Basic urban issues under spotlight
Reviewed by

Contemporary Indian Urban Society: Ethnicity, Gender and Governance
By Rajesh Gill.
Bookwell, New Delhi.
Pages 377.
` 845. 

THE contemporary Indian society is in a flux. In fact, the rural as well as urban societies are undergoing changes that need to be understood. Rajesh Gill has tried to do exactly the same through this book, which consists of deliberations on various problems faced by people living in the periphery of urban areas. She owes this interest to her teacher Prof. Victor S. DíSouza who encouraged her to pursue research on issues that concern the urban areas. About her interest, she says: "One issue that has immensely interested me is how the different kinds of settlements and urban, vary in terms of their experience of urbanisation, thus taking altogether different shapes in the end ...." She gives the example of urbanisation and its effect on poverty. She explores to conclude, "Urbanisation, which was expected to result into economic prosperity and higher productivity actually contributed to increased rates of unemployment especially in developing societies, with an extremely burgeoning urban informal sector."

The book is divided into different sections, each dealing with the problems of ethnicity, gender and governance. The work is a sociologistís intense gaze into the delicate fabric of society. So, we can visualise the authorís knitted brow while trying to discuss the issues affecting the youth, migrant labourer and the traditional set-up. She is pained to see the lack of community awareness in villages on the periphery of Chandigarh. Urbanisation has led to the breaking of bonds among people that has led to the growth of vices in these villages. The writer is not pleased to report the irritants that have impeded the process of decentralisation and democratisation in rural Punjab. She blames infrastructure but she also highlights the lack of involvement of the common people.

"Cities and Ethnic Identities: A Case Study of De-ethnicisation or Re- ethnicisation" makes interesting reading. It involves a lot of reflection. The question in the past, as Gill says, was "Will ethnicity survive in large cities?" has now given way to has ethnicity not only survived, but has been re-activated in large metropolitan cities?" She answers in detail by saying that scarcity of resources arranges the different ethnic identities in "a relatively competitive situation".

In "Planning Urban Settlement for People: A Social Agenda", Gill warns that growing urbanisation will come with its own set of problems. "The future urban explosion is in fact expected to be accompanied by extreme urban poverty, homelessness, unemployment and disorganisation." She advises planners not only to keep the physical architect in mind but also the socio-cultural occupational factors of the residents while planning a city. She informs us that "shelter for all" and "sustainable human developmentí in an urbanising world was the focus of discussions in the second U.N. Conference for Human Settlements, Habitat II held in Istanbul in June 1996.

Being the Chairperson of the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Women Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Gill justifies her study of the position of women in the urban society. She shares the success stories of many women who have made their mark in panchayats by doing commendable work. She says there are women who are asserting their rights, doing their duty in their full capacity and making a difference around them. She sums up the Herculean task that women face by saying, "Their (women) true consciousness is largely blocked by the barriers of caste, race and religion, placing women against women in global, societal, regional and familial contexts". The other interesting area touched upon is the position of women in South Asia in which she discusses their position in the Army.

The authorís deliberations and ponderings are worth reading. The book is a compilation of her papers published in various journals of repute over the years. The studies are empirical and are laced with tables and rich data. Any further research while studying urban societies would require this book to study the contextual as well as ground realities. A serious work that throws much light on the author as an analytical researcher. The book with its material is innovative and interesting, albeit a little troubling as to how we are misusing space.