The Urbanisation Experience – The World & India

Posted in Current Affairs, Environment, European History, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on March 17, 2008

World Totals

World Totals

Post colonial India, in the last 60 years has seen the shift of 30 crore (300 million) people from villages to cities – which is nearly the population of the entire USA. In 1947, India’s urban population was 6 crores (60 million) – and in 2008, it is estimated to have crossed 36 crores (360 million). Another 500 million are expected to move in the next 20 years.

It is the largest demographic shift in the history of mankind – without wars, revolts or persecution. Most revolts, wars and upheavals have been accompanied by urbanization. Urbanization as the cause or an enabler of the revolutions is a matter of debate, research and conjecture.

India is different.

Indian culture started with urban centres like Harrapa and Mohenjodaro (dated between 2000-4000 BC). India has gone through many cycles of urbanization and rural migration. Ashoka the Great resolved to build monasteries “in 84,000 of the cities of Jambudwipa”

The last de-urbanization happened at the the start of British Colonialism during the 1800-1850 period. Cities like Dhaka lost between 50% to80% of its population. British Colonialism immediately started flooding India with its Manchester & Lancaster wares – and restricted Indian handloom weavers from competing with Manchester & Lancaster.

Major Urban Agglomerations

Major Urban Agglomerations

The Renewal Of Mumbai

In 1982, Dr.Datta Samant called for strike by the textile workers in Mumbai. The strike went on for a year. Textile industry in Mumbai, tethering on the brink of collapse, went bankrupt.

Half of Mumbai’s population (my estimate) was, directly or indirectly, dependent on these mills. In one of the most heroic renewals in modern urban history, Mumbai re-invented itself. From the manufacturing capital of the country, Mumbai has become the services capital of the country. It is this spirit which has made the Indian urban growth a remarkable story in the urbanization of the world’s population.

Many Religions

The largest Islamic population to co-exist peacefully with another religion, in the world, now lives in India. While the West has been demonizing Islam, Indians Muslims have been getting ahead. In the last 10 years, Indian Muslims have become the richest (Azim Premji), occupied the highest office in the land (APJ Kalam) in this country.

Europe – Revolution & Civil War

In 1800, 23 European cities boasted of a 100,000 population. By 1900, there were 135 cities with over 100,000 citizens. Amongst other causes, increased urbanization was a feature of the French Revolution – which started a chain of revolutions for the next 125 years.

The Russian Revolution by the Communists succeeded due to the rapid urbanization of Russia. Urban Russian population doubled from 7.3 to 14.6 million between 1867 and 1897. Expansion of railways between 1892-1903 made migration and travel to cities easier. Tsarist Russia, built on the support an land owning nobility, with serfs used for production, found that the urbanized industrial workers supported the Communists.

With increasing urbanization and the decline of colonies, Spain slipped into a civil war.

The Balkans Civil War, now running in its 100th year, with intermittent breaks and under different names, started with the urbanization.

South America

Among other things, urbanization played a major feature in South American 150 years after de-colonization. From 1820 – 1970, South America went through de-colonization, urbanization, revolts, revolutions – and crime.

The tipping point in South America was initially de-colonization, peasant and slave revolts and thereafter urbanization.

Why Are Cities The Focal Point

Cities provided spaces where large numbers of people could gather – and a ‘change process’ can start. Red Square in Moscow, Champs de Mars (where the first public meeting after the French Revolution) took place, the Tian An Men in Beijing, or the Shivaji Park in Mumbai are places where such meetings can happen.

Marx famously dismissed peasants as “a sack of potatoes” – and saw the urban worker as the base for the workers’ revolution. Peasant revolts are more difficult to organize as the population is spread over vast areas.

Some stats on Indian cities

Some stats on Indian cities

Where Do We Go From Here

This urban growth in unprecedented – and unparalleled. It shows the tremendous adaptability and resilience of the Indian. The Indian urban concept aspires towards foreign idiom – and that is the problem.

Mumbai wants to become another Shanghai, says Chief Minister, Vilas Rao Deshmukh. This aspiration is something that is mostly referred in a derisive manner by others – thankfully.

What Indian cities need instead, is to learn from the home grown examples. For instance, the Mumbai urban train transport system. For a monthly cost of Rs.70-200 (US$2-US$5), people in Mumbai can travel any number of times, in relative discomfort. It is a safe mode of transport – unlike the legacy rail system of the Colonial Britain, which India modernised over 35 years. Accidents on this system happen due to its popularity – overcrowded trains. It is also profitable – and devoid of subsidies. Similar metros (not in scale or traffic though) have come up in Kolkatta and New Delhi.

What Indian cities needs are an Indian idiom – to solve the problems of these Indian cities. Will Indian planners deliver!

6 Responses

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  1. […] was inspired by this same theme – but with a benign ‘zamindar’. With land reform, migration to urban areas, the edge of this injustice has been blunted – and this theme is now a […]

  2. […] about also pointing out, Mr.Shukla, that urban India hogs all the infrastructure investments? Or that traditional banking (in the form of money lenders) […]

  3. senthil said, on May 30, 2011 at 2:43 am


    There is no such thing called urbanisation in india.. unlike western nations, in india, there is not much difference b/w a grama and nagara.. and educated indians often confuse much b/w nagara and urban city.. both are totally different..

    Pls look at how big cities are built, and on what basis, and what are their desings.. the nagara in india is a temporary place for people to come and trade.. nagara is an administrative centre of a region.. Permanent settlement happened in grama..

    In a typical gramam, we can find all sections of people.. farmers, carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, and everything needed for a society.. it is from here, people go to nearby nagara for trading and then return back..

    But what is happening today? The so called urbanisation is actually refugee camps of displaced people.. when british took over, they derecognized all village republics in regions under their control, and promoted jameendari system.. this drove people out of gramas and they ended up in british created western styled cities like chennai, mumbai and calcutta..

    This is NOT a thing to cherish or to boast of.. I am surprised that you look mumbain in positive terms..

    Take any major cities in india, and you find that they will be polluting all water bodies around the city.. Yamuna is converted in to large ditch, and so as ganga.. now every one speaks of cleaning them.. why?

    pls Look in to pre-british and pre-muslim model of indian nagaras.. they are NOT urban ghettos like we have today..

  4. prachi said, on August 20, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    i think there is no more urbanization left in india now

  5. senthil said, on December 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm


    the urbanisation of present kind is triggered by industrial revolution.. we need to study the subtle difference b/w nagaras, and western cities, and also industrialised cities vs the pre-industrial revolution cities..

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