M, the junior engineer in the maintenance department of the M/E ward office, and I are on the field tending to the regular complaints that come in to the Municipal Corporation. We are today in the Mandala Gaothan following up on the maintenance work that is being conducted on one of the sewer lines there. Once we get there on her two wheeler, we are immediately surrounded by many people who are complaining about the delay in the completion of the construction. Everyone seems worried that the construction will not be completed before the onset of the monsoon causing an outbreak of malaria or worse. The people complaining to her seem agitated about the delay, they seem sympathetic towards her. She is met with pleasantries wherever she goes, which seems very surprising to me given that her male counterparts almost never received that respect from the communities that they served. I am curious about this and she confirms that this is definitely the case. She adds that she had been assigned the parts of the M/E ward which were seen to be the “least problematic” that is the reason for the difference in the interactions that I was noticing.
This gaothan was seen to be less problematic by the state officials due to the fact that the elected representative from this settlement was educated, powerful and reasonable in assessing/accepting the services that the corporation could provide. M says that the people of Mandala were seen to be the “native” residents of the city of Mumbai and everything they asked for was their right, unlike the rest of the ward full of migrants. This was also perhaps the reason that they had this beautiful cemetery, maintained by the state authorities, which doubled up as a great open space as well. The beauty and the high level of services in this ward was particularly surpring to me given the deplorable condition of the settlement just a few meters away.
From this short interaction multiple questions rose in my mind about the nature of the state – why was a M assigned the “least problematic” areas in the ward? Why was this location in the ward the “least problematic” according to the state officials? Did this subjective perception of the state officials actually change the way in which they interacted with people from different locations in the ward?