Brown University

Student Spotlight: David Adler '14 on studying in-situ slum rehabiliation in Delhi

December 5, 2012

David Adler ’14 is a junior at Brown concentrating in Development Studies. David is currently spending the semester abroad on the Brown in India program in Delhi. In Delhi, David is taking courses at St. Stephen’s College and working as a research assistant at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) under Brown Professor Patrick Heller, Yashas Vaidya (Brown, Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology), and Subhadra Banda (CPR).

Brown-India Initiative: How did you begin working with Professor Heller?
David Adler: My work with Professor Heller began last spring, when I enrolled in his class, ‘Globalization and Social Conflict.’ The course motivated me to pursue the Brown in India program for the fall semester, which coincided with his sabbatical and visiting fellowship at CPR. Under his guidance, I developed a Global Independent Study Project, which led to my partnership with Subhadra Banda (CPR) and Yashas Vaidya (Brown, Ph. D. candidate, Sociology) to contribute ethnographic research and synthesize research findings into a CPR Working Paper entitled “The Case of Kathputli Colony.”

BII: What is the nature of the paper, “The Case of Kathputli Colony”?
DA: The paper focuses on Kathputli Colony—a jhuggie-jhodpri, or slum dwelling, cluster in West Delhi’s Shadipur region—as the site of Delhi’s first in-situ slum rehabilitation. In-situ slum rehabilitation is a three step process: first, residents move from their current settlement into a temporary housing camp nearby; second, private developers raze the slum and begin construction of high-rise apartments on site; and finally, Kathputli residents move out of the transit camp and into the new apartments in the colony. With so many actors, so many different developmental priorities, and so much legislation to govern them, our aim was to delineate the trajectory of the project, examining the relationship between the formal, legalistic framework and the actual events documented in our research.

BII: How has this opportunity impacted your understanding of contemporary India?
DA: The project provided an important window for me to begin to understand Delhi and Indian development as a whole. Living in a city as complex as Delhi, the central question for me was always relatively fundamental: how do things get done? On the one hand, some public sector projects accomplishments are both impressive and transformative. Take the Delhi metro—elegant, clean, and efficient, transporting millions of Delhi residents a day. On the other hand, other major initiatives appear mired in bureaucratic delays and inequities. In our own case study, we found that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has not developed infrastructure to facilitate informed involvement by the community, despite a legislative mandate to do so.

BII: How will you bring what you’ve learned from your research in Delhi back to Brown?
DA: In my senior thesis, I hope to pursue several basic research questions that appear to me to lie at the core of the developmental problem. What is the shape of the developmental bureaucracy? What setbacks does it face, and given those, through which processes is it able to accomplish its goals? After six months in India, I am struck by the fact that these are questions that were hardly visible to me back at Brown. Living in Delhi has really shaken my intellectual foundation. Rational processes and system logics just seem to crack under the weight of the complex multiplicity of social, economic, and political factors I have seen in India.

Check back at the Brown-India Initiative website to read “The Case of Kathputli Colony” when it’s published by the Centre for Policy Research, one of the Brown-India Initiatives Partners.

Image courtesy of: Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.