Slumdogs and small towns

By Kalpana Sharma in infochange, Urban India, April 2009

Little is known or written about the 2,000 small and medium towns of India. The one characteristic that defines them all, says this report from towns such as Madhubani, Jhunjhunu and Sehore, is the absence of planning. Many of these towns do not even possess an accurate town map. And up to a quarter of their population lives in slums.

In Madhubani town in North Bihar, the longest lines are outside one of the four ATM machines dispensing instant cash.  In Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, many people keep their own cows or buffaloes for milk because they do not trust the local milk supply.  In Narnaul, Haryana, there are dozens of beauty parlours and one of the women nominated to the municipal council is a trained beautician.  In all three, the most popular advertisement is for mobile phones.


India’s small towns – symbols of urban blight

By Kalpana Sharma in infochange, Urban India, October 2008

68% of India’s urban population lives not in the metros but in towns with population of less than 100,000, many of which get water for a few minutes once a week or every alternate day. No one even talks about the appalling absence of infrastructure in these towns Most of us have a stereotypical image of small-town India.  Pitted roads, piles of garbage, open drains, stagnant pools of water, overhead electric wires, long power-cuts, acute water shortage etc.

That image is now changing with the success stories from small towns that the media is celebrating.  So Bhiwani in Haryana is suddenly in the news for having produced Olympic medal winners and other towns are home to amazingly talented young people who win television reality shows.  Dozens of our cricket stars come from smaller towns and cities, bringing to them a touch of glamour that they have never seen before. Of late there is also a touch of notoriety attached to small towns with a place like Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, once known for being the home of distinguished writers and poets like Kaifi Azmi, now being given the ‘terror’ tag and Bhatkal in Karnataka being mentioned as the home of the ‘mastermind’ of the Indian Mujahideen.