Delhi’s informal settlements are home to not only 49 per cent of its human population (Mahapatra, 2012) but also hundreds[1], some say even thousands, of pigs. Reared by those from the Valmiki or Balmiki Dalit community[2], pigs can be seen foraging in open drains, on wasteland, garbage mounds or at other dumping sites. The pig keepers are also inhabitants of these informal settlements, many of whom are employed by the government in low level jobs and under precarious contracts, engaging in pig-rearing practices for secondary income. It is also a form of ‘time-pass’[3], something to do in their free time. On their return from work every day, pig-keepers collect waste food from restaurants, canteens and messes to feed their animals. Discarded tubs, drums and, crates are repurposed to serve as troughs. The architecture of the slum is reworked to accommodate pigs. Potholes become mangers. Metal scraps are salvaged to form pens, protecting lactating females and their young ones from jackals at night. 

However, Indian social order is such that the Valmikis are considered ‘untouchables’ amongst the majoritarian Hindu community on account of their caste. Their animal, the pig, is widely regarded as a garbage eating filthy animal and a nuisance, by not only upper caste Hindus, but also Muslims and even Punjabis, a Hindu and Sikh community from northern India. Further, informal settlements too continue to face the threat of demolition from real estate development which threatens pig-rearing practices and the livelihoods of the Dalits, along with their habitat. “Their (animals reared in the urban) presence in the Master Plan[4] is decreasing”, “urbanization doesn’t accommodate these practices”, said a lawyer from the Supreme Court of India that I interviewed, and who fought a case for the pig butchers in Delhi to absolve their informal pig slaughtering practices from accusations of polluting the environment.

Food being served to pigs in potholes and railway parts (author)

Pigs become a ‘means of production’ for the Valmiki community relegated to the urban margins. Pigs enable us to re-examine everyday life in informal settlements, telling a different story of urban infrastructures and precarity as Delhi takes a step further in its vision to become a ‘global world-class city’ (Ghertner, 2015).  A more-than-human ethnography of porcine worlds amidst infrastructure, and pigs as infrastructure, shows that there is more to the urban than an anthropocentric focus reveals. 

The making of urban form is not a human endeavour alone. Spaces and materials rendered useless are repurposed by pigs as places to forage and live. Throughout the day, the pigs eat from garbage or sewage, deriving nutrition from it. They thus not only help in disposing solid waste but also bring waste back into circuits of value through their bodily work (Barua, 2018). Consequently, the ruins of infrastructure become a porcine world. At certain sites, sows use a canopy of derelict vegetation to make nests to give birth and nurse their young; while at other sites, piles of plastic wastes are ideal for deriving warmth and for protection of piglets and their mother. Similarly, at another site, a puddle created by a broken sewage pipe is frequently used by pigs during the hot summer months to cool off and drink water from. This tells a whole other story of the built environment, one that is often glossed over in humanist accounts of informal settlements and their infrastructures.

Makeshift pigpen made by pig rearers (author)
A nest made by a sow by cutting wild grass growing on a wasteland (author)

Closer ethnographic inspection shows that pigs are caught up in a range of cultural and economic practices that are often persecuted by the municipalities, as, “they (pork and the butchers) are not acceptable in upper caste Hindu society,” as said by remarked the Supreme Court same lawyer from the Supreme Court of India. Further, land that is extremely valuable for real estate development is held for slaughtering and pig-rearing, explained the lawyers who took up the community’s cause. The Dalit community also rears pigs because it is the animal preferred and ‘demanded’ by the Goddess Masani[5] for sacrifice, a ritual important for the Dalit community. Equally, raising pigs is like having a “prepaid account,” said by a male participant, which can then be easily sold or used for sacrifice anytime, as the need arises. Pigs are either sold to other households wanting to please the Goddess or, primarily to traders who then sell them on to butchers. The latter belong to another Hindu Dalit community called the Khatik[6] who slaughter pigs in ghettos, informally but legally. Further down the value chain, meat ends up in pork shops, whose owners are also Dalits, and whose living depends on these informal practices. Outside of the Dalit cultural-economy network, pork is also popular among migrants from Nepal, Madras and North Eastern India.

Pork cooked after pig sacrifice was made and then being offered to the Goddess Chouganan in a ritual (author)

For pig rearers, organic waste, discarded materials and derelict spaces become infrastructure. The pigs themselves become an important cog in this infrastructural assemblage. They metabolize waste into food, allow for the repurposing of materials, and make toxic, abandoned environments into urban farmyards. What is at stake then is not just a slum economy but a slum ecology as well: an assemblage through which social, cultural and economic lives of people are fulfilled. Pigs are interlocutors for a more-than-human ‘ethnography of infrastructure’ (Larkin, 2013). They point to other ways in which metropolitan lives are socially reproduced, a form of social reproduction in which pig-infrastructure enfleshments are at the heart of the matter. Here, one might extend Simone’s provocation of people as infrastructure, where he contends that the activities of people lead to various ‘conjunctions’ that become “a platform providing for and reproducing life in the city” (Simone, 2004: 408). In a similar vein, entanglements and ‘conjunctions’ with porcine life suggests that animals are infrastructures too.

Yet, these infrastructures are widely repressed by the state and by majoritarian logics. Narratives of Delhi’s elites residing outside of these settlements and the state’s impetus to ban urban farming renders pigs as unwelcome. Pigs are associated with squalor that untunes the aesthetic projections of Delhi as a global city (Ghertner, 2015). Pig rearing practices are regarded as a potential health hazard to the city and acts like butchering unsettle middle-class sensibilities. Therefore, the state is not only reluctant to provide facilities to rear and slaughter pigs, but also censors the supply of pork. Indeed, there is no recognition for such “informal and animal infrastructures” in “state-centric views of infrastructure” (Doherty, 2019: 29).

The practices of pig rearers and butchers in the urban public space blurs the divide between the rural and urban asking poignant questions of what is an urban formation in such contexts. On the other hand, the infrastructural practices of the state and urban citizenry reinforce these binaries by an act of ‘bordering’ – expunging these activities from the urban space or delimiting them to ghettos - and ‘ordering’ – by controlling public space to make them void of presence of animals considered unfit for existence in the urban city (Field, 2015). Both pigs and people are subjected to the same onslaughts of majoritarian logics. Yet, pigs become infrastructure for the poor to deal with urban precarity, whilst the animals continue to lead precarious lives amidst the mangle of infrastructure.


[1] There are no official records; the number is based on pig keepers’ estimates.

[2] Dalit is the Hindi term for Scheduled Castes in India. Within this encompassing term are many communities of which Valmiki or Balmiki are one.

[3] ‘Time-pass,’ is a keyword that is often used by people in northern India in the context of their everyday life and can denote a suite of practices which are social, cultural and/or economic, political in nature. For example, see See Jeffrey’s (2010) for an examination of ‘timepass’ in the northern Indian contextamong unemployed educated youth in Meerut.

[4] The Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) is a long term (20 years) planning for the city’s growth and development.

[5] Goddess Masani or Masani mata also known as Sheetla or Chouganan is extensively revered by the Balmiki community for well-being and prosperity. She is regularly offered gifts such as puri or sweet fried bread, halwa which is a popular Indian dessert as well as female piglets that the Goddess herself often demands.

[6] The Hindu Khatik community in Delhi are Dalits, i.e., belong to the Scheduled Castes but are not untouchables.


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Doherty J (2019) Filthy flourishing: Para-Sites, Animal Infrastructure, and the Waste Frontier in Kampala. Current Anthropology 60(S20): S321-S332.
Field AL (2015) On Pigs, Persons, and Peripheral Places: Industrial Animal Stalls as Infrastructure. In: American Anthropological Association’s Annual meeting, Denver, CO, 18-22 November 2015, pp. 1–11.
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Sneha Gutgutia is a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, India. As a member of the ERC Horizon 2020 Urban Ecologies project, her research rethinks urban marginality through human-animal relations in informal settlements in Indian cities.