Development / 18.01.2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates? True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term. One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city. The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji,...

Development / 16.01.2009

We turn our attention closer to home and discuss if Ahmedabad is a successful city. If one looks at the pronouncements of international development agencies there is little to doubt. Ahmedabad is one of the most dynamic cities in India with 5 percent of the national population but 14 percent of its export, an average annual growth rate of 9 percent and industrial growth rate of 15 percent. Every few months there are presentations about the city and visiting delegations extol the multiplication of municipal revenues and the successful launch of municipal bonds. Rating agencies swoon and investors salivate over the prospects. And yet, within a few miles of the forums where such presentations are made one can also listen to civil rights groups showing photographs and statistics and narrating stories that can churn the stomach and make one sick with despair. One can read announcements from...

Development / 14.01.2009

Picking up on a story in the New York Times we had suggested a counterintuitive hypothesis about Singapore – that despite the fact that it is considered one of the most successful cities in the world it could have a lot of unhappy citizens whose dissatisfactions were going unregistered and failing to affect its approval ratings. A reader had asked why, if that were the case, the citizens were not protesting and making their voices heard? We had provided a speculative answer applicable to all cities but kept wondering if there was some real evidence we could bring to support our position. Such evidence is very hard to find and the frustration was mounting till we had a brainwave – when in doubt, turn to Bollywood. Bollywood captures perfectly the mood and spirit of the times and records the major changes that occur along the way. So,...

Development / 12.01.2009

So: Is Singapore a successful city or not? Depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it? If you think about it you will realize that the design (physical and otherwise) of all cities reflects the preferences of their elites and other elites decide what criteria are to be used to define success. When you alter the criteria, you can reach somewhat different conclusions. Therefore, in any situation we have to ask ourselves: Whose preferences are we looking at and whose criteria for evaluation are we considering? The preferences of ordinary citizens do not enter into the plans that shape the design and nature of cities and the feelings of ordinary citizens do not enter into the calculations regarding the evaluation of their success. You can read all the histories you want and you will reach the same conclusion. Read how Robert Moses (who said “if the ends don’t justify...

Ghalib / 10.01.2009

One would expect Ghalib to have a unique way of welcoming the New Year: dekhiiye paate haiN ushshaaq buton se kya faiz ik barahman ne kahaa hai kih yih saal achchhaa hai let’s see what favors lovers find from idols a Brahman has said that this year is good  This is indeed a very clever and witty she’r, as the interpretation at Mehr-e-Niimroz will make clear. The play is on the word but which in Urdu, in the context of the lover, signifies an extremely beautiful woman. But but also means ‘idol’, and that pairing with Brahmin is perfect in the second line. Who would be a better authority on the behavior of ‘idols’ than a Brahmin (who is an ‘idol-worshipper’ in the eye of a Muslim)? [A digression. Here is Marco Polo on his stop in India on the way back from China in 1292 AD describing the people:...

Development / 08.01.2009

What a question? Is there any doubt? Singapore is seen as the poster child of successful urban and economic development. But it is good to revisit such certainties, if only to reassure oneself that the case continues to hold. The reason for this particular revisit springs from an article in the New York Times published on January 3, 2009 (Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up its Last Village). Readers should look at the short article which describes how Singapore’s last village (Kampong Buangkok - 28 houses in an area the size of three football fields) is being acquired for high-rise development. Three statements reflecting three perspectives stand out in the article: The Government: “We will need to optimize land use, whether it is though reclamation, building upwards or using subterranean space.” The owner: “If there’s a change, I won’t have my friends any more,” she said, but added: “We must not...

Pakistan / 03.01.2009

The situation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is in a mess. It is being said that while Pakistanis refuse to see or accept the reality, a civil war is underway in the region to all intents and purposes. And the Pakistani state is losing this civil war. The Pakistani military has no credibility with anyone in the country and many see the Taliban favorably as either anti-imperialist or pan-Islamist. All this leaves the following question on the table: What will this mean for Pakistan when the new US administration raises the ante in Afghanistan as expected? Let us examine the various elements in this picture. It is impossible to deny that a civil war is underway and that the Pakistani state is on the losing end. Just the loss of control over territory makes this obvious. Less than five years ago residents of Islamabad...

South Asia / 27.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism -5: Impacts of Interactions With Muslims The aim of this series of posts is to comprehend how Hinduism was impacted by its interactions with outsiders – first Muslims and then the British – in order to better understand where we are today and how we got here. In the last post, we concluded that interaction with Muslims had very little impact on how Hindus viewed their own religion – its philosophy, practices or traditions. However, the social stratification of Hindu society contributed a significant number of converts to Islam or to syncretic practices that could loosely be termed as Hindu-Muslim. We will argue later that the impact of the interaction with the British was very different. But before we address that topic in detail, it is both useful and interesting to presage the argument with a specific illustrative example. The illustration pertains to the attitude...

South Asia / 26.12.2008

In this post we present some basic facts about our region so that readers are aware of the challenges that are to be addressed. South Asia is home to 25 percent of the world’s population. Yet, it contains: 50 percent of the world’s poor people 66 percent of the world’s malnourished children 33 percent of the world’s child deaths every year 50 percent of the world’s adult illiterates (over the age of 15) 40 percent of the world’s out-of-school children (ages 6 to 14) Of South Asia’s population of 1.3 billion, approximately 1 billion (85 percent) are classified as poor surviving on less than $2 per day. Half of the region’s adults are illiterates, half of its children between the ages of 6 and 14 attend no school at all, 40 percent of its primary school children drop out before reaching the 5th grade. It is no wonder that...


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