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Friday, Aug 16, 2019

Building a community and shared identity in cities

Gurugram, as a city, is home to people from different countries. There are migrants from different parts of the country who may celebrate differently.

gurugram Updated: Aug 15, 2019 11:34 IST
Kalpana Viswanth
Kalpana Viswanth
Kashmiri Pandit and Muslims, who were unable to travel to the valley during Eid al-Adha festival,  during an event organised by Kashmiri Pandit youth, at Wembley Estate, Sector - 50, in Gurugram, on Monday, August 12, 2019.
Kashmiri Pandit and Muslims, who were unable to travel to the valley during Eid al-Adha festival, during an event organised by Kashmiri Pandit youth, at Wembley Estate, Sector - 50, in Gurugram, on Monday, August 12, 2019. (Parveen Kumar / HT Photo )
         

One of the things we learnt in urban sociology was that social relations become more distant in moving from a rural to an urban setting. While we do hear stories of people in apartment buildings and neighbourhoods who do not know anyone else in the locality, interestingly the more common occurrence is that even in cities, people build communities for themselves. As social beings, we create different ways to interact with our neighbours and build groups based on commonalities. Some groups are based on location such as RWAs, others on interest and activities. But all are ways for people to engage with each other and even build friendships.

Last week in the light of the fact that many Kashmiris were unable to return home for Eid, a group of Kashmiri Pandit youths in Gurugram put out a call inviting every Kashmiri to a get-together to celebrate Eid. A similar event was held in Delhi at Jantar Mantar where people from all over the city brought food to share with others. It was heartening to see this humanity in recognising people’s need to celebrate festivals with family and community.

Similarly, community events are held in Gurugram and other cities for festivals throughout the year. These should be moments to celebrate our diversity. We see numerous examples of celebration of community and giving. All these groups and communities help people develop a sense of shared identity. It is very important though that these remain inclusive rather than exclusive. In a couple of months, the festival season will be upon us once more and these are also spaces for people to bond.

But these must be inclusive spaces. Do we, for example, include foreigners in our celebrations in an active way? Gurugram, as a city, is home to people from different countries. Further there are migrants from different parts of the country who may celebrate differently. How do we ensure that all people feel a sense of belonging to the city?

Of late, we have seen that social media has been harnessed to build communication networks. For example, most apartments and housing societies have WhatsApp groups, which are used for a variety of things. The groups are used to plan events and get-togethers, share information and, of course, the ubiquitous forwards and good morning messages that Indians are so enamoured of!

In addition to resident and neighbourhood groups, other groups are formed on the basis of commonalities, including walking groups, bird watching groups, cycling groups, dog lovers’ groups, book clubs, among others. These are all ways people connect with one another to share time and interests.

Further, there are groups formed for specific needs and purposes. In my apartment complex, a few months ago, a couple of young people decided to collect food to distribute among children in nearby slums on Sundays. Now, it has the involvement of a large number of residents and has gone beyond only giving food, to also providing books and stationery for the poor children as well as development of the area.

Urban living provides us the opportunity to go beyond biases and closed identities. We can build collective identities that are based on common needs and aspirations. In the words of the renowned urbanist David Harvey, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”

@SafetipinApp

(The author, co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities.)

First Published: Aug 15, 2019 10:41 IST

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