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Cities in India – Part II

While it is well known that the British came to India under the pretext of trade, beyond a brief period of 15 years (1757-1773), the British government assumed full control over the system. To maintain their rule, British needed to control the masses, zamindars and the local kings – and for this they needed the army to be strong.

So on one hand they developed infrastructure like the railways (for speedy movement of troops), on the other hand they imposed a military set-up on the major cities in India. And thus emerged cities like Dehradun, Jabalpur, Bangalore, Poona etc - as military cantonments rather than centers of trade. These cities were also built as typical British towns – a town center, a clock tower and a Sadar bazaar being some commonalities you would find in all these towns.

These towns grew further through the early years of independence thanks to the militarily charged atmosphere (due to the Cold War, Indo-Pak, Indo-China wars etc) thus maintaining the status of military and hence cantonment towns. Meanwhile governments did little to develop new towns or redesign old ones in order to suit the needs of the changing country and economy.

This was ok as the activity in small cities remained mostly stagnant through the 60s and 70s owing to focus on agriculture, slow growth of industry and overall ‘Hindu rate of growth’ of the economy. However, things started changing in the mid 80s and expedited after the economy liberalized.

Liberalization brought a new energy into the restrained masses and unleashed strenuous economic frenzy in our cities – small and big alike. Exposure to the western world via media and growth of diaspora lead to increase in aspirations – number of bikes, cars, rickshaws increased, but roads remained unchanged. More people migrated to cities, builders built more houses to satisfy the new demand, but amenities remained limited.

As a result, today whether you visit Mumbai or Dehradun the same scene awaits you - traffic bursting from the seams, lack of amenities, overcrowded public transport.

(Previous: Part I, Next: Part III).

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