Deepavali is a festival which has more to it than sweets, crackers, lights and exchange of pleasantries. It is a festival which gives an opportunity not only for the huge retail shops, large brands of home appliances to make good money but provides the necessary space for an ‘alternative economy' to function within the margins.

Hawkers and street vendors, both seasonal and ‘permanent, ‘are the key players in this alternative economy who could be found in all the popular shopping destinations like Vilakkuthoon, Pathuthoon, Masi Streets and Town Hall Road, which attract thousands of visitors every day during this festival period.

An everyday phenomenon, the hawkers represent one of the largest forms of informal sector of any economy. Moreover, hawkers as in every other city symbolise the spirit of streetwise and drive of urban life. They also signify a world that exists prior to malls and megaplexes.

A walk through Vilakkuthoon, Pathuthoon and Masi Streets could give us a real idea of how hawkers cater to a large section of the city's population, selling a range of things starting from sugarcane juice, all varieties of combs, toys, bed sheet, bangles, novelties, dress materials, saris, chappals, shirts, t-shirts and all that forms part of the necessity. The economy functions in a way that even one could find a large number of women participate as active sellers.

Apart from Madurai city, working class people and peasantry from far off places like Rajapalayam, Virudhunagar, rural Madurai form the bulk of the buyers and the sellers include members of seasonal work force and daily wages from Nelpettai, Thirupparankundram, Pattanakara Theru, Thirumangalam, Muduvarpatti, South Gate, Thiruppalai, Othakkadai, Uthangudi and one can even find seasonal hawkers from cities like Bangalore and Allahabad.

Thangapandi of Muduvarpatti is a farmhand who sells umbrellas at Vilakkuthoon; he is a part of the seasonal hawkers who come here 15 days prior to Deepavali to make use of the season. “This year, the sales are yet to pick up because rates of umbrella have gone up; last year in 15 days I was able to make Rs.5, 000.”

Rashid from Kaushambi in Allahabad exemplifies the functioning of alternative economy. Keeping an eye on the policemen, he said that we hail from a family of farmers and we have come here to make quick money; last year, we made Rs.3000 in 10 days and hopefully we will make more this year.

Urban life for the everyday people is sort of a struggle as one could see these hawkers stand in the street all the day to keep running away from the police, rebuild stalls every time they break them. As the hawkers were narrating their stories, policemen could be seen filing petty cases against them. A hawker said that every month two petty cases were filed against them _ one each by Law and Order wing and Traffic wing.

The hide and seek game continues and one of the hawkers, who is politically assertive said that, while sparing the illegal encroachments by the elite and the politically powerful, the hawkers always become soft targets.

Ritajyoti Bandopadhyay, Researcher at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, says that the pavement is a part of a “spatial complex;” it comprises the fair and the bazaar, and together they constitute an unenclosed realm that provides a “meeting point of several communities.” It is a space where the bourgeois notions of citizenship, publicness, privateness, property and civic law are contested by the everyday practices of the “squatting” groups.

Two Landmark Cases

It becomes important to remind two landmark cases that spoke about Right to Livelihood of hawkers and pavement dwellers. In K.Chandru Vs State of Tamil Nadu (1985), the court argued that alternative accommodation must be provided before evictions can take place and hoped that the Government would continue to evince the same dynamic interest in the welfare of pavement dwellers and slum dwellers.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985, says, the eviction of the pavement or the slum-dweller not only means his removal from the house but the destruction of the house itself. And the destruction of a dwelling house is the end of all that one holds dear in life.