Saturday, October 18, 2014


The merger of villages within the jurisdiction of Pune Municipal Corporation has raised many eyebrows. With the approval of the merger, the Pune Municipal Corporation would surpass the size of its neighboring financial capital Mumbai (post the merger the area of PMC will be 500 sq kms as compared to BMC’s area of 480.25 sq kms). With the decision to expand has also come the increasing apprehension over the governance of the city. With rising populations and increasing size of agglomeration, the question of the governance of the expanding metro cities cannot be avoided further.
The immediate neighbor of Pune City, which is the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, has also expanded itself over the years and it is necessary to create a bridge between the two corporations for an integrated development approach. Together the PMC and PCMC along with other municipal councils, cantonment boards and villages would form the Pune Metropolitan Region. There is an inclination in the air towards the formation of the Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (PMRDA) on the lines of Mumbai’s Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA).
Our constitution has made provisions for such situations with the 74th Amendment Act, 1992. So what does the Act say? Under the Article 243ZE, a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) should be constituted for a Metropolitan Area. The Metropolitan Planning Committee would consist of not less than two-third of its members who are elected members of Municipalities and Chairpersons of the Panchayat. This Committee is responsible for the preparation of the development plan region. So it is clear that, the MPC is a representative platform that falls above the local bodies in the hierarchical structure.
India already has 6 major metro cities in place, namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai. As per the Constitution, the six metro cities should have an MPC in place. So what is the situation on ground? All the six metros have formed Development Authorities which are State level parastatal agencies and not MPCs. Some of them were formed even before the 74th Amendment.
Development Authority
Year of formation of Development Authority
Status of Metropolitan Planning Committee
Delhi Development Authority
Status not known
Bangalore Development Authority
The enabling law has been passed in the Karnataka government. But MPC has not been constituted
Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority
The AP government envisaged the Metropolitan Planning Committees
Act, 2007. However in April 2008, it formed the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority which is an extension of the state government and plays a dominant role in the region.
Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority
It set up a MPC in 1998. The Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) has emerged as the administrative and technical secretariat for the KMPC
Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority
MPC has been set on 17th December 2008, but MMRDA still acts as the dominant agency
Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority
Enabling Act is drafted but MPC not formed.

It can be seen that except for Kolkata, none of the six metros have progressed towards a functional MPC. The consequence of which is that Urban Planning which is essentially the function of a representative local body has been encroached by a non-representative parastatal body making the process of planning more encrypted and non-transparent. The development authorities functioning in the areas have become so powerful that the major decisions about the city are being taken by them. One of the reasons for the non-formation of the MPC, has been the highly influential and powerful nature of the Development Authorities that they have acquired over these years and dissolving such a body would create political and administrative conundrums which is not appealing to the government.
Another characteristic of such a structure of governance is the similar financial model adopted by the Development Authorities. Being parastatal bodies, the Development Authorities do not have access to collection of taxes and create a revenue base. So what has been the reason for the financial might of the Development Authorities? The answer is land assets. A huge amount of land resources have been transferred by the state to the Development Authorities which has led to an over whelming flow of revenue through land leasing and land sale activity. This kind of financing has its own merits and demerits; the merit being that lump sum money is available for undertaking development activities and the demerit being that the Development Authorities have started behaving like real estate developers aiming to make profits and forgetting their role as a welfare state. On account of being a non-representative platform, there is high chance of regional development not being regional in the true sense, with development being skewed only to certain areas where the land prices are high.

What would happen to Pune Metropolitan Region is still uncertain. The current atmosphere is of binary nature where one group proposes for more decentralization by disagreeing on further mergers, while the other proposes the formation of a Metropolitan Development Authority that would act as a parent to the local bodies within the Metropolitan Area. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

People, Religion and Politics: Negotiating the temple space

Abstract Temples are seen as an abode of gods, a place of worship, a depository of offerings, a stage to perform rituals and a place to redistribute goods. Behind all these functions performed by the temples, lies its place of importance in the political arena. Over the years, the temples and festivals have undergone functional changes with change in the political structure, the rise of westernisation, liberalism and urbanisation. They are also perceived as spaces which ensure identity to individuals and hence receive enormous support with the rise of instability and anonymity in the society. Because Hinduism is very different from Christianity, Buddhism or Islam which can be said to be more homogeneous, the multiplicity in the structure, nature and purpose of the temples is quite evident. This paper focuses on the historic importance of temples and festivals and gives a brief on their changing nature. It also analyses the spatial spread of temples and the different masks that it wears according to the needs of the community and the political economic situation of that place. And thus invents survival strategies by negotiating the space around it.

Historic importance of temples 

Religious institutions lend themselves for multiple interpretations (Lisa J. Lucero, 2007). They serve as a place of exchange, alliance building, finding marriage partners, social interaction and other activities. Hence the domain of influence is not only the spiritual and religious field but it spreads to other areas of social and physical being. The presence of temples as a focal point of a city in the historic times brings forth the fact that temples have had an important place in the functioning and the layout of a city. Scholars tend to identify the temples as a fixed point around which the flux of power relations moved (Rohan Bastin, 2005). Temples are typically located next to other important buildings. For example, in Mesoamerica, the temples were situated in the core areas near important administrative buildings, palaces, plazas and near significant natural and sacred features. Kings and monarchs were considered as close to god and thus monarchs conducted royal ceremonies to highlight their having the ‘mandate to heaven’ (Lisa J. Lucero, 2007). They worshipped gods in order to supplicate them and hence in times of drought, war or flooding, the people used to judge rulers by their capacity to supplicate the gods. The rulers promised the farmers water in exchange of material support. This developed a sense of competition among the different rulers. In the event of the death of the king and several candidates vying for the royal position, the temple provided arena to attract supporters. Temples being a place of power, competition, status and prestige were attacked by enemies and burnt down to show their victory over the other. In post Mesoamerica, the Aztec visitors often signalled their triumph by destroying or burning the foes temples (Lisa J. Lucero, 2007). Temples have been critical to the nature and extend of political and economic complexities in the merchantile and agricultural state formation. Colonialism was symbolized by the pillage and proselytization of temples in South Asia and Srilanka. These actions served to fracture the role of temples as political centres (Rohan Bastin, 2005). Central to the Hindu temple was the social division – division of labour based on sex, kinship, caste and marriage. These temples have now and then interpreted and re-interpreted society on their own terms and set up norms which exist in today’s so called modern world too.
People and Religion: Searching identity

Globalization is a new phenomenon, but it has bought real changes in terms of speed, scale and cognition. In terms of speed, there is an increased compression of time and space. In terms of scale, the number of economic political and social linkages between different societies is more and in terms of cognition, the globe is perceived to be a smaller place because of the increased connectivity. The events occurring elsewhere have a consequence on our everyday lives. The state role has decreased to a large extent with the spate of privatisation. This vacuum of authority created due to the absence of state has led to creation of many other groups in response to individual demands for security and welfare. The spread of democratic values has led to social dislocation in many parts. The traditional societies which were based on set norms of hierarchy have become democratized. Old ways of doing things get eliminated, which brings in more uncertainty and the social structure which keeps the community bonded is also demolished, which has a disintegrative effect (Catarina Kinnvall, 2004). The abstractness of the modern life initiates people to search for their identities and they attempt to bring back a sense of security. One way of doing this is getting associated with any collective that is perceived as being able to reduce insecurity and existential anxiety. Collectives based on religion turn out to be a very attractive mode of ensuring security. For the followers of Hinduism, the temple has become a place with which people get associated in search of identity and emotional security. The urban areas which have characteristics of individualism, alienation and insecurity have triggered the formation of many temples, which give a feeling of rootedness and togetherness. This can be related to the theory of ‘Topophilia’ which is a strong sense of place which often becomes mixed with the senses of cultural identity among certain people. This strong sense of a place called ‘temple’ comes from various facets of urbanism as a way of life. (Louis Wirth, 1938). The competition that an urban life fosters brings in much insecurity in the professional life, the heterogeneity and social fragmentation within a community germinates a feeling of alienation and there is a loss of the sense of belonging. Migrated inhabitants feel more strongly for their community and religion as compared to the people back in their natives, as they face a high level of ‘unrootedness’. All these factors carve a path for people to find solace in network based identity formation through religious institutions. The reasons for coming or taking membership of any religious institution may vary with age, ideologies and personal background. For example, a study done by Reiko Itoh and Leonardo Poltnicov (1999) of the Saturday morning informal service of the Reform Jewish congregation in Pittsburg shows how this collective gives the Jews in Pittsburg a sense of place i.e. it clarifies or lends meaning to their identity and lives. The meaning of membership is different for different individuals. The young couples take membership to raise their children in a Jewish way, for some it is a way of socializing with other Jews and for some it is just a habit, and for the old, who are more tradition minded, come for offering prayers in Hebrew. So the place takes a form of a community centre with recreational activities, education, fun and informal interaction apart from being a purely religious institution (Reiko Itoh and Leonard Plotnicov, 1999). This is a micro level analysis of an individual’s strategies to ensure that he/she succeeds in reconstructing an identity of self and community. This individual strategies act as a feeder to the larger political economic scenario of temples. They support the temple as an institution and hence indirectly or directly support the politics behind the building or unbuilding of temples. 

Religion and Politics

In India, separation of religion and politics was as a result of colonial intervention. But has it really been achieved? Can we say that the state and religious institutions are mutually distinct sets? The secularization in modern societies implies that first, the decline in religious beliefs and practices, second, the privatisation of religion where religion becomes part of the private sphere and is highly subjectivized and third, the separation of secular state, economy and science from religion, whereby the religious sphere stops its intervention and dominance over these spheres. But in reality, the separation of the state from religion is a one way process and in fact it has reshaped religious practices and subjectivity. Bhargava (2007) quotes, “There is no erect wall between state and religion. There are boundaries, of course, but they are porous. This allows the state to intervene in religions, to help or hinder them without the impulse to control or destroy them. This involves multiple roles: granting aid to educational institutions of religious communities on a non-preferential basis; or interfering in socio-religious institutions that deny equal dignity and status to members of their own religion and to those of others (for example, the ban on untouchability and the obligation to allow everyone, irrespective of their caste, to enter Hindu temples, whilst potentially correcting gender inequalities), on the basis of a more sensible understanding of equal concern and respect for all individuals and groups.” (Bhargava, 2007, cited by Mariella Sica, 2012 ) The festival of Ganeshotsav is a very good example of the interference of religion and politics. During the freedom struggle, Lokmanya Tilak took an excellent strategic decision of celebrating the Ganapati festival to promote anti- British sentiments among the populace. Religion was outside the colonial jurisdiction and hence British chose not to interfere in that space. Taking this as an opportunity, the Ganeshotsav was used as a tool for propagation of politics. The ganesha murti and the demon (symbolising the colonial power) were used as a means to provoke the masses. The politics cloaked within the mantle of the religious festival was initially overlooked by the British and if they expressed concern they acted against the activities by using charges of sedition, criminality or civil disobedience. Later in 1896, stricter rules were set regarding licenses of melas, censorship of songs and rules for processions. ‘Mordern festivals’ like the Republic Day and the Independence day are not much part of the family and community life like the Ganapati festival in Maharashtra. Ganesh festival involves more organic connectivity and hence state governments and oppositional political parties appropriate Ganeshotsav mandals and sponsor celebrations as a means to get closer to the public in Maharashtra. Not only the governments, but also the under-world contribution to the festival is enormous. The festival on one hand had a formidable potential to instigate feelings of nationalism but on the other hand it cannot be denied that there was inherent instability attached to it because of its exclusionary nature. The festival majorly saw participation of the lower Hindu class and not the upper class, as they preferred celebrating it within their private domain. The critiques saw the festival as a means to strengthen the Hindutva ideology and hence called it ‘psuedo secular in nature’. After the riots of 1992-93, following the destruction of Babri Masjid, the festival added to the communal feelings and hence created a highly volatile environment (Raminder Kaur, 2005). The Ganeshotsav that we celebrate today is very different from the past. Even today some mandals use the festival as a stage to portray the current issues but with the western ideology of individualism and modernism finding its way into the Indian society, the festival has become more of a private affair within the Indian middle class and is celebrated within confined kinship groups. The rise of the educated middle class ideologies have tagged the festival as a waste of money; money which could have been used for other needs of the society. The rising urbanization and the space crunch has led to distaste for mandals as they encroach roads and further add to the problems of traffic and sound pollution. The fall of BJP’s Hindutva ideology and the rise of congress’s secular ideology itself show us the changing trends. But even today, at a macro level, religion is used as tool to communalise masses and give them a sense of identity. The Rath Yatra by L.K.Advani comprised of geographical movement, military display and provocation. Religious ritual was employed to make political statement about authority. This can very well relate to the royal ceremonies performed by the kings to warn his opponents about his power. (William S. Sax, 2000). Another example is of Modi’s Sambhavana Yatra which was supposedly to capitalize the minority votes. But to simply say that there is a one on one relation between identity politics and vote banks would be very naive. A study of the working of Jama’at­i­Islami in Pakistan and Bangladesh reveals the limitation of the assumption that religious political parties indulge in welfare work as a form of patronage politics where free services are distributed primarily with a view to winning votes, and supports the work of Rosenblum (2003) who argues that the motives for engagement in welfare are much more complex than material opportunism (Rosenblum, 2003 cited by Masooda Bano, 2012). There have been times when the party continued its welfare activities even during the period when it was banned. Moreover the assumption made by the political theory is that beneficiaries of a service will owe allegiance to the party even if the elections are not to take place for the next four years. The case of the Jama’at shows the limitations of these assumptions; where converting beneficiaries into voters is a secondary concern, and the primary motive for engagement in welfare work is to establish the commitment of the party to the implementation of religious precepts (Masooda Bano, 2012). 

Temples of Modern India

The construction of modern India on secularism has not erased her religious sensibility; in fact religion has surfaced in different forms and spheres though negotiations and confrontation. The mushrooming of temples and other religious institutions has put scientists in a dilemma. The contrast between the historic temples and the present day temples is its form, nature and the purpose which they serve. Today we have road side temples, colossal temples and other religious institutions that claim to be secular i.e. without the belief in one single god and tolerant to all religions like the Art of Living Foundation by Sri Sri Ravishankar. In urban India, there has been a rise of road-side temples and these places can be possible places of communal conflict. For example, the demolition of the 200 year old Sufi dargah by the municipal administration of Baroda. The high court ruling out orders in favour of the PIL to demolish all road side temples in Mumbai. In Chennai, Jayalalitha went on a spree of demolition of road side temples during the initial period of her tenure, but later ceased to do so due the fear of loss of vote bank. Ganesha temples have been erected and maintained by auto and taxi stands as Ganesha is believed to be very auspicious for every new beginning. At some places, Ganesha temples are erected at the point of intersection of three ways, as one street perpendicular to the other is considered as inauspicious. It is very interesting to note that modern planning practices favour grid type road patterns but traditional practices see them as evil. In Chennai, there have been cases where the poor working class has erected temples and their livelihood is dependent on the offerings and donations that come to these roadside temples. These temples are built on public spaces and hence are illegal. Similarly, the installation of ganesha idols done by slum youth is uncommon and their connections with the local politicians have helped them stalling any demolition and they also get financial help from the local politicians. At times the government takes authority of the road side temples to check them as money making enterprises. There are surprise visits to the temple and if the donations in the ‘hundi’ are above a certain limit then appropriate actions are taken. Similarly in China, the temples and monasteries which are important sacred spaces for the locals are taken up by the state for purposes of tourism and protection of heritage and this has been opposed by many ethnic groups. The state also intervenes in the functioning of these institutions. It requires the temples, mosques and churches to be economically self supporting; in addition to collecting incense money and rents on property and providing religious services the clergies are expected to take part in productive labour and set up profit making enterprises (Xiaofei Kang, 2009). Road side temples are used for appropriation of public space and then with constant negotiations with the government or local politicians the temples are assured protection and patronage. These road side temples have changed the meaning of secularism with the diverse population that these attract, the patronage of Brahmin families given to temples of folk goddesses and donation from neighbourhood Christian families. Hence they have transcended the boundaries of social hierarchies and minimised the distance between various social positions (U. Kalpagam, 2006). Another form of temple structures is the colossal ones and serves an entirely different purpose. Examples of these can be the Akshardham temple in Delhi, the Art of living Ashram in Bangalore, the ISKON temples and the Tirumala Tirupati temple in Tirupati. These are an outcome of the urban middle class culture and identities. The Akshardham temple in NOIDA was completed in November 2005 by the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). The architecture and design of the temple makes it look like a Disney land, in fact, a group of swamys were sent to Universal Studios and Disneyland to borrow their ideas. The temple uses high end technology for its day to day work. The temporal modernity is interwoven with the ancient one. What makes the need to build such temples? The answer is the new culture of consumption and urban space. So how is urban space perceived today? The Akshardham temple was built after the demolition of 58 JJ (Juggi Jopdi) colonies in 2000 and 2006. This was done as per the current culture of cleaning the cities and creating ‘clean’ urban spaces. The appeal of AT lies in its ability to present the tableaux of consumption which is in continuity with the outside world. The use of technology, efficiency, punctuality, cleanliness go well with the current trends of consumption and consumerism marked by highways, malls, slum clearance drives and creation of spaces of middle class identity. The temple complex becomes a place which is not shelter a feeling of nostalgia of the past but is based on the idea of ‘surplus consumption’. Srivastava (2006) defines surplus consumption as the “strategy of engaging with the intensity of social and cultural changes introduced by [a number] of global forces” (Srivastava, 2006 cited by Srivastava 2009). Surplus consumption unfolds in a number of ways, and is part of the processes of the making of contemporary urban identities. Consumption becomes a part of the experience at such places, right from the five star type entrances to the presence of Mc Donald outlet inside the temple complex. Such an atmosphere where the ‘Indianess’ is packaged with modern middle class consumerism invents a moral middle class, who has control over the process of consumption. The middle class can take part in the process of modernity and at the same time revert back to its tradition. Hence these places create a platform to re-define modernity according to the whims and fancies of the urban middle class. The role of the BAPS across borders is very different. It represents an identity of the Indians settled abroad. Critiques have accused the Swaminarayan community for supporting the Hindu nationalist agenda. The origination of the community in Gujarat and Gujarat being a socially conservative and non-liberal in its present state of affairs has led to the criticism of the community too. The portrayal of Hinduism from the perspective of the BAPS community is done through the Exhibitions (which is like a museum and part of the temple complex) in London and other places. Hinduism is potrayed as one homogeneous religion when the fact is that there are number of variations that exist within Hinduism. Hence the BAPS community is not seen as a representative of the Hindu community back in the homeland. Bhatt (2000) quotes that owing to the financial strength and the Gujarati community, the BAPS is attempting to “hegemonize the space of Hindu representation in the UK” (Bhatt, 2000 cited by Hanna Kim, 2009). The response given to this critique by the Swaminarayan community is that the purpose of these exhibitions is to explain the non- Hindus Hinduism and thus religion has become a means by which it can engage with its dominantly non-Hindu publics while sustaining its own devotional traditions and teachings. The BAPS with its forty year long association with the West has not remained unaffected by the dominant ideals and secularized Christian assumptions about religion (Hanna Kim, 2009). The result has been a ‘Swaminarayan religion’ that fits some but not all expectations of the West. 


The importance of temples in the political arena is not something new, but with modernism and the rise of urbanisation, temples have negotiated the social space and in the process have undergone changes. The form, both physical and functional, of temples is varied and each caters to a different kind of population. They are also used as a strategy to appropriate space and lay claims over it through a nexus with the political society. Even though the state claims to be separate from religion, but at the same time religion is used as a tool to form a government. And hence politics can never be free from religious fundamentalism.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


‘The city absorbs everyone’, ‘log yahaan kismet banana aate hai’, ‘the city doesn’t sleep’, ‘yahaan koi kisi ka nahi’ are quotes that I have heard since I was a child. I hadn’t seen ‘Amchi Mumbai’ till the age of 24. My first encounter with Mumbai was only when I got a chance to study in Tata Institute of Social Sciences in June 2012. And yes!! These quotes do make sense today. And like most of the non-Mumbaikars, I admit that I love the city. Why and how Mumbai is different from other urban centres are questions that intrigue many. Take a walk around the old city and the reminiscence of every place pops out amidst the modern spaces so created! The city still reminds us of our colonial history; history that can be traced to the year 1554. The genesis of development of the contemporary city of Mumbai can be traced to the physical space called the Manor House probably built by a Portuguese physician and botanist, Gracia da Orta, who leased the Bomabe island as proprietor from the Portuguese authorities in the year 1554 until his death in Goa in 1570. The H-shaped island of Bombaim or Bombay was part of an archipelago of seven islands (Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman's Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion) and formed one of the eight administrative divisions of the Portuguese capital at Bassein or Vasai, which lay further beyond the island of Salsette. The Portuguese authorities called Bombay A ilha da boa vida- the island of good life. The series of changes in the name were from the native Mumbai to Mumbaim, Mombaim, Boa Vida, Bombaim, Bom Bahia, Bombay and Mumbai. The primary concern of the Portuguese was not trade but proselytising and hence this predominant emphasis on religion deterred the development of the Bombay islands. In 1661, Arab marauders partially destroyed the Manor house, leaving only walls intact. In the same year the King of Portugal gifted the Bombay Island to King Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. The Portuguese in India, however refused to give the islands of Salsette, mazagoan, Varli and Parel, which the English claimed as part of the marriage treaty. In 1665, the British finally succeded in taking possession over the islands after a series of disputes and fortified the Manor House and named it ‘Bombay Castle’. Three years later the Crown handed the islands to the East India Company who had coveted it since long because of its characteristics as an excellent harbour and natural isolation from land attacks. Fourteen years later, the Company succeeded in acquiring the lease on Bombay from the Crown at a trifling rent. In 1668, Sir George Oxenden, President of the Surat factory, which the British had established in 1612, took charge as the first Governor of Bombay. Until his death he aimed at encouraging trade in all possible directions. Thus, Bombay from the onset was based on primary functions of trade and commerce. Administration was secondary and managed by the Company itself. Trade would be enhanced only with connections to the hinterland and hence Indian merchants were given incentives to settle around the castle. The British never envisaged that Bombay would grow rapidly and hence planning of the streets or houses was not done. Bombay grew gradually out of small settlements, with a series of random additions made over the centuries. Gerald Aungier (President of the Company’s Surat factory) was the Governor of Bombay from 1672 to 1675. Constant attacks by the Marathas and dissensions with the local Mughal Governer led to the shifting of the trading headquarters of Company from Surat to Mumbai. After 1686, the Company transferred the seat of governance and its maritime and trading activities from Surat to Bombay. This led to the decline of Surat and the development of Bombay. Aungier encouraged migration of the mercantile communities to the islands by assuring them religious freedom and permitting them to built residential houses within the walled fort. The arrival of Charles Boon in 1715 gave further impetus to the growth and settlement. The company felt the need to further strengthen the harbour and building the ships of war at Bombay. Plan of Bombay in 1715 In 1735, Lowjee Nusserwanji, a Parsi from the Company at Surat was appointed to built and modernise the Bombay shipyard. By 1767, the size of the dockyard was enlarged. In 1739, a ditch called ‘Maratha Ditch’ was dug outside the fort walls for better protection. This work was carried out by donations from the merchants and traders. This collective tradition for betterment of the city continued for generations among the Bombay citizens. In 1748, building rules for the private and commercial structures were introduced. In 1772, fearing the possibility of an impending attack by the French, a semi-circular swath of the ground adjacent to the fort as cleared to provide a clear range of fire from the fort. This open space was called the ‘Esplanade’. During the Governorship of Wlliam Hornby from 1771 to 1784, a war culminated in 1782 after the signing for treaty of Salbai with the Marathas. The company yin turn of Bassein and certain territories in Gujarat acquired the islands of Salsatte, Elephanta, Karanja and Hog islands. The treaty witnessed a change in the nature of the British administration from traders to rulers. In 1787, special attention was given to the planning of the city. Within the fortified town the land use pattern was mixed. A remarkable feature of the residential area was the inherent segregation on the basis of race and caste. The primary factor that contributed to the segregation of settlement was the initiative taken by Gerald Aungier to reinforce the indigenous Panchayat system, whereby the internal matters of the Indian communities pertaining to religion, law and order would be solved. This contributed to the social compartmentalisation which translated in the physical form of the settlements. Within the boundaries of the fort, there was a demarcation between the blacks (native) and the whites (the British). The separation came about not only due to the cultural scepticism and racial prejudice on the part of the English, but also importantly because of the rigid religious restrictions on the part of the Hindus, who could be considered polluted by social contact with non-Hindus and casteless and therefore ‘untouchable’ Europeans. These segregated communities could socially interact with each other only in the market places, bazaars, public open spaces like maidans and the foreshore beaches, and at the city’s judicial and civic centres where issues could be discussed on a common platform. By the middle of 18th century more immigrants came to Bombay. In 1770, Koli homes on the Dogri Hill and dwellings of the destitute between Churchgate and Bazaargate were removed to suitable locations. Orders were passed in 1772, prohibiting all but the Europeans from building south of Churchgate Street. Bombay’s early stage of settlement marked by gradual growth and stabilisation was not from the internal dynamics but from the external support from the company and from the idea of creating a town in an attempt to create a functional symbol – to reinforce an otherwise shaky claim to the alien soil. In Bombay, the colonial practices of ‘disciplining space’ had not found their way into the mainstream of routine administration in the 18th century. Bazaargate area derived its importance as the head quarters of the wealthy shroffs, Indian bankers, who were responsible for the entire banking business in the town. The character and the density of the southern fort was in complete contrast to the crowded bazaargate area that lay north of Churchgate Street, which was housed by the wealthy Parsis. The profile of the streetscape has undergone hardly any changes through the decades. In 1811, James MacKintosh, the Recorder of Bombay, reintroduced the earlier proposal to build a town hall. The felicitous site was chosen on the open spacious ground in the vicinity of the Bombay Castle, the seat of governance. The town hall became the focal point of the city’s social and commercial life of the 19th century and its architecture boasted of might and authority. It became a place for crucial political and civic decisions and gradually became linked with the growth and development of Bombay and its many educational, cultural and social institutions. As the localities inside the walled fort developed, an entirely different township was emerging outside the walled town. This involved a bizarre blend of colourful bazaars, vernacular structures, narrow winding lanes and collectively displaying congestion but also an incredible unique dynamism. Beyond the Fort walls In February 1803, there was a great fire which destroyed a large portion of the native bazaar and extensive residential property belonging to the Indian merchants. Indians thereafter started building north of the fort in the newly opened residential areas beyond the esplanade. This was the beginning of the expansive development beyond the limits of the fortification. With the dispersal of the people to the seven islands came the move to distil the fort area itself. The walled town was dominated by the parsi community which formed 46% of the population. The residential preferences of the communities were fairly clear. The Parsis, Bohras, Banias and the English selected fort as their primary residence and trade centre, the Indian Christians choose to live in Mahim, Bandra, Mazagaon, Cavel and Girgaum. The Hindus settled in the areas such as Girgaum, Khetwadi, Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar while the Muslims were at Market, Dongri, Umarkhadi and Mandavi. Even the minorities had their own enclaves – the Armenians in the fort, Kamathi construction labourers from Andhra at Kamathipura and the Jews in the vicinity of the Masjid Bunder station. The Parsis got close to the British because they did not have any religious, social and food taboos as a result of which they blended well with the British. By 1850s, Bombay was a mix of cultures and was acquiring a cosmopolitan spirit with an increasing population. The Industrial revolution was responsible for transforming Bombay from a trading centre to an industrial and manufacturing centre. The first mill that appeared on the landscape was Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company’s cotton mill at Tardeo in central Bombay. The establishment of overland route to London in 1838 and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 created newer and faster regional and global channels for the movement of goods and people. The areas where mills were located became the heart of the Indian town. Here unlike the city centre, growth was laissez faire in character and pattern, one where the residential, industrial and religious activities were integrated. Now Bombay had two separate towns, European and Indian and each had their own residential, commercial and recreational spaces – two spaces in which different worlds existed with minimal conflict. Under the governership of Lord Elphinston from 1853 to 1860, the Virar Water Works was commenced. The Sepoy uprising in 1857 hardly touched Bombay but resulted in the Crown retrieving administrative control over india. Bombay was no longer perceived by the Crown merely as a fortified trading town but as a pivotal presidency capital that symbolised colonial power and was a crucial connection between India and the larger global trade. Sir Bartle Frere was the Governor of Bombay from 1862 to 1867 and took the decision to demolish the unnecessary fort walls. This signified a symbolic as well as real change of the purpose of Bombay, which was know a prosperous trading town and no longer needed to serve as a western defence fort. The Muncipal corporation was established in 1872 and the Bombay Trust Port in the following year. Large amount of reclamation and fine network of transport and communication was carried. Bomaby witnessed a remarkable acceleration in the construction activity especially in public buildings designed explicitly to display the imperial rule. Today these designs in Victorian Gothic tradition collectively assert a unique identity to south Bombay. The architecture of the restructured town was not limited by the singular use of the severe classical style. The looseness as well as the exuberant surface decoration inherent in the Gothic architecture gave the town a vibrant and varied look to the town. Concurrent to the restructuring of the fort area from 1860s to 1880s the authorities effectively reinforced Bombay’s civic work. There was a shift from focusing on small areas to the comprehensive planning of the island of Bombay as a whole. Improvements of streets, lighting, drainage, sanitation, modern network of communication and transport were being developed within the budding industrial town. The fire of 1803, gave a chance to the British to bring improvements in the civil structures within the fort area. Administrative power was gradually devolving from the people to an autocratic corporate body. Entrepreneurial spirit of the elite, both Indian and the british, strived for development and improvement of Bombay. They formed many cultural and educational institutions but these too very formed on the basis of caste, community or creed. The phase of emancipation of women took place mainly due to the progressive reformist movement in the mid 19 century. The British began to follow the divide and rule policy. Bombay’s segregated enclaves continued to grow through the decades of the late 1800s. These enclaves became more and more crowded with the creation of more jobs, expansion of trade and mills. The growth of overcrowding led to scarcity of services. These unsanitary conditions led to the outbreak of bubonic plague (first case detected in 1896). The fear of death led the people to flee to higher areas like the Malabar and Cumballa hills, healthier suburbs in the north and even some left Bombay altogether. The first step taken by the government to combat plague was the setting up of the research laboratory under the Dr W M Haffkine. Then the Bombay Improvement Trust was formally constituted on 9th November, 1898 by the City of Bombay Improvement Act, which was to dramatically alter the city and improve its physical state. The trust undertook reclamation of land to make more land available to built improvement trust chawls. The main aim was clearance and development of land and not the actual construction, except for poor and the police. Chawls were also built by private enterprises like the Parsi Panchayat and the Parsi Co-operative society. Development of suburbs increased at the beginning of 1900 and the British and the wealthy Indians shifted to the suburbs. By 1940s, the housing shortage was becoming highly visible and like the British the middle class also fled the inner areas of the city. With the partition in 1945, there was a large influx of refugees in 1948 which aggravated the housing problem. This led to the staggering rise in the price of land in inner areas as well as suburbs. Eventually in 1993, the city improvement trust was incorporated into the Bombay Municipal Corporation. As the Corporation had wide range of functions, the improvement trusts primary focus on city improvement was sidetracked. The number of interventions decreased and even today the lack of political will to convert opportunities into physical attributes of the city can be seen. There are many people to lay claim on the city but very few to make the city. Greater Bombay was formed by the Greater Bombay laws and the Bombay High court Act of 1945. In 1947, a master plan outline was created which focussed on decongestion of the city by moving industries to the periphery of greater Bombay. The Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) was set up on 26 January 1975 by the Government of Maharashtra as an apex body for planning and co-ordination of development activities in the Bombay metropolitan region. In August 1979, a sister township of New Bombay was founded by City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) across Thane and Raigad districts to help the dispersal and control of Bombay's population. Today in contemporary Mumbai, two parallel cities exist where fishing villages and slums nestle at the foot of luxury apartments, one is static (the architecture and the monuments built of permanent materials, the pukka city) and the other kinetic (the kutchcha city built of temporary materials). Mumbai has become a city of identity crisis. In the Baybar view of Hotel Oberoi you can order a Dom Perignon Champagne for 20,250 rupees which is more than one and half times the average annual income. A number of people die out of starvation and the city boasts of 150 diet clinics. The sudden acceleration of migration in 1960s to 1990s has transformed the social make up of Bombay and has perpetuated a situation charged with intense duality. The migrants with a different social background, culture and skills have come to the city and in as a result of their interaction with the new space they have altered the very structure of the city. Today the city is comprised of different world in the social and physical space. The bazaar symbolises energy, optimism and the will to survive outside the formal system. It is place where a close contact between the seller and the buyer is established, it is place which has helped migrants to establish a foot hold on the city. Today it is very interesting to see the same street occupied by the formal and the informal sector just adjacent to each other. There would be a Pepe Jeans store and the moment you open the door of the store you would bounce into a cart selling cheap and probably smuggled jeans. In addition, the economic relationship between exploitation and dependency is one of the most important factors that give the ‘two worlds’ in the city their distinctive physical shapes and locations. One world is exploitative of the high spots in the city and the other sprawls into any interstices and crevices it finds. This sense of dualism is also visible in the proposals of the city development authorities. The solutions to improve the city have removed the urban poor to the periphery which has led to inaccessibility to work and the core areas have become available to the government to appropriate this land for its own use. The western concept of zoning has segregated spaces into single-use places, commercial and residential. This has hindered the small scale local activities and services which require close knit and integrated environment. Thus the polarity between the two worlds gets further enhanced with the more and more structuring of the environment with rigid use patterns. The dualities inherent in the development of the city include those of lifestyle, cultural attitudes, planned intervention versus kinetic and incremental growth, and public versus private and rich versus poor. All these forces exist in the single space called Bombay. The sheer number of the kutcha city has resulted in the threat of capital pulling out of the city and on the other hand the Government is feeling the pressure from the poor who are asserting their rights. The processes that began at the time of settling the town, creating the dual city structures, setting up Bombay as a market are being physically manifested today as events leading to the irreversible creation and existence of two worlds on the same space. Right from the time of colonialisation, Bombay and today’s Mumbai have been segregated into core and the peripheries. It would be more appropriate to classify the population into many groups but to relate it to the dependency theory only two groups – core and periphery are used. It should be noted that peripheries can exist in cores and cores can exist in peripheries, as these are relative concepts. But here, the rich who have the decision making power and control over processes are considered as core and the rest who get exploited and do not have a stake in the actual decision making are considered as the periphery. This relationship has been exploitative in nature and exists in the very process of production. Capitalism and market driven approach has further enhanced this exploitative relationship as the government’s role in regulating the economy has considerably reduced. Here I would like to give some examples of the core-periphery relationship and its exploitative nature. Dharavi which shelters a huge leather industry is part of the informal sector. But the leather goods finally land up in the formal market with a huge price tag attached to it. In this process of production, the benefits of profit earned hardly reach the periphery, residing in Dharavi. The obsession with resettlement and rehabilitation in the name of development is the most inhumane thing that can be done to the periphery. Here, the periphery is actually physically relocated to the peripheral areas of Mumbai where the accessibility to work and to the core city is reduced. The planning in Mumbai is done by and for the core. A quick look at the Mumbai’s Vision Plan in the Mc Kinsey Report will show that the planning is done without recognising the existence of the periphery (urban poor, informal sector, slums, chawls). The Vision plan was prepared by Mc Kinsey for Bombay First, a Non- Governmental Organisation which has been formed on the line of London First- an organisation setup to make London a better city. The critique of Bombay First is that it is an organisation captured by the elite and involves no person from the periphery in the decision making process. The plan so made is very ambitious and proposes to make Mumbai a world class city in a span of 10 years. There is a bias in the very approach by the government to the core and the periphery. For example, the when the street vendors who are a part of the periphery claim the streets it is considered as illegal and nuisance by law and when the core claims the street by parking on it, it is allowed to do so. Hence the legality of the claims changes according to the person who makes the claim. Clearly, today there is colonialization of a different type where the colonizers are the core and the colonized are the periphery.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gone in seconds

My religion doesn’t allow me to watch a funeral and I am glad that it doesn’t. A month back I had to attend a funeral. I was allowed because it was a Buddhist’s funeral (women are allowed to watch a funeral in Buddhism). The ‘Samshanghat’ was divided into two sections. One, where the pre-funeral rituals are performed and the second- the furnace room. The pre-funeral room was gaudy pink in color. It was a room with high ceiling and stairs at the extreme end which opened in the furnace room. Unlike the Hindu tradition there was no pooja, no pandit, no rituals, only lectures related to the body and soul were delivered by a Buddhist lady. After a prayer – ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachami’ which was enchanted by everyone present in the hall, the body was taken to the furnace room. This was something I was experiencing for the first and hopefully the last time. I can still feel the gloominess of that room. Walls were blackened due to the smoke from the chimney, the floor was cemented unevenly, the room comprised of two furnaces, a furnace operating switch board, a rusted rack with many tin boxes for collecting ash and most terrifying was the fetid air (I actually smelled rotten flesh and I still don’t understand from where it came when finally everything was burnt down to ash). The body was kept on the roller which was driven by a belt. Once the belt was driven the body slowly approached the furnace opening and in a few seconds it was completely inside the furnace. Shouts and screams filled the room. The opening window slowly started to shut down; when it was almost half open (such that everyone could see the body) the furnace was started and a gush of fire came from all sides enveloping the body. And then the furnace window shut completely taking along with it the person forever. In seconds, the body was turned down to ash. How cruel of the authorities to show the body catching fire by keeping the window half open when the fire comes in!!! Is what I thought. But the authorities started this practice only after a few people complained that they never started the furnace and later sold off the body parts. Quite inhuman!! But much better than the conventional method of burning on wood. Sometimes some things are so difficult to see, hear and feel. This was one such experience which showed me that this is what is going to happen to me and everyone on ‘the final day’. Everyone will be gone in seconds. Reality slaps quite hard!!! I would still call it an experience neither good nor bad… just an experience… because life is worth living for all the beautiful seconds it gives even when you know that you are going to be vanished in seconds.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hope and Faith

20 JULY 2010
(Extract from my diary)
Hope and faith both can create wonders… But what if one loses both of them… Eight months back I saw loss of hope and loss of faith… ‘Cancer’ is a word everyone knows is dreadful. I was of the same opinion but it was only after I saw my own discovering it in her, I saw the pain associated with it…
One morning my Nani came to my house, smiling and babbling as usual. She said she has to go to the doctor because her right arm was paining… everyone including her thought it was a minor problem. We laughed, talked and gossiped… the day passed just liked every other normal day.
Two days later her reports had a different story to tell… my uncle came home with the reports. He being a doctor took the words ‘Breast Cancer’ very bravely. For us it was new. We didn’t know how to handle it or rather handle my Nani. On this day we didn’t talk, didn’t laugh, didn’t gossip… the silence was killing… it was not a normal day… we decided not to tell her anything and start her treatment hoping that ignorance will act as bliss… but deep inside everyone knew that she was clever enough to find out what she cocooned within her… breast cancer is curable and so here arouse ‘hope’…Hope that she will be fine. Hope that the cancer is not malignant. Hope that the treatment goes well… and no one knew the uncertainty of this ‘hope’…
The surgery was done… her chemotherapy and radiation sittings started… Long back I heard someone say that its better to die than take chemotherapy and radiation… now I could see the verity of that statement…but my grandma took it as it came… she smiled through pain…she cooked food, she washed her clothes, she did all mundane work even when we didn’t allow her to do it… she made everything look normal and camouflaged all pain… at times when the pain crossed its limits she wept and wept like a child. At that time we hated our helplessness. But her ‘faith’ in herself and god kept her spirits high…
The treatment was over. We were happy that she fought it… but there was something else in her fate. It didn’t want her to win…slowly her hand started to swell…again we started approaching every doctor… now her hand was the size of an elephant foot and the pain an elephant size. She needed her other hand to support it… ‘her cancer has reoccurred’ that was what the doctors told us and we were told to wait for death and they took away all hope…she could no longer do her work. Neither eat nor bath. She was told by her own daughter that the end will come soon and she had to wait…they cried and cried like they never did…now she had no faith and no hope… I really don’t know how it feels when you know that you have a few days to live. But I guess it makes you feel worse when you really want to live, when you have dreams you want to fulfill but no time with you, when you have a strong penchant for life… and my grandma wanted to live which made things worse…it was very hard for her to accept…on 10th November 2009 she lost her speech… she was on high doses of pain killers…slowly she got hallucinations. She stopped recognizing people… and for the first time in my life I prayed for death to come because I didn’t want to see things get uglier and uglier… on 14th November she surrendered peacefully in her sleep… and everyone was thankful…
I still don’t know why such an ugly thing happened to such a beautiful lady… she was brave, tolerant and intelligent…she was dynamic in taking decisions, good at banking… a scintillating speaker ( I just loved to listen to her)…I always told her that she would have been an entrepreneur if educated… she was a perfect combination of an intelligent brain and a beautiful heart… we will always miss you… love you forever…
For my dear Nani, wherever you are.