Delhi, like any other megapolis in India, sits on several fault lines: Social, economic and cultural. Such unevenness often leads to tensions among different groups — sometimes with dreadful consequences. Last week, a 42-year-old dentist, Pankaj Narang, was beaten to death in west Delhi by a group of people after an altercation with one of the accused over rash driving.
Scratch the surface and the warts show: The dentist lived inside a ‘colony’ and the accused in a nearby slum, and there was a running feud between the two sections over access to a road to the nearest Metro station. It would not be wrong to say that there could have been more reasons for tension between people such as Narang and those who killed him: Increasing economic inequalities and uneven living standards. The killing was a symptom of the rot that has set in.
Narang’s death is not a one-off case. In April, a biker was beaten to death in central Delhi by occupants of a car after their vehicles collided. Even policemen have been at the receiving end: In July, two were beaten up by bikers after they were penalised. Tensions between social groups are only going to increase in the coming years, especially as the well-heeled mark their own territories and there are many who are unhappy with their standards of living.
In Entangled Urbanism, sociologist Sanjay Srivastava writes about how the concept of the gated community is creating two worlds in cities: “This is increasing the distance of the privileged from populations that are different and decreasing empathy with the marginalized … It is leading to a sense of the city as a series of unconnected spaces.”
At a time when plans are made to build smart cities, there is little focus on the need to make our cities inclusive, which is a way to tackle this disconnect. Cities are social spaces and their problems cannot be solved through “narrow economistic and technological thinking”.
Srivastava writes that to bridge this gap the State would need to ensure greater availability of decent housing for the poor; stop police from targeting migrants; reinvigorate regional cities so that pressure reduces on megapolises and pay greater attention to the conditions of work in the urban casual sector. This will not be easy, but the repercussions of not going down that road could be severe.