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The Indian urban slum : myth and reality Malhotra, Deshpal Singh

Abstract

The population of India is made up of an infinite variety of castes, religions and language groups which have lived side by side in an intricate division of labor for hundreds of years. Many customs and much of the social structure, historically isolated from modern technological and industrial developments, have remained essentially unchanged. Such deeply embedded ideologies and patterns of relationship and behaviour do not respond easily to change. The urban centers in India are a study in contrast between the old and the new, survival of the rural past and innovations from the West. The vast majority of the inhabitants in the cities are recent migrants from rural areas. Although the rate of urbanization is low, it nevertheless involves the movement of large numbers of people because of the high population base of the country. In 1971 the urban population was 108.8 million out of a total of 548 million. It has been estimated that if the present rate of rural-urban migration continues, millions more can be expected to be added to the already overcrowded urban areas. A result of this migration has been the continued growth of the urban slums which receive the bulk of in-migrants and provide them with the only available shelter. The migrant is ill-equipped to define his role in the largely alien urban environment; he has responses to his old culture of the village and conflicts and tensions within the new urban context. For him it is not only a physical survival but also a survival in the largely alien socio-economic and cultural environment. The government's neglect of these communities has led to their physical deterioration and social and cultural stagnation with the result that once a migrant has moved into the slum, he is forced by circumstances beyond his control to live out the rest of his urban life in it. This study examines the process and patterns of rural-urban migration. It outlines the social, cultural, economic and political effects of the urban environment on the migrants and illustrates their inability to have any control over the environment in which they must live. It describes the nature and problems of the Indian slum and points out the inadequacy of the existing government concepts and policies to ameliorate this situation and the necessity of designing the kind of environment that can cope with the high population and the scarcity of economic resources. It is the contention of this thesis that slums are an important feature of the Indian urban environment: they have provided the migrant with the only available shelter, have fostered group associations and have provided many of the essential ingredients necessary for the acculturation of the rural migrant into the urban environment. It is the purpose of this study to show that if the physical environment of the slum can be revitalized it then has the potential to serve as a cultural bridge between the urban centers and the traditional rural hinterland. In other words, urban slums are envisaged as communities which can function as ecological, sociological and cultural zones of transition between the urban environment and the rural areas. Proposals are made for revitalizing the slum environment and for creating a new organic community for the future migrants to the cities. There are seven basic conclusions of this study: the first is that rural-urban migration is not only an integral part of industrialization, urbanization and economic development but also a major means for achieving social change. The social and cultural differences between the urban centers and the rural areas can be bridged through the processes of the shuttle and reverse patterns of migration. The second conclusion is that under conditions of rapid modernization and urbanization, slums are functional and in this sense normal. The problem lies not in the existence of these settlements but in the fact that they are uncontrolled and that their forms are often distorted. The third conclusion is that existing government policies on low-income housing and slum clearance are clearly inadequate to deal with the problem. All prevailing ideas of slum clearance as a solution to the problem should be abandoned. The fourth conclusion is that any solution intended for the improvement in the standard of living of the slum dwellers must be commensurate with the limited economic resources of the country. The fifth conclusion is that any comprehensive program aimed at improving the environment of the slum must be based on the resources most readily available - the labor of the community dwellers themselves. The objective should be the encouragement and stimulation of local community participation. The sixth conclusion is that any housing program for the low income slum dwellers must benefit large numbers of people. It follows, therefore that for any slum housing program the total community living environment is the critical variable and NOT the individual housing unit. The seventh and final conclusion is that all possible housing stock in the slums must be preserved. Government policies must be directed towards expanding the total housing stock and NOT towards replacing slum housing with standard public housing.

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