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Sanhati, October 12, 2008. Gurgaon, Haryana, India.

With the increasing spatial concentration of wealth and misery, of upward opportunities and downward spirals, those who feel privileged tend to feel threatened.

In that way Gurgaon, the new IT hub of northen India, is a landscape of mass-psychosis. To rickshaw-drive your dog to dinner in a dog’s restaurant where you spend the weekly wage of the rickshaw driver’s family on your dog’s aperitif might cause feelings of socio-phobia. And also to be driven back to an apartment which costs 2,000 years of the driver’s wage. There’s evidence and reason. In front of most upper-class houses in Sushant Lok or DLF City you will find private security workers day and particularly at night. Gates close behind you when you leave home, gates close when you enter your air-conditioned work-space. Airport-like security checks when you enter shopping malls after work to have your coffee, police presence on the way back home at the NH8 highway toll-point.

The faceless dominance of exploitation – the assembly line, the export markets and real estate shares – have to congeal in physical people: the managing middle-classes, which are forced to live too close to the impoverished cogs of the game. Those who are privileged suffer; those who are privileged are afraid and have the means to defend themselves. The blunt answer is physical, e.g. regular police raids of the ‘illegal slums’ and deadly neglect within the prison system; some steps are helplessly preventive, e.g. 500 new CCTV cameras in town; some outcomes of the closeness are inevitable, e.g. the increase of poverty related illnesses which spread to the areas of plenty.

Inside Gate, India’s Good Life; Outside, the Servants’ Slums

When the scorch of summer hit this north Indian boomtown, and the municipal water supply worked only a few hours each day, inside a high-rise tower called Hamilton Court, Jaya Chand could turn on her kitchen tap around the clock, and water would gush out. The same was true when the electricity went out in the city, which it did on average for 12 hours a day, something that once prompted residents elsewhere in Gurgaon to storm the local power office.

All the while, the Chands’ flat screen television glowed, the air-conditioners hummed, and the elevators cruised up and down Hamilton Court’s 25 floors. India has always had its upper classes, as well as legions of the world’s very poor. But today a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts, pressed up against the slums that serve them, has underscored more than ever the stark gulf between those worlds. The slum is as much a product of the new India as Hamilton Court, the opportunities of this new city drawing hundreds of thousands from the hungry hinterlands.

“Women and children are not encouraged to go outside,” said Madan Mohan Bhalla, president of the Hamilton Court Resident Welfare Association. “If they want to have a walk, they can walk inside. It’s a different world outside the gate.”

Some 600 domestic staff members work at Hamilton Court, an average of 2.26 per apartment. The building employs its own plumbers and electricians. At any one time, 22 security guards and 32 surveillance cameras are at work.

“We can’t rely on the police,” Mr. Bhalla said. Gurgaon has one policeman for every 1,000 residents – lower than the national average – and a surfeit of what Mr. Bhalla calls official apathy. “We have to save ourselves,” he said. The guards at the gate are instructed not to let nannies take children outside, and men delivering pizza or okra are allowed in only with permission. Once, Mr. Bhalla recalled proudly, a servant caught spitting on the lawn was beaten up by the building staff.

Recently, Mr. Bhalla’s association cut a path from the main gate to the private club next door, so residents no longer have to share the public sidewalk with servants and the occasional cow. The Gurgaon police chief, Mohinder Lal, said the city’s new residents had unrealistic expectations of the Indian police. If a police officer does not arrive quickly, Mr. Lal rued, the residents complain. “They say, ‘You’re late. Come back tomorrow.’ “He too, said that the police could not cope with the disorder of Gurgaon’s growth.”Development comes, mess comes, then police come and infrastructure”. Gurgaon’s security guards, most of whom live in slums, likewise have little love for law enforcement. They accuse the police of raiding their shanty, hauling men to the local stations and forcing them to clean and cook before releasing them back to their hovels, often without a single charge. The police say migrant workers are a source of crime.”

This report appeared in Gurgaon Workers News


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