Cities as Centers
Cosmopolitan cities are the great hubs of commerce and government upon which the nation's functioning depends. Bombay, India's largest city and port, is India's economic powerhouse and locus of the nation's atomic research. The National Capital Territory of Delhi, where a series of seven cities was built over centuries, is the site of the capital--New Delhi--and political nerve center of the world's largest democracy. Calcutta and Madras fill major roles in the country's economic life, as do high-tech Bangalore and Ahmadabad (in Gujarat), famous for textiles. Great markets in foods, manufactured goods, and a host of key commodities are centered in urban trading and distribution points. Most eminent institutions of higher learning, cradles of intellectual development and scientific investigation, are situated in cities. The visual arts, music, classical dancing, poetry, and literature all flourish in the urban setting. Critical political and social commentary appears in urban newspapers and periodicals. Creative new trends in architecture and design are conceptualized and brought to reality in cities.
Cities are the source of television broadcasts and those great favorites of the Indian public, movies. Bombay, sometimes called "Bollywood," and Madras are major centers of film production, bringing depictions of urban lifestyles before the eyes of small-town dwellers and villagers all over the nation. With the continuing national proliferation of television sets, videocassette recorders, and movie videocassettes, the influence of such productions should not be underestimated.
Social revolutions, too, receive the support of urban visionaries. Among the more important social developments in contemporary India is the growing women's movement, largely led by educated urban women. Seeking to restructure society and gender relations, activists, scholars, and workers in the women's movement have come together in numerous loosely allied and highly diverse organizations focusing on issues of rights and equality, empowerment, and justice for women. Some of these groups exist in rural areas, but most are city based.
The escalating issues of dowry-related murder and suicide are most pressing in New Delhi, where groups such as Saheli (Woman Friend) provide essential support to troubled women. The pathbreaking feminist publication Manushi
is published in New Delhi and distributed throughout the country. The overwhelming economic needs of self-employed poor female workers in Ahmadabad inspired Ela Bhatt and her coworkers in the Self-Employed Women's Association, which has been highly successful in helping poor women improve their own lives.
Urban women have initiated protests challenging female feticide, child marriage, child prostitution, domestic violence, polygyny, sati, sexual harassment, police rape of female plaintiffs, and other gender-related injustices. Their efforts have brought new ways of thinking out of elite, educated circles into the broader public arena of India's multilevel society.
In 1994, two attractive urban Indian women won the most prominent international beauty contests, the Miss Universe and the Miss World competitions. Thousands of young Indian women idolized the glamorous beauties and many newspapers gushed about the victories, but women's groups and feminist commentators decried this adulation. They pointed out that the deprivations and injustices experienced by a high proportion of Indian women were being given short shrift. While the beauty contest winners were being paraded about in crowns and white chariots before admiring throngs, almost ignored by the public and the media were the torture-slaying of a village woman accused of theft by a soothsayer and the historic qualification of six women as the Indian air force's first female pilots (see The Air Force, ch. 10). In 1995, the All India Democratic Women's Association and other groups protested in New Delhi against the Miss India contest.
By the twenty-first century, India's population will be more than 1 billion. Approximately one-third of this enormous population will live in urban areas, which means adding the population of another Calcutta, Bombay, or Madras to India's already overburdened cities each year into the foreseeable future. In rural areas, pressures on land and other resources will continue to intensify.
In India's democracy, ideas are often vociferously expressed, and members of different groups are increasingly demanding what they consider a fair share of resources and benefits. Tolerance for inequity is diminishing among the less privileged, even as inequity is increasing in both rural and urban areas. As competition for scarce resources and benefits grows, some political leaders have been encouraging the populace to blame these problems on religious differences.
Prosperity is available to many, and access to education and an expanding range of consumer goods is possible for an ever-increasing number of people. At the same time, the sheer numbers of the poor and less privileged are increasing as they are left behind, inadequately educated, and forced by circumstance to labor under insecure conditions. Class and gender justice, widely sought by a significant number of people, remains an elusive goal.
India is part of a much wider community of nations facing these and other problems, so it will not be alone in seeking solutions. In this endeavor, the great structural principles of hierarchy and interdependence that have held Indian society together over the millennia will be brought to the fore. Creating manageable order from complexity, bringing together widely disparate groups in structured efforts to benefit the wider society, encouraging harmony among people with divergent interests, knowing that close family and friends can rely on each other in times of stress, allocating different tasks to those with different skills, and striving to do what is morally right in the eyes of the divine and the human community--these are some of the great strengths upon which Indian society can rely as it meets the challenges of the future.
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The English-language literature on Indian society is enormous. Many of the most highly regarded works have been published in both India and the United States. Among these are David G. Mandelbaum's two-volume Society in India
, a classic synthesis of sociological and anthropological research; historian Stanley Wolpert's India
, a highly readable introduction to many aspects of Indian culture and history; Owen M. Lynch's The Politics of Untouchability
; Sudhir Kakar's The Inner World
; M.N. Srinivas's Social Change in Modern India
; Pauline M. Kolenda's Caste in Contemporary India
; Miriam Sharma's The Politics of Inequality
; and V.S. Naipaul's India: A Million Mutinies Now
Works published in the United States, which may also be available in India, include Maureen L.P. Patterson's comprehensive South Asian Civilizations: A Bibliographic Synthesis
, an essential reference; Clarence Maloney's Peoples of South Asia
, an extremely useful overview; Robert W. Stern's Changing India
, an introduction to India's modern history and social institutions; and Myron Weiner's The Child and the State in India
, a thought-provoking examination of children's place in Indian social structure. To stay abreast of current events, it is worthwhile to read the fortnightly news magazine India Today
, published in both Indian and American editions. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of September 1995