This article is an analysis within the contextual framework of Lahore to study how marginalisation and exclusion of lower social groups come as a consequence of the urban developmental processes.
Cities are meant to grow and progress. They are the future, and in recent years, a mega city like Lahore has been home to about 11 million people, facing unprecedented population surges. The developers of the city strive for a particular kind of ‘urban development’, emphasising more on the promise of making it a modern, western metropolis look-alike aiming to eliminate the local population from the picture.
In Pakistan, the word modern is synonymous with ‘westernisation’, standards that low-income individuals cannot afford, and to achieve that status, Lahore’s transformation has been fast-paced and frantic – comprising both, ‘danger and promise’ of a modern city. The promises of an urban city development could be many, such as functional zoning of city centres, effective transport networks, however, our focus in this essay is on reminding the reader about the unplanned development, lacking in the interest of the low-income and vulnerable groups of city dwellers.
The “modernization” of Lahore started with British ambitions to transform Lahore into a colonial provincial capital. The city’s vast debris strewn plains which made up its suburbs were to be converted into a modern urban space known as the ‘civil station’.
The dangers arise when the city developers and their innovative models of modern living cater only to the beneficiaries of a capitalist structure, while the ordinary people of Pakistan pay the cost for this dualist city development. The goals should have been about narrowing inequalities of the urban, providing the underprivileged with access to resources and jobs. But there is an urban bias, Lahore faces increasing levels of urban segregation and inequality.
The “modernization” of Lahore started with British ambitions to transform Lahore into a colonial provincial capital. The city’s vast debris strewn plains which made up its suburbs were to be converted into a modern urban space known as the ‘civil station’. The civil station was to be “an effective and socially transformative civic milieu” standing in contrast to the degraded ‘native’ city of small abadis, deserted cantonments and dilapidated Mughal structures.
The new city, even though did not have restricted access, was an embodiment of British authority for it was intended to create a distinctive elite, modern landscape befitting to the standards of the colonisers. This colonial development trajectory of Lahore brings into insight the notion of the dual city, primarily underpinned by Anthony King. The grand structures and public buildings of the Mall both “symbolised British power and its enactment in the appropriation of space”. While up to 100,000 Indians lived in the space surrounded by the city walls, literally a handful of Europeans occupied an area which was much larger in size.
In the wake of post 1980s economic liberalisation, the state has committed to an ideal of the ‘world class city’ for Pakistan’s major cities. In the context of Lahore, these sentiments are articulated in the constant promises made by subsequent governments of transforming Lahore into Paris.
With the British departure from India, the right to appropriate the elite landscape of the civil station and its associated ‘modern structures’ fell in the hands of Lahori elite and the middle class groups. Thus, we see how Lahore’s colonial development and modernization is a process deeply entrenched within direct and indirect ways of exclusion and segregation along both class and racial lines, reinforcement of social hierarchies through favouring of hegemonic interests and aspirations and marginalisation of lower social strata in different ways. The post-colonial development of Lahore has continued along much similar lines.
In the wake of post 1980s economic liberalisation, the state has committed to an ideal of the ‘world class city’ for Pakistan’s major cities. In the context of Lahore, these sentiments are articulated in the constant promises made by subsequent governments of transforming Lahore into Dubai.
However, history reminds us that world-class cities do not guarantee accommodation for the working poor. These low-income communities are restricted to the kaatchi abadis and identified as slum-dwellers, “whose unsightly presence requires demolition of their homes, and relocation into less unsightly accommodation, often far from the gentrifying centre of the city”.
There is a common saying in our society that on must not live on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, and it compels one to think about what makes a living space ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. How could one’s spatial circumstances form the destiny of one’s life? It refers to the social realities of our lives in the sense that living on the right or wrong ‘side of the track’ can govern our life chances (for example, health and safety, education at a decent school, marriage). This has enormous implications, as manifested in the emergence of gated communities in urban development all around the world.
The residents living within the territorial boundaries of Bahria Town enjoy the “high standards of housing and services”, and the neighbouring villages stand in deep contrast to the aesthetic and ordered living of the gated communities.
Bahria Town, Lahore is a gated residential area, Pakistan’s most powerful private developer, fostering an exclusive community of middle class and upper middle-class families. It has significantly contributed to the “reproduction of existing levels of social stratification”, restricting the movement and access of the lower income section of the populace. In doing so, this private control over territory has further created permanent forms of spatial exclusion.
The residents living within the territorial boundaries of Bahria Town enjoy the “high standards of housing and services”, and the neighbouring villages stand in deep contrast to the aesthetic and ordered living of the gated communities. Bahria Town offers a dream world material comfort, “labelled as a city within a city” because their architectural designs are idealised visions of the aesthetic ordering of cities like Paris and New York. If you drive down the carpeted roads of Bahria Town (Lahore), the Greco-Roman columns stand tall to welcome you, the lack of violent potholes and free-roaming cattle, and the view of organised streets and dwellings will be a breath of fresh air to the otherwise imperfect, disorienting surroundings, the katchi abadi (slums).
The low-income populations, and their poorly constructed houses and lacking service provisions, are separated from the affluent classes by the concrete surrounding walls, guarded by the security personnel, of the gated communities.
There is a pattern of exclusion and separation to the developmental efforts within the city since the colonial times when the islands of the English gentlemen stood aloof from the run-down crowded squalors of the locals.
The Katchi Abadis are characterised by “overcrowding, poor or informal housing, inadequate access to safe — water and sanitation, and insecurity of tenure”. Often the miserable, ghastly spaces in the popular understandings and the elite use this narrative to rationalise the need for gated communities. Their hegemonic aspirations are well reflected in their exclusionary claims over urbanity, and their deep resentment towards the katchi abadis as symbols of ‘poverty, criminality, and backwardness’. Those gates, those walls and barriers exclude people due to financial and social capital, condemning them to a life of depravity and this is not an unwanted consequence of modernity.Land that was previously public, now is private property.
There is a pattern of exclusion and separation to the developmental efforts within the city since colonial times. The colonial powers, much like the current landed elites, sought to modernise the native land in a way that emphasised the segregation between the islands of Englishness, such as the Lawrence Gardens or Aitchison College, and the archaic, run-down areas where ordinary natives resided. To elucidate further, it is poignant to remind the reader about the preposterous sign boards outside Lawrence Garden: “No dog or Indians allowed”.
It will be worthwhile to pause and reflect on the world-class utopia of gated communities, which reflect the social insecurities of the elite class of Pakistan, who seeks refuge from the problems of the rest of city, problems that they helped create by allowing the state to wash hands from the responsibility of providing public housing, better living standards and security to the low-income groups. In fact, the poor tend to view it as their own fault that their lives remain tangled in the ‘wrong side of the track’, chiding their own inability to earn more to afford such ‘luxury’ lifestyles.
Families, displaced in the process of building elite housing schemes, coerced to sell their agricultural land at prices well below the market rates; intimidation through police, qabza groups as well as through fruitful collusion with the local patwaris, has made the process of land-grabbing easier.
The rapid land transformations in Lahore and the urbanisation of Lahore’s periphery have been shaped by the unequal power relations of the society The unequal power relations refer to the overpowering control of the private developers, such as Malik Riaz of Bahria Town and the retired military leadership of DHA housing authority. The pre-existing villages on which the gate communities are built had residents who lost control over their land and faced inadequate compensations which were never fulfilled within the promised durations.
To put it briefly, the Bahria Town’s case is evidence enough to show how links with powerful individuals of the society are supremely beneficial to real estate developers.
Families were coerced to sell their agricultural land at prices well below the market rates; intimidation through police, qabza groups as well as the fruitful collusion with the local patwaris (low-level bureaucrats in charge of the land records) made the process of land-grabbing easier. Similar tactics were mirrored in the development of Bahria Town Rawalpindi and Karachi. All this information has been reported in the media but very conveniently pushed to the peripheries because it challenges the status quo of this country.
There is an urban conflict arising from this gentrification, taking land away from the commons, and transferring it to the rich. The rich and private developers get to decide what kind of urbanity should prevail, and to no one’s surprise, their efforts are not for the public good. I have humbly attempted to document the piercing and most tragic dualities of lives in an urban centre. It is crucial to problematize the utopia of real estate and urban development because they are based on exclusionary urban visions.
The working class and poor sections of this society need us to act in alliance with our humanity and fight for their rights – to end these regimes of dispossession. Participatory urban planning could be a step in the right direction, diverting resources from the privileged hands of the elite into the desperate hands of the urban majority, the lower-income groups.
Aazma Saeed has recently completed her Bachelor’s in Anthropology and Sociology from Lahore University of Management Sciences.