Though I am no student of sociology but it is evident that world and India are urbanizing fast. At the turn of last century a mere 19% of world population lived in urban centres as compared to more than 50% as of now and the figure is projected to be 60% by 2030. I am not here to dwell on the social and economic effects this will have and problems it will cause. What interests me is effect this is having on small cities and rural areas. This is not a well-researched thesis but a reflection of my understanding.
Before we move ahead, it is necessary to qualify urbanization. My narrow definition is as to what we are witnessing in India -exodus of people to major cities or metros. Though movement of people from villages to small or mid sized cities can also be categories under urbanization, but I am interested in the movement that is leading to formation of mega cities.
I am not sure whether this is an undesirable phenomenon, as it certainly indicates progress on one hand. People are moving to metros as they offer better jobs, salaries, lifestyles. So at an individual level this is surely a sign of upward movement. But what happens to small town.
Cities, villages, towns are all living and breathing entities. They are not lifeless - they are born, grow, thrive and even die. Cities like Mesopotamia or Ujjain were bursting economic, political capitals of their times. Seeing them today it would be difficult to imagine their past glory. As people move from their native places to metros what happen to their cities? Do they leave cites to die? I do not know. It won’t be too presumptuous to assume that the young, productive and most talented part of the population would be the primary movers simply because of the opportunities available. This lot inspires those left behind when they the tales of their improved lives. This group would be followed by the ambitious and resourceful population of the town. Then what remains in our deserted city - old, tired, incompetent and indolent!
Consider a mid tier Indian town. Towns that haven’t changed since our parent’s times. What would comprise the population of such a city? Typically government servants – PWD, irrigation department, education department, banks, electricity boards etc. Then there would be the business communities providing services to this group – small/big retailers, restaurateurs etc. and few skilled labourers. The first group will coerce, cajole and force their offspring to move to urban centers, out of these the good ones will go. Many of the business community will also leave to pursue bigger opportunities only those with extreme inertia will remain. Now to me this set comprises of definitely less productive people than we started with. This is the picture of a dying city.
This progress comes at great human cost. As we move away from our roots our sense of identity diminishes. Individual’s confidence dips, as we find ourselves in jungle where personal identity doesn’t matter, it is no significance. Children cannot visit their parents often enough, worse still grandchildren can’t. People can’t speak their mother tongue they do not relate to the festivals; to them, traditional wear is fancy dress. To become rich, we become rootless.
I do not offer any easy solutions though at a high level few very commonsensical steps can be taken to address this. Foremost economic development in the country should not be limited to a dozen cities. This will ensure less strain on resources and individuals. Or perhaps like lost cities of Atlantis and Dwarka some of our cities will only exist as urban legends.