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Dr Amrit Srinivasan
(Professor, Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT Delhi)

Ningning Niumai
(IIT Delhi B.Tech student)


Dr Carlo Vezzoli
(Professor, Design & System Innovation for Sustainability, DIS)
(Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy)

Dr CS Shambu Prasad 
(Professor, Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar)
(Alumnus IIT Madras & IIT Delhi)

Nitin Sagar
(Senior Product Manager, MapMyIndia)
(Alumnus IIT Delhi)

Dr Nimmi Rangaswamy
(Microsoft Research Lab, India)

Dr Lokesh Setia
(Consultant, Web Analytics)
(Alumnus IIT Delhi)

Radhika Ralhan
Project Coordinator, GlobalCompact Network India

Cowdung cakes and cars... Is this a village or a city?

It doesn’t matter –Delhi  the capital of India is a city of villages! 410 in all. 

Today, all of them figure in a list of 1639 “unauthorised” settlements prepared by the Delhi govt. The official story is that much of  the land lying outside Lal Dora –  village agricultural land, grazing land, ecological heritage areas and common land  – have been sold  in  violation of the Delhi Land Reform Act of 1955.

Because of Delhi’s rising real estate value the village folk themselves have turn property dealers and “urban developers”, making hundreds of quick land sales to built housing colonies that are “unauthorized”on paper. Officially unrecognised denied infrastructure the real estate value of these colonies continues to rise – crazy but true! How, why?

Half in and half out of Delhi’s life both the poor and  the not so poor  live like “urban zombies” in these village settlements.  Illegal residents  trapped in the hope of “ regularization” from the same government whose land laws they have broken! What could be more explosive, more exploitative than this situation? You tell us.  Look around you -  the “slum’ you pass by in your neighborhood is most likely a village settlement eaten up by the city.

Hauz Khas – An interesting Facade

The Contrast

Hauz Khas Village

hauz khasThe village has numerous ethnic boutiques and restaurants where owners themselves interact. There are many fancy roof-top cafes.

Hauz Khas village has a lot of art and culture. There are artists who special in customized merchandise (top). We met Italian artists who were working on a gallery. Surprisingly they were acquainted with very few places in Delhi like Hauz Khas and Khirkee.

We see a temple alongside a tomb of Muslim origin. It illustrates the diversity in the community.


Hauz Khas village was originally a Muslim settlement named after the man-made lake called “Hauz” during the Mughal times. 

Later the land was acquired for area development and the green belt was created. Only few of the original families stay in Hauz Khas village now.

The village has some ethnic houses, some of which are pretty well maintained also. The rent is as high as Rs. 32,000 per month for a 2 bed-room apartment

However there is another story to it. 

The other side – At the back of all the glamor :  Filthy slum like Conditions!

At the back side of the glamorous shops is a different world all together.

The roads are in a filthy condition with broken sewage lines and garbage strewn around. Families live in small dingy housing. The conditions are quite cramped and many members share the same space.

Contributed by: Nazuk Kumar


Cyber cafe owner - Ajeet Singh Tomar

Ajeet Singh Tomar is a Science Graduate from AMU (Aligarh Muslims University) and is a vice president of 4 villages i.e. Mandi village, Gaunapur village, Aya nagar village and Gadaipur village who owns a cyber cafe shop and provides various services in the community like tuitions to children aged 5 -14 years in computer, science, English and in all subjects for younger children. Though he is proud to be descended from the original settlers and rulers of Delhi he makes ends meet by distributing mineral water supplies to the community through a franchise. As most of the tubewells and pipelines are not working in Aya Nagar, he has many customers both for tuition and drinking water! 

Ajeet Singh Tomar - Aya Nagar

The Internet café or cybercafé he has, is one of 15 or so in Aya Nagar which provide internet access to the public, usually for a fee. The fee for using a computer is usually charged on a time-based rate i.e. Rs. 15/- for 1 Hour and Rs.10/- for half an hour.  The café is used mostly by students, girls and boys, aged 18 to 35 years who need its services for project and office work, networking, job search, games, printing material etc. While most of the adolescents who come there for social networking on orkut, facebook, twitter etc, are addicted to it, a lot of young adults come and use the café for filling up forms for government jobs (like bank, clerical or junior officer jobs) and searching employment opportunities. The common pattern observed is such that both girls and boys come but girls mostly come in the evening to do their office related work, while the boys turn to entertainment as well. 

Contributed by: Patrika

Jia Sarai - Off Limits

Jia Sarai is today classified in the Delhi revenue records as an “urban village”. Agriculture, the main occupation changed when its lands were taken over by the Government of India in the 1950’s,  to build a premier Institute of excellence - the IIT Delhi. For years buffaloes grazed through the campus as part of the compensation package offered to the villagers. Offspring of the village community were accommodated in the offices of the new institution as government employees. A common wall flanked the Jia Sarai settlement’s southern edge. But in early 2000’s, the  shared opening in the wall, which connected Jia Sarai’s bustling main street, its Lucky Restaurant and Sharma Photostat with the educational giant next door, was walled up. The swank new Bharti School coming up, just in front of the opening, could not permit open thoroughfare to outsiders.

Jia Sarai’s shared history with IIT Delhi has been erased with this security measure. From meeting place, where the locals interacted with the  IIT community both as customers and commuters, cutting through the colony to the Outer Ring Road beyond, Jia Sarai has become a dead end colony, a commercial coaching  hub and anxious living space for the wannabe, struggling world of temporary students.

Superficially linking this  world with that of education and privilege next door, is a neglected dirt corridor, discouraging free movement.


Jia Sarai


The narrow path lying  between IIT Delhi (a premier education institute) and Jia Sarai (the coaching hub), featured on this and the next two slides.

Can the two worlds really connect?

You decide!


Diversity at Jia SaraiJia Sarai forms a nucleus of aspiring and budding engineers, civil servants, IIT entrants,  from various parts of India who arrive in the metropolitan city of Delhi - with a baggage of high ambitions and aspirations.

The floating student population is evident from the large number of two wheelers in Jia Sarai, which brings in students from neighbouring areas, preparing for various competitive exams (IAS, GATE, CAT etc).

Local landlords too prefer motorcycles over bicycles, an indication of the relative affluence of urban villages like Jia Sarai. In any case, the lanes are too narrow for anything other than motorcycles.


The shifting population of aspiring students are forced to ignore the ugly, unhealthy environment in which they are pursuing their dreams.

Being temporary residents, no collective self-help effort at waste collection has emerged. Lanes are narrow. Municipality gets an excuse to ignore Jia Sarai:

 “..trucks just U-turn from the main road and go away,” said one disgusted student.

Any complaints, “the landlords get aggressive” said another.

Even living spaces for students, hardly count as that – they are mostly used just to sleep after attending tuitions and coaching classes.

The inside of these PGs or Paying Guest accommodations, as they are called, are cramped with no proper ventilation.

The rooms hardly receive sunlight and fresh air.

Most of them have shared toilets and are filthy.

The buildings virtually touch each other, as they move from one storey to another, leaving no scope for privacy.


Habitat Jia SaraiEven the air has no freedom to breathe in Jia Sarai – the fate of many urban villages. Lanes are narrow and dark.


Yet, signs like this are seen everywhere. Landlords are assured wave upon wave of temporary  tenants – unmarried young students, bearing up with Jia Sarai’s living conditions only because of need.

There simply are not so many rented places to be had for aspiring students, waiting to pass an exam or get admission to a Course or the hostel room in JNU or IIT. 

The landlords are today only able to make money by renting out portions of their pocket sized homes, built  any which way, on the ancestral, abadi (habitation) lands left to them. Of course returns are assured - Each time a student moves out, the rent is raised.Survival Jia Sarai

PG accommodations are usually located upstairs, while the family lives on the ground floor, sometimes renting out a room to a commercial establishment.

Imagine, what must life be like back at home in UP or Bihar or Rajasthan, if even Jia Sarai a village of Delhi, is preferred over them…?

Or is the squalor of Jia Sarai, just part of the cost outsiders feel they have to pay, to become part of the capital city of India, its opportunities and dreams ?

The fact that everyone in Jia Sarai is of a certain age and is in the same boat, does makes life a little more bearable of course.

Survival Jia SaraiJia Sarai remains one of the few affordable living places for a student, in South Delhi, even though rents are far too high for the facilities provided.

On the narrow streets of Jia Sarai…away from their homes and families…yearning for a hot, home cooked meal….many  aspiring young students are dependent on the food services offered by varied street vendors.


 Contributed by: Ritubhan Gautam

The Aya Nagar Case Study

Delhi – the capital of India – is a city of villages!

Don’t believe it? Take a simple test. Next time you’re in Delhi, look around and count - 

Aya Nagar

How many Delhi bus/metro routes cross or end in stations with colourful  names like Kondli, Karkarduma, Khichripur, Kotla, Seelampur, Burari, Wazirabad, Timarpur, Badarpur, Jhilmil, Karawal, Badli, Begumpur, Narela, Pitampura, Sahibabad, Shakarpur, Adchini, Katwaria Saria, Ber Sarai… Aya Nagar ! Ancient “villages” all !!   

Aya Nagar - the last village in Delhi on the highway to Gurgaon -connecting the capital’s southernmost edge to the planned Cyber City of the future. 

Historically named as one of the 400 “villages” of Delhi, Aya Nagar figures today in a list of 1237  “unauthorized” settlements, prepared by the Delhi Government. The official story is that these are illegal, even criminal habitations where only the core village settlement remains to justify its name. All around, land has been sold in contravention of the Delhi Land Reform Act of 1955.

In Aya Nagar, it is true, the farms and grazing lands and forest ravines have gone. Bought up, not by the sarkari developers like DDA, or powerful commercial giants like DLF and Ansals but by poor migrants. Under the British, village habitations had been cordoned off to out-law and restrict their rebellious potential, after the violence of 1857. Now under independent India, the official revenue limit of lal dora (literally “red tape”) works conversely, to keep city villages free of any  governance  whatsoever!  So the landlords of AyaNagar lobby hard today to get the Lal Dora extended, so they can commercially do what they wish, with more and more “village” land!

Early on in the fifties, the Defence establishment had acquired large chunks of prime land. But today it is Aya Nagar village folk themselves who have turned property dealers and “urban developers” and transacted hundreds of quick land sales to build up housing colonies that are “unauthorized” on paper. 

Officially unrecognized, denied infrastructural services Aya Nagar remains defiant. An Outpost of Progress if ever there was one, the settlement’s capital value continues to escalate – Crazy but true! How? Why? Because it remains historic, organic “Delhi”, in the faceless new development of the National Capital Region (NCR). 

A gaping contradiction in terms, Aya Nagar, as a Delhi socialite remarked is a “bit too ethnic” a bit too real and on edge, for comfort. Its cultural diversity is almost too much to take, feeding as it does into land  conflicts, between buyers and sellers, landlords and tenants and between citizens and the state.  

The migrant settlers come from all over India – Orissa, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala. They now far outnumber the original inhabitants, the colourful Gujjars, deemed rebellious or “baagi” by the colonial government, their lands confiscated for their participation in the 1857 uprisings. Or simply because they were nomads, wandering gypsies, not to be trusted…? 

Purchased back at a price, Aya Nagar land is again up for sale! A growing number of buyers are middle class, well heeled professionals who either cant afford to live, or own office space, in Delhi.

Land prices have made even original Delhi wallahs, migrants of sorts - commuting to Aya Nagar daily to work in spacious studios and workshops or commuting daily to the city, to the offices that employ them.

But as neighbours, they all jostle together, the local and the outsider, the old and the new, the rich and the poor, for electricity, water, drainage and sewage facilities...

Aya Nagar land has entered the market faster than land laws permit. The financial incentive to break the law is irresistible – people, very real people, people like you and me, continue to pour into the capital everyday to live and work there, desperate to own a cheap home of their own in Delhi.

Left half in and half out of Delhi’s life as a modern metropolis, unable to share Gujjar village traditions, these migrant citizens, both the poor and the 

Persistently ignored by government and urban planners, Aya Nagar has become a neighbourhood you pass by on your way to somewhere else. Everyone in posh South Delhi has heard of Aya Nagar but the peoples’ lives there are invisible, out of bounds, surrounded by the homes of the property sale rich Gujjars or the thick walls and barbed wires of central and defence installations. 

The Flyovers, high rises, hotels, metro stations and malls…..all kinds of development that has happened just across the border in Cyber City  has been designed to bypass these places or obstruct the people who actually live there from view….your view…Even their crimes shielded by official indifference or direct involvement ??

So, how do inhabitants of spaces like Aya Nagar live their everyday lives. 

The combination of economic compulsion and sheer grit, which has led city migrants to populate Delhi’s villages, has been kept out of public discussion. The official story is that these colonies are illicit, even criminal   habitations.  But in reality - they are a well-tended political constituency built up of human dependency and fear.

Illegal residents of colonies, trapped in the hope of “regularization” from the same government whose land laws they have broken! What could be more explosive, more exploitative than this situation?  Municipal promises made with one hand and broken by the other, provides a field day for local politicians to play with human lives, with peoples’ aspirations for just the minimum amenities needed to live a decent life. 

Even the symbolic naming of the Aya Nagar Metro Station is left to State largesse. Petitions and public rallies by the Gujjars to retain the historic village name were ignored in favour of the State’s choice. Arjan Garh was the title given to this new landmark, in honour of Air Marshal Arjan Singh a Hero of the China and Pakistan Wars of the 60’s; and - a Jat by birth!  The two communities, Jat and Gujjar, are notorious political enemies. Is the State really as indifferent as it appears?  Particularly when it concerns the land grab going on under Authority’s very nose; or is it rather, a deep involvement in the wealth to be made there, that keeps the official silence?

A Thought to ponder...

In the city, the POOR SERVE the RICH. WHO SERVES THEM??

The Slumdog Entrepreneurs, running small street enterprises, with their own cultures of service and commerce - in food, waste, housekeeping, clothes - care, equipment spare parts, repair and re-use, traditional rural crafts, motor driving and domestic help, gardeners and home-delivery boys...

You name it - this so-called unorganized activity makes up 86 percent of India's workforce and contributes over 55 % to the nation’s GDP (Report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, NCEUS, Government of India, 2009)!

You and I could not live a day without its help.

Yet its called the "shadow" economy, the "informal" economy - because we choose to keep it that way - unregulated, unrecorded - to make our life in the city a little more easy, a little more cheap.

The "unorganized" sector is really not so at all. quite organized. With official governance going "missing" in the mega Indian cities, see how people manage their enterprise – off the record!

Make your neighbourhood an observatory, a lab, to solve this puzzle, not to mention the unauthorized settlements and colonies that have come up at the edges of major global cities of the world.

The self-help, informal networks and communication strategies of the poor - how they share, borrow, recycle in life, work and play - are worthy of larger attention in these times of resource scarcity.

The sustainable city of the future will increasingly be determined by what the poor consume - the quality of life the city permits not just you but your less privileged neighbour as well. 

The Indian political class has a rural "fetish" says a leading Indian Daily

(TOI Editorial New Delhi, Friday 19 October 2012)

Cities remain neglected, even though more and more Indians are coming into cities, villages are fast 'becoming' cities, much of the nation’s wealth is being generated in cities... 

..for the first time, the majority of the world's population - nearly 3.3 billion - now live in urban…rather than rural areas.." (quoted in landmark The State of the World's Cities, UN HABITAT Report 2006)

In 1900, 10% lived in cities - by 2050, 75% will. (The Endless City. London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank's Urban Age Project 2007. Phaidon Press: London)

In twenty years, one tenth of all humanity will reside in Indian cities.

(McKinsey Global Institute Report, April 2010 )

(images of city infrastructure, overcrowding, overflowing drains, accidents etc)(Home Page photos: Nos 5446, 2589, 602, 4752, 4753, 5460...)

This statement is not a stereotype of population explosion but new and faster choices being made to live in cities not in villages by a larger and larger number of people.

By 2015, in a very short span, there will be more megacities - 10 million inhabitants or more - in India and China than in Europe and the USA, where modern cities first emerged and established themselves, slowly.

The increase in numbers is not in terms of unit space alone.

The living environment for large sections of humanity is now marked by contrast, instability and violence. City growth has been accompanied by greater complexity: social - original inhabitants are outnumbered by strangers, 'outsiders', often marked as criminal, unwanted, are targeted by authorities.

65% of New York belongs to ethnic minorities. 56% of London was not born in England economic - informal, street cultures of service and commerce (in food, waste, housekeeping, clothes-care, spare parts, equipment repair and re-use, traditional rural crafts) co-exist with shopping malls, corporate offices and primarily service driven enterprise. 91% of London is employed in the service sector political – the powerful and the privileged, are visible and vocal while the lives of the underprivileged are censored and kept out of sight.

But it is this new mix, which makes cities possible and lends distinctiveness to public spaces, otherwise increasingly being reduced to monotony and a boring sameness.

Cities must move to the forefront of national and supranational agendas and priorities…Institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank…have principally viewed poverty as a rural phenomenon..they have lacked a cohesive framework for thinking about and acting in cities...

More recently, the division between rural and urban in the Indian government policy has been questioned. Calling for effective measures to improve the efficiency of social sector programmes, the Economic Survey for 2011-12 has suggested extending the government's ambitious rural jobs scheme MGNREGS to urban areas, strengthening panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and skill improvement for enhanced employability.

JnNURM is a unique project dedicated to the redevelopment of India’s cities, as India has traditionally primarily focused on the development of rural areas, especially its underdeveloped villages. The 2011 census indicates that urban cities and towns account for 55 % of GDP in India, even though a smaller section of the population lives in the latter, it is more dense.

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