Maria arquero de alarcon – कर्मभूमी [Karmabhumi]: the city as a field of action

Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary commemorations extended across the Indian geography and the world. In a time of growing national socio-political polarization, Gandhi’s legacy continues to be appropriated, celebrated and problematized, scrutinizing his views on religious pluralism, environmental stewardship, activism, caste, and race. The city of Ahmedabad holds a special significance as Gandhiji’s karmabhumi during the formative years of his political and spiritual leadership. It was on the banks of the Sabarmati River, between the British jail and the crematorium grounds, that he settled the Sabarmati (Harijan) Ashram in 1917. Embracing Satyagraha, holding on to truth and nonviolent resistance, the Ashram served as the strategic center for the Indian freedom struggle. Gandhi lived there until 1930, when he departed for the Salt March, never to return.

Speaking in Ahmedabad on the occasion of this anniversary, the Indian PM Narendra Modi unveiled the plans for remaking the Sabarmati Ashram into a 32-acre “world-class memorial.” Calling it a land grab, activists warned the redevelopment would alter the spirit of the institution and involve the eviction of 2,500 residents on the site, whose ancestors joined Gandhi’s mission and have lived there ever since. With this transformation, many fear the ideals of simplicity and austerity that defined the Ashram will be forever lost, and the site of pilgrimage will turn into yet another tourist resort.

In a time of global unrest, with citizens across the world turning cities into fields of action to exercise dissent and assert their rights, this studio section proposes to learn from the Gandhian legacy in the city of Ahmedabad to inspire more just and inclusive development practices. As protesters develop increasingly sophisticated spatial tactics and appropriate symbolic locations to render their claims visible, this studio exercised urban strategies to negotiate a plurality of ideas and interests in the making of new collectivities and civic institutions.

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Student Work

Emily Ebersol – “IN[DI]VISIBLE VOICES”

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity” – Dolores Huerta

This project aims to reimagine Gandhian activism and its locality by looking beyond the site of the Sabarmati Ashram to open up the larger city to activist agendas. With a government actively working to inhibit activist efforts, community organizing has become nearly impossible in Ahmedabad. As a response, this project activates everyday scenes throughout the city – parks, cricket fields, water towers – to serve as activist spaces, creating an underground network of secret routes and safe spaces to accommodate community organizing. When embedded in the urban environment, these unlikely insertions of uses can unsettle existing perceptions of urban life and space. The project offers citizens new possibilities, rather than solutions, allowing the people of Ahmedabad to claim their rights to the city and to freely project alternative futures for urban life.

Elizabeth Soyka “MANY URBAN LIFECYCLES”

Urban life in Ahmedabad is representative of the civic Indian duty to nurture all forms of life. The city follows the Gandhian environmentalist ideology by respecting this relationship not as a duality of human vs. nature, but rather as a universe in which all humans, life, and creation are one; this interconnectedness is fundamental in Indian ecology, which celebrates life in all of its diversity through the feminine principle of Prakriti – the source of all life; nature.

Urban Natures manifests itself within this creative and diverse relationship between women, nature, and non-human beings. It is based on embracing women’s role in sustaining life, on breaking down cultural perceptions of poverty, and in celebrating the myriad of multi-species relationships that play major roles in contributing to the ecosystem.

This project reimagines how typologies in the built environment may strengthen these women’s harmonious coexistence with nature. By embedding the recycling process within the fabric of the city, the project co-develops a natural urbanization with the women of Ramapir no Tekra, giving them more power in designing the future urban contract between nature, the city, and all of her diverse species.

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