to work towards this goal of recording the role of this very important protest in shaping Kochi. To do this, I plan to write popular as well as research articles, publish a podcast and conduct workshops during the award period.