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Urban Slums in Developing World

... continued from here.

Taking India as the case in point - how did slums in Indian cities come about? 

When the British marched into India they were unaware to the way villages functioned in India. This was because by the 18th century Industrialization had kicked in Britain and the city was the center of development - unlike India where villages played a big role in polity and economy - especially due to a strong self regulation and governance system. 

In Britian due to the fast industrializing society, the city was where the seat of the kingdom lay and which controlled governing structures. In contrast, cities in India were mere 'centres of trade' meant to facilitate trade between the several villages which surrounded it.

In absence of this understanding – the British assumed (mistakenly) that India lacked cities and so it lacked development. So what did they do – they killed the village’s internal economy by forcing cash crops like Indigo and Cotton which were completely useless the in current economic set up of India and were useful only for industrialized India (or for Britian). 

Then they created new cities (like Bombay) or altered older cities which were traditional “centers of trade” into modern cities which were “centers of production”. But since these cities were planned like British cities they were not able to serve the existing economic system in India (and probably were not even meant to).  

Resultantly, the whole economic set up crumbled in a cyclical manner. First the villages lost their freedom - then the older cities lost their utility as centers of trade and finally all this lead to a complete mess of the economic equilibrium that had balanced growth in Indian villages and cities for centuries. More so, to bring about all changes the British also had to disrupt the prevailing self government system in villages and cities which led to a failure of the civil machinery.

Finally, with the villages impoverished, migration of unskilled workers to the city started. But, the Indian society was still functioning to serve the old economic structure. For example large joint families still existed and the cultural transition to nuclear families took a long time. Also, the British generals who were initially interested in ‘developing’ India as a part of the empire, soon lost focus (or interest) and so the development of the cities also slowed down. 

However, now that the change had kicked in, more people moved to the cities from villages. In absence of proper resources in the city – the villagers tried to fend for themselves ending up with what we know as slums. 

While the continuance of slums in Indian urban sector has been primarily because of failure of the successive governments to identify the root cause of the problem, dilly dallying on economic thrust (which kept on shifting from agrarian to an industrialized economy) and apathy towards the poor, it cannot be denied that the problem arose in the first place due to unnecessary intervention of the Raj in the ways of the living of the Indian society and culture. 

Had the British stuck to being customers of Indian agricultural produce and not interfered with the economic fabric of the country, India would have with time automatically moved into an industrialization mode albiet at its own pace and also in line with its cultural alignment. Our cities would have initially developed slowly, and more importantly we probably would have developed more number of smaller cities than what we have today. 

Further, the cities would have remained closely linked to the agrarian village economies and therefore not forced the economic, cultural and political disruption of social village systems. Probably this would also have abetted the huge migration of unskilled villagers to the cities and engaged them in less productive but more rewarding pursuits in their villages itself.

We probably would not have had any slums in cities, our villages would have remained prosperous and we would have developed as a ‘normal’ developed nation albeit probably taken probably half a century more to reach the stage of industrialization which we did. However, that would still have been better than being plunged into chaos and haphazard development which we went through.

The end result I think would have been much better than the India of today!


  1. Hi Nikhil,
    I think you will find intersting

  2. i think theonly britishers who brought industrialisation, they were commited some mistakes but after freedom the sucessive goverenments were unable to uplift the village economy no concession were given for the industries setup in villages. industries like fully automated food processing units should have setup which could have stopped the creation of slum. plz also see my blog,, (harshal kulkarni)


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