HDFC bank putting spikes to deter homeless from sleeping is just sad and ugly

DailyBiteMar 28, 2018 | 19:24

HDFC bank putting spikes to deter homeless from sleeping is just sad and ugly

On the one hand, a bank as wealthy and powerful as HDFC loves to advertise how much it cares about customers (existing and potential ones) especially in their determined approach to make sure they all get to taste the joy of becoming a homeowner, via their supposedly comfortable and easy home loan schemes. On the other, we get to see the dichotomy in their values when they set up something called anti-homeless spikes in front of their branch in Mumbai's Fort area.


What are anti-homeless spikes? Essentially, a mat that has multiple metal spikes protruding from it, similar to what people install on boundary walls to ensure intruders are kept away. Only the purpose of anti-homeless spikes is, as the name suggests, not to serve as a tool of security, but to promote social exclusion.

The spikes managed to create mild outrage on social media, leading to HDFC removing them. The statement accompanying their move said: "We sincerely regret the inconvenience caused to the public by the installation of the spikes at our Fort Branch, as part of the recent renovation. We're having the spikes removed on priority."

As per a Mumbai Mirror report, spikes like these are not, in the strictest sense, illegal. Kiran Dighavkar, an assistant municipal commissioner for A Ward, told Mirror: “We will conduct a site inspection and if the spikes are posing a danger to people, then we will issue a notice to the bank. They have not taken any specific permission from us to install the spikes since it is fitted on their building and not on the footpath.”


Unethical and morally repulsive as they are, they are not illegal. The purpose of these spikes is to discourage, among others, homeless people from sleeping or sitting in the area. Dubbed as “defensive architecture” by artist Nils Norman in his 2001 book The Contemporary Picturesque, these devices — there is a variety of them — are meant to occupy “unruly parcels of pavement” or “spaces left over after planning” that are “too small to develop, but large enough to encourage loitering or homeless camps”.

The nomenclature used by Norman, however, represents anything but the truth. Far from being defensives, architecture like this is inherently hostile — a kind of urban design intended to control, coerce and often prohibit interaction and social relations in public space. What makes this hostility worse, is that it is not a mere misanthropic projection of a corporation. Rather, this is the manifestation of a clear class barrier that simply reads: if you are not privileged enough to be our customer, you have no business occupying or using our space.

Another problem with hostile architecture such as this is that it does nothing to alleviate or even address socio-economic issues like poverty and homelessness. Its purpose is more on the lines of sweeping-dust-under-the-rug — pushing poverty away from the immediate vision of those installing them.


Much like rounding up the homeless when foreign dignitaries or politicians visit an area, or displacing street vendors, they only serve to make things look cleaner than they are.

Public spaces belong to all, not just the rich and the privileged. Even if the porch is part of the bank’s real estate, putting up spikes reeks of class disparity and social inequality. A street vendor, speaking to Mirror, said, “In the blazing afternoon sun, the space was used to sit down for a while and rest. We didn’t dirty the place or cause any damage. The spikes are like knives and can hurt anyone. Anyway, people didn’t sit there all day; the bank’s security guards didn’t allow it.”

Architecture and technology employed to deter the homeless have been pervasive for some time now, both in India and around the world.

Benches designed (constructed in a wilfully uncomfortable posture) to discourage sleeping, wall railings which enable leaning but not sitting or lying, among other designs, have been created by the rich to keep the poor away.

There's no two ways about it.

Last updated: March 28, 2018 | 20:10
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