Old Delhi and Bombay- A Look at the Changes Brought by Militarization and Industrialization

Based on the following:

Adarkar, Neera and Menon, Meena. One Hundred Years, One Hundred Voices: The Millworkers of Girangdon, an Oral History. New Delhi: Seagull, 2004.

Gupta, Narayani. “Military Security and Urban Development: A Case Study of Delhi 1857-1912.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1. (1971)

King, Anthony D. “Military Space: The Cantonment as a System of Environmental Control.”Colonial Urban Development

March 30, 2007

During the second half of the 19th Century, colonial cities in India faced much interventions and changes, such as increased military security in the former cities of the old Mughal Empire, like Shahjahanabad/Delhi, and the rapid industrialization that occurred in port cities like Bombay. Each of these transformations caused drastic changes in the urban nature, affecting both society and the physical personality of the city. With the continued presence of the British forces, it can be observed that although both of these transformations had its consequences, industrialization has proven to be a more powerful force in the city, affecting the social and urban system in an unprecedented speed.

The main cause of increased military presence in cities such as Shahjahanabad and Lucknow was due to the Mutiny of 1857. Triggered by interventions the British were making upon the indigenous religious and social life through works like missionaries and education, this became a bloody effort by the British to regain control. Therefore, after the struggle, their main concern for security led them to place the military right into the city, such as in Old Delhi (Gupta, 61). This was also done in the old Mughal city of Lucknow, which was one of the great centers for Muslim culture, and like Delhi, had a strong symbolic meaning. The humiliation from losing control of Delhi for several months led the army to “exaggerate the extent and the brutality of the Mutiny all out of proportion”, and triggering historically symbolic areas was another way of stamping their power and presence on the indigenous population(Gupta, 62). According to the Royal Commission, in the mid- nineteenth century, there were some 227,000 member of the colonial military establishments in India, and in time, what was temporary became a more permanent presence in the heart of the cities (Gupta, 61).

Old Delhi, or former Shahjahanabad, was already a fortified city when it was established in 1648, so it already had a historical trend for security.  Cantonment, which is a “permanent military station”, was the institutionalized form of settlement for the members of the British military, and it occupied one-third of Old Delhi (Gupta, 67). After the Mutiny, many of the old 17th century structures symbolic of the Mughal Empire were torn down, and the cantonments were established in what was a grid-like format, with different modes of housing like bungalows placed depending on the rankings (King, 100). The army was also enlarged in Old Delhi, along with a larger police force, both of which made a rapid presence into the lives of the pre-Mutiny population.

To keep the Fort secure, 500 yards of the surrounding area that was thickly populated and built was cleared on the grounds that it interfered with air circulation (Gupta, 64). Thus, the civilian population of Old Delhi were left with condensed segments of the city to live in and start over, and while this took place, the population of the city continued to rapidly grow. However, military expansion got into the way of this growth of the city; the concerns over public health, sanitation, the need of new roads, housing, and civilian interests all clashed with the military, as the British did very little to accommodate such visible issues, causing much tension in the city. The societal problems that these changes brought were also aided by the relationships that formed, such as those between the indigenous females and military members, as this caused instability among the two very different groups, and also the spread of sexual diseases, as “between 20 percent and 25 percent and, in some cases, 50 percent of all ‘sick’ admissions to hospital were cases of venereal disease” (King, 116). The symbolic removal of the ancient wall that surrounded Old Delhi not only emphasized the British power onto the civilians but also caused a movement of homes and establishments. As Narayani Gupta observes: “Even under the rule of the Mughals, Delhi has not had this appearance, for there had not been a clear-cut separation between civil and military personnel” (Gupta, 63).

On the other hand, industrialization that began in the 1870s created similar, but more drastic and rapid changes to colonial port cities such as Bombay. During this time, cities exploded at unprecedented rates, such as Chicago and Paris. Governments in these Western cities realized that this fast growth was creating problems in terms of space, sanitation, pollution, etc, and so urban planning became a consideration that was ultimately implemented to accompany these changes. However, in Indian cities like Bombay, increased need of urban planning was in direct conflict with colonial politics, economic goals, funds, as well as military concerns of the British.

Like militarization in Old Delhi, industrialization in Bombay had a tremendous affect in public health, the urban form, as well as the social structure, though the changes occurred in a more sweeping manner. Bombay became the ultimate industrial city in India because of its natural harbors and ports, as well its existing cotton and textile industry. Its present indigenous industrial class that existed due to the opium trade also provided for a firm backdrop, and along with this, the existing British presence and its good channels for communication through the coast made Bombay the ideal city for economic growth for the benefit of the colonists.

In Bombay, industrial structures such as factories related to pollution, and labor needs, which in turn caused changes in the urban and social class forms. Old Delhi did not face the dramatic social changes that Bombay went through, such as its new working class that ultimately became a force in the city. This new class continued to increase as industrialization continued, and this was followed by pressure on the agricultural sector of the Indian economy. Also, the uneven ratio of men to women in these cities formed a unique community base in the new working class, as many of the members were forced to move to the city away from their families because you could not be too far from your workplace where you would spend most of the day (Adarkar, 115). Concerns of health were most definitely present, as these workers lived in cramped spaces with more than a dozen others, such as in chawls which were like one room tenants linked by corridors (Adarkar, 95). So, sanitation and the spread of diseases became a daily presence in these city residents. And along these conditions, a unique character of diversity became quite visible in this new class brought by industrialization. Workers from various areas of the subcontinent, speaking various languages and practicing multiple faiths came together in Bombay, and the unity that these workers developed despite such differences proved to be useful, and ultimately threatening to the British (Adarkar, 90).

The affect on the urban form was quite visible with industrialization, as cities became denser with people and constructions. Between 1865 and 1892, the number of workers in mills grew from 6,600 to 800,000, 20,000 of which were women (Adarkar, 92). Density was a significant problem, as working class neighborhoods came to be defined as congested and filthy by those not experiencing their situation. The density was also caused by the fact that investment into dwelling was least important for workers, especially when they sent most of what they earned back to the villages they had moved from (Adarkar, 96). Also, the workers has a different notion of privacy since back in their village, the flow of people from living spaces were common and expected as a form of social interaction (Adarkar, 139).  Although middle class suburbs did begin to form surrounding the dense city, funds for such projects always became an issue. And for this reason, many intended projects, such as improving drainage system or roads were never completed. The separation between the workplace and the residence therefore was always tightly bound together. The closely built buildings made open space and streets that much more important to the lives of the dwellers, as they represented social interaction and a sense of community that they had left behind. These spaces also had political significance, as personal statements and research has shown how workers would be united with the goal of freedom as they were aware of the rights that they deserved and their power in the capitalistic goals of the city (Adarkar, 151).

Transformation in the name of military security in Old Delhi did create great changes to the urban shape, but the affects of industrialization and the adjustments it brought to colonial port cities such as Bombay is even more substantial. Both forms had some similar affects- they concerned public health, new dispersion of populations, as well as trying to come to some term with the rise of population and the political and economic interests of the British. However, the structural modifications, and especially the social changes that industrialization brought were much more lasting and significant, as a new, diverse working class was established and ultimately had much voice in political schemes. Industrialization affected the lives of individuals in a much different way, as for example, Old Delhi families were still together when they rebuilt their establishments, but in Bombay, much of the members moved away from their families to start a new establishment independently. Exploitation was much more present, and industrialization changed the priorities of the people, which centered more on the present and the survival of themselves and those living much further away. These changes, caused by the colonial goals of the British ultimately led to resistance, which was eventually a great presence in cities where unity was much more possible, and this in turn was quite significant when the issue of independence became perceptible.

e perceptible.


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