Does the government really understand? #Modi #oversimplify

I was taking an undergraduate class for architecture students this morning on housing and urban poverty in India. The discussion was long and winding. We spoke of how the informal city is created and how city managers are trying to resolve issues of varying magnitudes with scarce resources. I tried to bring in a bit of the realism and build on the interconnection of architecture with the social sciences in the classroom.

And then, one student raised her hand and asked me: “All this that you are telling us, does Mr Modi understand it? They way he says things, it’s like a magic wand needs to be waved and stuff will get done!”

Well, well, well! We’re all waiting and watching here….but a lot of us are beginning to worry about how much deep diving government departments are really doing into issues that matter when they are given 100-day diktats to conceptualise schemes to be unrolled in the near future and their prime motivation is to please the PM? Efficiency and speed are commendable, but I do hope it is not at the cost of quality and inclusiveness, especially of those still trapped in poverty.

 

Why are Indians not concerned about #inequality?

I came across this graphic today on twitter.

B0cuO8iCQAAiFm-.png_largePredictably for Indians, the top concern is religious and ethnic hatred and not inequality. While I understand that communalism, regionalism, casteism and all the other ‘isms’ are media favourites, political favourites and hot topics in drawing room discussions, I find it strange that ‘poorism’ is not of much concern to the Indian people. I’m not getting into the methodology that Pew might have used for this and whether their sample was sufficiently representative of the varying income levels in India, but what the survey is saying corroborates well with what I observe around me.

Those of us who research and practice in the area of poverty and human development are usually preaching to the choir when we express our concerns. Most Indians, sometimes including the poor, are not really concerned about the issue of income inequality in India. Is it that we have normalised inequality? Or is it that we believe in the passiveness of the Indian poor who will never rebel? Or do we really believe that India is decimating poverty rapidly enough for it to not be a concern?

I don’t have the answers, but I sure find it interesting. Also, perhaps if we focused more on bringing down inequality, the other ‘isms’ might matter less? What do you think?

‘Make in India’ – Modi’s War on the Poor

ramblinginthecity:

Sigh! What can I say?

Originally posted on Kafila:

For some months now, I have been thinking of someone whom I saw on television during the parliamentary election campaign. The place was Benaras and Modi’s candidature from the seat had just been declared. The television journalist was interviewing a group of clearly poor people, taking their reactions on this new, though expected development. This person, fairly drunk in his Modi-elixir – and perhaps also a bit literally drunk – swaggered as he answered, affirming his support for Modi: Modi bhi chaiwala hai, hum bhi chaiwala hain (Modi is also a tea-seller and I am also a tea-seller). His words reflected the success of the remarkable gamble – that of projecting the new poster boy of corporate capital as a humble tea-seller. It was clear how so many of the poor had bought into this campaign.

What reminded me of this person initially, was that very soon after the election results were…

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Privileged citizenship!!

ramblinginthecity:

#citizenship in india is no joke!

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Who am I? I thought I knew –  ‘an elderly woman  with short greying hair and wearing spectacles’  who looks back at me in the mirror!. But I am not so sure anymore! I am one of many me-s in my various ‘photo-ID’s – although my driving license (which I have lost) was without a photo, the me in the passport, PAN card, voter card, aadhaar card, bank pass book are all different me-s, depending on when it was made.

When I moved to Lucknow in 1987,  the local branch of SBI within our campus helped me to transfer my account from Mumbai. It was slow and through slow mail, but fairly painless.  I renewed my BRADMA (a system of  embossing letters on plastic, which younger people will not recognize)  made driving license with the local RTO.  The passport, possessed by a privileged few,  always had a photograph and I…

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Ignoring human dignity in the name of economic growth is unacceptable #kailashsatyarthi #socialism

I’ve heard the most outrageous snide comments about Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Prize, not just from proponents  of the extreme right in India but also proponents of capitalism in general (I’m aware that Satyarthi wasn’t a friend of any government in the past and fought a lonely battle, for obvious reasons, so this isn’t an attack on the government in power, in that sense).

Anyway, the snide remarks are coming from people who presumably are willing to turn a blind eye to infringement of rights and the law in the name of the free market and economic growth. In the context of child labour and trafficking too, some have asked whether the parents of these children were really happy when they were saved (they were earning members of the family, you see). I am assuming they meant that the trickle down effects of economic development will,, eventually, lead to a situation when parents will not need to sell their children or make them work for a living. And hence that is an argument for rapid economic development using child labour, cheap labour, bonded labour and whatever works to keep industry competitive….

Maybe it is just me, but I find this line of thought extremely twisted and am convinced that there is a need to find some balance. I do not believe India can progress if we throw socialism out of the window. However much we believe in the rewards of capitalism, basic safeguards are necessary to preserve the dignity of human life and the focus must be on ensuring more people are being pulled out of poverty, not just on an enhancement in national GDP.

Having said that, Kailash Satyarthi didn’t just save children and leave them to fall back into the vicious cycle of exploitation and poverty. Instead, he helped them help their families come out of poverty by empowered them in various ways and that is the strength of his work. A few links to read more on this…

“Satyarthi has also helped children sold to pay their parents’ debts to find new lives and act as agents of social change in their own communities.” writes The Guardian. Read here

” (Satyarthi’s) innovative approach of child empowerment through Bal Mitra Gram and bal panchayat (children’s parliament) at a par with gram panchayat has played a major role in getting this recognition (the Nobel)” writes the Times of India. Read here

“Bachpan Bachao Andolan (started by Satyarthi) runs three “transit” rehabilitation centers for rescued boys and girls in India to help them enter the mainstream and lead constructive lives. Younger children are enrolled in school and adolescents are given informal literacy and vocational training. Once they acquire confidence and skills, former child labourers are reintegrated into society. Legal aid is also provided for victims.” An extract from a 2001 award announcement by the US State Department. Read here

Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red

ramblinginthecity:

I had the same experience. Its a wonderful tribute!

Originally posted on joy loves travel:

Pictures of the poppies at the Tower of London have been sweeping the internet. Having been to the war graves and World War 1 battlefields in Belgium during the summer and then helping plant memorial snowdrops in Manchester, we couldn’t not see the poppies and this visual commemoration of the World War 1 centenary. A rainy day with howling winds greeted us as we arrived in London, we headed straight to the Tower.

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Everywhere was busy – people had come from all over to see this – it is easy to see why. The red poppies stretch out before you – thousands and thousands of them, never-ending it seems. They bleed from the bastion window – designed to symbolise the infantrymen at the Somme. This is powerful imagery indeed.

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The moat is almost saturated with crimson – by 11 November (Armistice Day) it will be. Volunteers will by then have…

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The Nobel season and some musings on science and women

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

This is the Nobel season – come the first week of October, there would be those who know they are on the nominated list, who will be anxiously keeping an ear open for the famous ring!!! There are the prizes for Peace,  Literature and Economics, all of which have had some element of political fine balancing, and the choices have  often led to much public debate. However, the  Science prizes  – Medicine or Physiology, Physics, Chemistry – have evoked less controversy and without question, these are the highest recognition of scientific excellence.

The average age of the Science Nobel recipients, being awarded since 1901,  is in the 50s,(55 for Physics and 58 for Chemistry and Medicine) and women have generally done poorly (11/105 in Medicine, 4 in /106 in Chemistry and 2/108 in Physics) for many obvious reasons. In the first half of the century , women featured only 4…

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In appreciation of the Mumbai taxis

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

index

I made a brief, official visit to Mumbai over the past week end – a city that I have been visiting off and on since the early 60s and where I lived for 5 years in the 80s.  And the sight of the local  cab has not changed much since then – the  black and yellow Fiat being as iconic and symbolic of the city as the orange Ambassadors of Kolkota or even the yellow cabs of New York.  In India, we have this luxury of hailing down cruising, ubiquitously available cabs (a common scene in New York based movies)  only Mumbai and Kolkota.

On the Saturday evening I walked through familiar streets of Dadar/ Matunga with no specific agenda, visited the temple and  flavored the market (less bustling and congested than as I remember it from 2 decades ago). When I decided that I should head back to the…

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Some concerns with private “mixed use” #redevelopments #Affordability #London #Dockyards

Having visited both Berlin and London this year, I can’t help but think about how the metropolitan centers of the world are constantly reinventing themselves and how redevelopment has become a vital ingredient in keeping these “global cities” alive and kicking!

My friend and guide to London this year, Jhilmil Kishore is a conservation architect and, knowing my interest in housing and cities, she took care to point out to me the transformations in the city. As we strolled the streets, we talked about gentrification and affordability, about the failure of public housing and the increased dependence on the private sector as a provider of services. Not far from her own neighborhood, she showed me the high-end adaptive re-use projects and redevelopments at Southwark and also took me to the fantastically glittering privately-owned and managed business district of Canary Wharf.

Adaptive re-use along the Thames at Southwark near theLondon Bridge

Adaptive re-use along the Thames at Southwark near the London Bridge

More of it...all high-end apartments, offices etc in buldings that were once warehouses to store cargo that got off the ships!

More of it…all high-end apartments, offices etc in buldings that were once warehouses to store cargo that got off the ships!

Canary Wharf, a pretty financial district at the waterside

Canary Wharf, a pretty financial district at the waterside

Lots of suits! (this was a warmish day!)

Lots of suits! (this was a warmish day!)

Transit, offices, malls..the works! All high end!

Transit, offices, malls..the works! All high end!

Since the 2012 Olympics, this part of London has been busy getting a makeover. Experts have noted that public investments have now made surrounding areas attractive for private real estate developers. For instance, the Canary Wharf Group is embarking on a new project also in the dockland areas along the River Thames. They are about to redevelop Woodwharf, currently a 16.8 acre site for light industrial use, into a mixed use area reportedly with “3.1 million sq ft of office space, 1.25 million sq ft of residential development, 200,000 sq ft of retail space, and a 200,000 sq ft hotel” as mentioned in a news report. The residential areas will come up first, to complement the financial district at Canary Wharf. And a new transit line will connect the area to central London.

It’s definitely a positive that the project pushes mixed use as the way to go, but I’m wondering what the thinking is on catering to a range of price bands on residential and rental properties. A mixed use city block really reaches its potential when entrepreneurs, start-ups and mid-size companies can hope to do just as well as big corporates. And when a mix of different kinds of people can live in close proximity to each other. Of course in a city like London, we hope transit can solve some of those issues but I wonder if we rely too heavily on that one thing!

I do accept that developments like the proposed one can benefit other parts of the city, even if not geographically connected but related through a set of networks. Of enormous concern in this case is the impact on the existing communities in these areas. Earlier privately redeveloped areas haven’t really benefited local neighborhoods much, creating very few jobs for locals and usually displacing them as the rents and property prices become unaffordable post redevelopment. This thought provoking piece in the Global Urbanist highlights this aspect and suggests that more social investments are also needed if new developments like these are not to be seen as resentful and hugely traumatic by residents. How accountable is a private developer to do the right thing and create more inclusive neighbourhoods? This is a problem area, unless the city government lays down some ground rules. Once again, I don’t know how it works in London and maybe my UK-based friends can enlighten me.

As an urban planner, I’m always amused to see how planning tools and trends become marketing mantras for the real estate sector. Walkable, transit-oriented, mixed-use, smart, sustainable…all the right catch words for now but it doesn’t always mean the developments are actually being planned that way! In the end, no matter what the current trends are, developments need to see beyond financial returns if they are to have long-term benefits for the city.

Will it, won’t it? 8 activities that will/might/won’t happen this weekend #lamepost #emptythoughts

I started working a full time job earlier this month after a gap of very many years. I had been busy all this while doing all sorts of paid and unpaid work with flexible timings, but this was going to be a very different deal! Even though I’ve adjusted to ‘the grind’ well enough, I’m really excited about a 5-day break coming up starting tomorrow, bringing in a season of festivals and festivities in India.

So on my last working afternoon before this break, I’m dreaming up all the stuff I will do, and simultaneously wondering how many of them are actually likely to happen! Thought I’d share the list and the thoughts…..

  1. Calling my kids’ school friends over for a day spend: Will happen. You DO NOT go back on an offer you’ve made your kids, especially if you’ve recently started spending entire days and evenings and sometimes half the night away from home!
  2. Football mum: Ferrying the kiddos around is part of the weekend drill. Not really complaining!
  3. Catching up with my besties: Will happen. It’s my only means to sanity and this is not about choice! Shout out to those two, you know who you are…
  4. Dancing: Am hoping to put in extra sessions of kathak in preparation for our show in January, but will likely get in only a couple the way things are
  5. Baking/Cooking: Sigh! The stuff I dream of but never find time to do, I guess I need to find a way to prioritize this
  6. Pampering myself at the salon: The things that MUST happen will happen, but for the rest I’m not terribly optimistic!
  7. Catching a movie: Where’s the time slot for that? There must be one, there must be one……missing Rahul, partner in crime and another crazy creature who drags us to the movies no matter what!
  8. Sleep in: Another one those things I need to do and must do, but don’t ever really end up doing.

Clearly, the kids prevail and I have a strange set of priorities. But that’s how it goes folks! Signing off now and entering vacation zone…