Sunday, October 21, 2012

Social Exclusion has its Own Consequences



This is in response to Preeti Mann's article published at UPenn's Center for Advanced Studiy of India:

http://casi.ssc.upenn.edu/iit/mann


Preeti Mann,
   This was a timely piece of warning for an India that is stomping, perhaps too fast, towards a model of development which has never been well-planned, despite the endless 'planning commission sessions', and a model which, as it unfolds, turns out to be a miserable patch work of aping the West's ostentatious consumer-culture. The fault lies not just in the lack of planning, but also of course in the pitiable execution of whatever little the rules or laws dictate.

The urban poor are not a new phenomenon, however, as you mentioned, the gap between the urban poor and the urban rich has never been so extensive and so stark. Unlike in the past, when there was so much less conspicuous consumption, it is a difference now in what they eat, what they wear, where they live, how they commute and everything else visible to the naked eye. Understandably, as a critical mass develops in the urban poor who are witness to such palpable inequalities, they are likely to resist the processes that propagate the status quo. Perhaps we are very far from a Tahrir Square, but individual acts of resentment/strike have risen unabated in modern centers nonetheless. Is not crime on the rise in metropolitan centers? Burglaries, rapes and petty crime, make even prime cities like Gurgaon appear resolved to a destiny of mindless commercialization and unsafe environments. It is as though, no one in that city stops to even for once think about the direction in which the haphazardness of urban un-planning is ballooning. From lack of public facilities like smooth roads and car parking, to parks and libraries for children, Gurgaon is an unfortunate example of how India can consistently lose every opportunity to create models of far-sighted development.

Gurgaon has manifested itself as a satellite city to New Delhi only recently, around the turn of the century. Even internet had materialized in the world by then, enabling access to vast libraries and other forms of information to study the models that have worked as opposed to repeating steps that have always failed in India, but of course all this only for one seeking it. Yet, Gurgaon differs from adjoining Delhi and Noida only in the price tags on most goods.

Part because of my training as an economist, and part because of the basic social environment that I grew up in, I am typically biased towards using as a first-cut, a two-step gauge to assess the development of a community. Do women feel safe.... to start with, do they feel physically safe, can they move about past dusk on their own, without a fleet of men as body guards? Second, are there functional public libraries? The recent spate of molestations in Gurgaon, answers the first question all by itself too well. And libraries? Really? Well, as my current on-going self-study on the Indian library system has thus far shown...the answer to second question is a resounding NO also. 

The solution to all of India's malaises will no doubt have to be super multi-pronged and versatile. Creating more streamlined public education system enabling access to educational facilities for the children of slums, can be a good start. And the list is endless. The bottom line though is that ignoring the urban poor in the process of growth is, as you pointed, indeed, both sad, and dangerous.

[Reference: Self Study on Indian Library System at: http://wetheworldenergy.blogspot.com ]

Keep the thinking cap on,
Best Regards,
Nidhi Thakur