Governance & Mice!

By Claudia Brennan Whitaker
Our last day in Tuljapur was one of the sunniest of the whole trip. The day began with lectures on the politics of space, and the history and challenges of local self-governance in India. The first lecture on the production of ethnic spaces in Mumbai was a great introduction into the study of space as a product of cultural, political and social factors. As a political economy student, this subject was almost totally new to me, and it highlighted the spatial organisation of the village we had just visited, and the Dharavi slums in Mumbai. It was really interesting to hear about the Dharavi riots in 1993, and the conflict that occurred between the Hindu and Muslim populations along a border fenced with electrical wire. Although our recent experience in the slum was overwhelming and informative, the lecturer really reaffirmed how limited a perspective our guided tour left us with. I think that we were too obviously positioned as outsiders to be able to escape the attention of the people living there and fully remove ourselves from the experience. We noticed how people reacted to us, and how comfortable or on-edge we felt rather than fully being able to simply observe the interactions between people around us.
Following that was a lecture on the three-tiered system of governance operating here at the district, intermediate and lower village levels. It tied in well with our recent experience at the rural village, and mentioned the challenges faced by lower-caste people and women to gain power and implement policies, despite democratic elections. Village level government – the Panchayat Raj – is enshrined in the Constitution as a right to self-governance. Implementation of this important right is problematic on account of corruption and the under-representation of marginal groups. On the outskirts of the village we noticed clusters of tents filled with migrant workers who performed seasonal labour. Their location in the village emphasised their exclusion and lack of voice in local political processes.
In the evening we left the beautiful Tuljapur campus and set off for what ended up being a full day of travelling, including two buses and an overnight train. Getting off the first bus we were surrounded by people watching us struggle with our bags. The overnight train was not as chaotic as I had imagined it would be, having been told about the huge numbers of people using the local Mumbai trains. However panic over a mouse in the carriage and the sight of people crowding in, spilling all over the beds to play cards and tell horror stories late into the night definitely added to the excitement of the trip.