"I Have My Own Two Hands": Re-Interpreting the Risks of Slum Life in Delhi and Cultivating the Self Through Neighborhood, Citizenship, Kinship, and Health

Snell-Rood, Claire Natalie, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Khare, R., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Interdisciplinary researchers have long emphasized how urban displacement, health problems, domestic strife, and poverty pose great risk to people living in Indian slums. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a Delhi slum, this dissertation explores women's contention that their selves, more than their survival, were jeopardized in this complex urban setting. Women asserted that they navigated practical challenges and uncertain social relationships through developing a particular type of individuality that vacillated between their existence in this world and a spiritual domain. Women's cultivation of their individual selves distinguished them from others and questioned the extent to which their poverty explained their personhood. I explore women's selves across the domains of neighborhood, citizenship, kinship, and health. In a setting rife with manipulative politics, women developed techniques to insulate themselves during their intimate daily interactions with neighbors. Collectively, slum residents asserted their pride in how they had built Delhi and contributed to India's global economy. But privately, when the slum faced demolition, women introspected that their families must remain focused on their goals to get ahead ethically as migrants; this represented their enduring citizenship. In their families, women often felt inadequate support. Yet through their persistent care for family members, women critiqued and unified their families while affirming the strength of their selves. Living in a place reviled for its pollution, women observed how their home health practices enabled bodily strength and creatively transformed their environment. Women held that these social and practical efforts, no matter how provisional, dissolved their individual needs and desires and generated enduring selves. In all these ways, women offered that wellbeing was rooted not in survival, but in their selves.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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