In the Shadows of Kolkata - Hunger TV Documentary Selections
KOLKATA, India — Within the shadows at the southern edge of Kolkata, the Gariahat bridge weaves its way through a decrepit shanty town. The Panditya and Gorcha Bastis are a myriad of empty terraces and distorted angles: bright tin houses with rickety, corrugated roofs collapse onto each other; makeshift stairs and ladders connect windows to doors to balconies; and high above, black crows jettison through the clear sky disappearing into the matrix of a resurging city. Over 200,000 souls fight here, day and night, to survive, work and develop.
Like so many other infamous slums across India, the Panditya and Gorcha Bastis are a cliché of Indian misery, a churning beehive of families involved in manufacturing, recycling and market industries with an annual output estimated to be $100 – 200 million. It is a parallel economy inan old city that had largely been forgotten till recently – a metaphor for the strength within the shadows of India’s rising economy.
While most developed countries have one formal economy, where businesses pay taxes, adhere to labour regulations and burnish the country’s global image, India’s “informal” economy is everything else: the hundreds of millions of shopkeepers, farmers, construction workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, rag pickers, tailors, repairmen, middlemen, black marketeers and more. This divide exists in other developing countries, but in India, and especially in large conurbations like Kolkata, the divide has become a chasm. Experts estimate that the informal sector is responsible for the overwhelming majority of India’s annual economic growth and as much as 90 percent of all employment.
That said, for years, India’s government has tried with mixed success to increase industrial output by developing special economic zones to lure major manufacturers. In the pursuit of cultivating an internationally appealing image many urban planners have popularised the idea of complete slum redevelopment as an instrument to spur economic growth, quell crime and tackle the social problems that are rife therein.
Dharavi, one of India’s biggest slums, in Mumbai, and home to over 1 million people, was largely destroyed for this reason in 2009. Much of what once stood as a bustling, self-created economic zone for the poor became a neighbourhood of commercial high-rises.
Kolkata is a smaller city – the old-gem of a colonial, West Bengal. After many years of slow economic growth and infrastructural development, it is now seeing an economic surge under the direction of controversial Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. This means that the Panditya and Gorhca Bastis now face the same fate, and that everything within the slums, both good or bad, will be destroyed within the next two years.