Story of urban development in India has multiple actors. There are Nehruvian modernists who pegged urbanisation as an engine of growth for independent India. There are Gandhians who perceived ‘western’ urbanisation to be a threat to the ancient ‘Indian values. And then there were Ambedkarite rebels who looked up to the cities for their liberation.
Babasaheb Ambedkar imagined cities as a place for emancipation of the oppressed caste from the tyrannical caste system prevalent in rural India. He imagined cities would provide anonymity, dignity, and agencies for free living. While I acknowledge the Bahujan struggle, there is one more actor in the story of urbanisation in India who also deserves the stage time. Muslims. The reason it is important to tell this story is because around 40% of Indian Muslim population are urban which is more than any other communities and the national average.
It is said that every town/city in India has two Muslim areas, one in the centre and another one in the outskirt. Road from the city centre to the city outskirts is the story of Muslims in urban India from independence to the present time. To illustrate the basic plotline of the story let me exhibit Delhi as an example, with Chandni Chowk and Jamia Nagar as two areas.
Chandi Chowk is the centre of the old city of Delhi, acting as a nucleus for the Shahjahanabad. While Old Delhi is popularly known as Muslim area, remnants of the Mughal past, demographic data reveals that it was mixed in lines of religion. Attestation to the mixed and harmonious past.
After partition, there was immense two-way migration, with Muslims from the north Indian region migrating to newly formed Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs coming to India. The emigration of aristocratic Muslim class led to the vacuum in the old cities resulting in stagnation, meanwhile emigration of middle- and lower-class Muslims led to depopulation in neighbourhoods. Vacated houses were allotted to immigrants from Pakistan and vice versa on the other side of the border. The small number of Muslim families who stayed behind were relocated to the Muslim majority areas for fear of communal violence. Hence resulting in segregation along religious lines.
After the unfortunate event in the 1980s, communal tensions were ablaze all over India, leading to numerous riots and pogroms. These led to the accumulation of displaced Muslims families in outskirt of the then Delhi now known as Jamia Nagar. The settlements then grew to become ghettos with high density, poor public infrastructure and below par living standards. But the residents found safety in numbers.
Same story also played out in Ahmedabad albeit little later than Delhi. Juhapura which sprung up after the 2000, was a refuge to the families displaced by the 2002 riots.
Segregation of urban areas along religious lines and religious homogenisation of neighbourhood’s further act as tinderbox for communal flare ups. Lucknow is an example in this case, it is a highly mixed city and has not seen any communal encounters since 1930. Unlike Delhi and Ahmedabad which witnessed multiple communal riots.
Kozhikode and Cuttack are also a positive example in this case where neighbourhoods are mixed and have not witnessed any communal tensions. Two peculiar cases in this story are Bangalore and Hyderabad, which rank relatively high in segregation but have not seen any communal encounters. This can be attributed to the cosmopolitan nature of these cities. (Susewind R.)
The above story illustrates that Indian urbanisation is heading towards a highly fractured, exclusionary, and unequal future. Homogenisation of a neighbourhood and economic compartmentalisation along religious lines compounds the difficulties of disadvantaged groups. The study of Juhapura in Ahmedabad and other such places has revealed that these ghettos often are victims of black holes in urban planning. Decades of institutional apathy towards these areas means they are often neglected in infrastructural planning.
Apart from institutional apathies, social discrimination also means that residents of these areas often face difficulties in securing jobs in the cities. Sometimes they have to provide their relatives address who reside out of the area to circumvent the bias towards their ghettos. This sends them further down the rabbit hole of economic compartmentalisation. The housing sector is the clearest demonstration of economic compartmentalisation, where datas show that religious minorities find it very difficult to secure residences outside of ghettos, leading to a parallel informal housing market for the communities which are often unsafe and sub-standard
The rising urbanisation in the nation could be perceived as a sign of development at first glance. But a deeper look divulges symptoms of highly exclusionary and segregated cities. Maybe it’s a reflection of how Indian society actually is. Maybe the phenomenon of economic aggregation in cities also aggregates our social biases. Maybe today’s situation is just a remnant of conflicting political aspirations during the independence struggle of India. Where people who chose to stay are paying the heavy rent.
Susewind R., Muslims in Indian cities: Degrees of segregation and the elusive ghetto, King’s College, UK,