This Divide Could Lead To Class War, Say Sociologists
Nauzer K Bharucha
Mumbai 3.03.2010: Behind fortified gates where access is strictly controlled,
its residents bask in world class amenities—jogging track, swimming
pool, garden, club house, coffee shop and laundromat. Welcome to the
city’s rapidly proliferating new gated communities. From Parel in
central Mumbai to Goregaon in the western suburbs and Ghatkopar in the
east, these sprawling complexes—many of them coming up in traditional
lower or middle-income localities—are slowly changing the social
dynamics of this congested metropolis.
It’s a society in transition. Developers call these plush
residential ghettos ‘islands of exclusivity’; others warn that people
living in such enclaves are cutting themselves off from reality.
According to urban experts, although the city has always had its
sprinkling of traditional community ghettos since the past two
centuries, the growth of gated communities sharpens the divide between
the affluent and the economically destitute.
“Historically, the rich and poor have always lived cheek by jowl in
Mumbai. But gated communities are now taking us one step further
towards structural conflict. Although poverty becomes invisible for
the wealthy residing here, such enclaves increase the degree of their
insecurity,’’ said Amita Bhide, associate professor, school of habitat
studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
At Jacob Circle, the Planet Godrej residential property comprising
380 apartments in five, 48-storeyed towers is what the managing
director of Godrej Properties, Milind Korde, described as a ‘gated
community.’ Situated on a five acre plot, the premium project offers
facilities like tennis courts, club house, modern gym and
‘professional property managers to ensure high standards in upkeep and
maintenance’. Yet, step outside the complex and one is immediately
confronted with dilapidated chawls occupied by mill workers and class
4 employees. A short distance away is the infamous Dagdi chawl, the
hideout of gangsterturned-politician Arun Gawli. “There are negatives.
But the positives will far outweigh them in the next few years as the
area develops,’’ Korde said.
The 18-acre property, which once belonged to Hindustan Composites
Ltd at LBS Marg in Ghatkopar, will soon be converted into a ‘gated
community’. “We want to create an experience that once a working
person or a young child enters the complex on a Friday, they need not
get out till Monday. The entire weekend should be a stress buster
within the complex,’’ said Parth Mehta, business development manager
of Wadhwa Group, which is developing this exclusive enclave. It will
have a supermarket, food bazaar, laundry, chemist shop, car wash
systems, spas, massage centre, club houses and an ATM machine.
“Gated communities are bound to become popular if infrastructure
does not keep up with the aspirations of a certain class of people who
want to live in a controlled environment,’’ said developer Vicky
Oberoi of Oberoi Constructions. “I would call the ones in Mumbai’s
vertical gated communities and they take care of virtually all your
needs,’’ he added. A large chunk of Oberoi’s 80-acre property in
Goregaon is, what he described as a ‘city within a city’. “Here, 80%
of your daily needs are taken care of,’’ he said.
Knight Frank (India) chairman Pranay Vakil observed that a lot of
developers creating gated communities are laying strong emphasis on
security. “People face real or perceived threats. In a gated
community, there is the mental comfort of good security,’’ he said.
Besides security, projects like the Ashok Towers in the heart of the
mill land belt of Parel, offers its residents a 20,000-sqft coffee
shop and a 25-seater mini theatre, added Vakil.
Minakshi Maheshwari, who recently moved into a gated community
complex in Sewri, said,
“Outside the property, there are hutments and encroachments. You spend
crores on a flat, but you cannot walk on the footpath. In Mumbai there
is no value for money.’’ According to her, the divide is so sharp that
the poor could get intimidated by those living in the towers. “Yes,
there is a feeling of insecurity here,’’she said.
The complex in which Maheshwari lives once housed a textile mill
which shut down, leaving hundreds of workers redundant. “Every few
months they stand outside the gate and shout slogans. There were 284
mill workers, but our housing complex could hire only 65 to work as
security guards and for housekeeping,’’ she said.
Urban researcher Sharada Dwivedi said these gated communities are
surrounded by slums.’’ “Architecturally they may be good, but
completely lack in character and are extremely artificial. One is not
only isolated from the world outside, but even your neighbours don’t
know you,’’ she said. According to her, it is a new way of living, but
lacks something on a humane level.
Housing activist Chandrashekhar Prabhu said, “Gentrification is
inevitable, but when one class is pitted against the other then it can
assume alarming proportions, which will be detrimental to society.
Architect Neera Adarkar said children living in gated communities
would not be able to face reality. “When they grow up, will they be
equipped to interact with civil society?,’’ she said. Adarkar, who has
been fighting for the rights of mill workers, said these high-end
housing complexes are coming up in neighbourhoods that were once
looked down upon by the elite. “Now these localities are being
appropriated by the upwardly mobile. The nomenclature has changed,’’
Wednesday, March 3, 2010