Inclusive urbanisation

Dear Editor,
Urbanisation has been critiqued from many quarters as a state of chaos for structures and traditions. It has invariably failed state agencies in delivery of services, amenities and adequate living conditions for its citizens. Vehicular pollution, concrete jungle, heinous crimes, glitter and glamour are constantly attached to urbanisation. Urbanisation is also synonymously attached to modernisation which has bridged the gaps left in time due to conservative practices and ageless traditions. What has urbanisation given to people in general and specific categories of people in particular? I have noticed that young people in rural areas have very strong ambition to migrate to cities in search of jobs and professional education. Urbanisation includes diverse sections of people into its fold of a larger identity which equalises their marginal identities. Education is the most dynamic equaliser in urban context but it is seen that it is also a huge divider in the rural context. Once a person is educated in a city then that person is elevated to a different social standard in the rural context. The same person is equal to any other person in the city with similar educational qualifications.
Urbanisation has included women, men and gender diverse identities. Women in particular have been the bearers of cultural dynamics through their gender defined roles and responsibilities. But with time urban spaces have transformed such roles of women and widened their scope of functioning. Purdah or use of veil is a very common practice in India. Even the use of traditional attires is almost mandatory for women in villages. Especially when the women are married then they have to adhere to family, society, cultural and community traditions. But within an urban context, women have multiple choices when their jobs have certain uniforms, some have to manage their cultural practices in such a way that it becomes convenient to them and their families. Cost of living in urban spaces is so high that most of the times traditional practices are surpassed to accommodate changes in the social practices of the people. Economic affordability is always a major determinant in an urban lifestyle. Women especially need to balance between both old and new sub-cultures which are part of urbanisation. In urban context women experience equality in public spaces, they exercise their agency as consumers, producers and distributors of diverse goods and services. Even simple domestic work which remained as unpaid till a few decades back have become very lucrative options for rural women in urban context. Most of the urban women have mobile phone access and increased mobility through public transport facilities which is limited in rural and semi-urban contexts. Urbanisation has also enabled women to put forward their views in public domain without much inhibition and intimidation through diverse forms of media sources. But women’s leadership roles in governance, public administration, city planning, resource management and business dealership does not find enough space in the context of urbanisation. Women in an urban context remain confined to schools, colleges, universities, running social service organisations, beauty parlours, support staff in malls and supermarkets, hotels, petty shops and exclusive enterprises in partnerships. Even though women in urban areas have excelled as doctors, lawyers, architects, musicians, journalists and public servants, their presence and scale of operation remains within their respective fields and domestic duties. Women in cities across classes remain rooted to the institution of family within the individualistic social norm and do not engage in public and community decision making processes. Even though there is a constant allegation is framed by patriarchs which includes women as well and moral police institutions that women in cities have gone far beyond gender norms and polluted the traditions of society, women in reality does not find enough power to transform gender norms. Whenever women have tried to address these inequalities they have faced violent resistance which makes them further vulnerable in the current context. Urbanisation has to include the voices of not only women but also people with gender diverse identities.
Inclusiveness is a norm which every agency conveniently sidelines in the urban context. From inclusive education to inclusive infrastructure, again from inclusive workplaces to inclusive public spaces, support services, from public amenities to access to capital every urban context have to represent and respect equality. But in reality discrimination remains a harsh fact which excludes women, persons with gender diverse identity, disability, caste and religious differences. In the light of turning our cities smart can we reflect upon how inclusive we are beyond these layers of differences?
Samhita Barooah