In an extraordinary range of large and small cities across India there is an accumulating body of discourses and aspirations that gathers around gated residential enclaves. It speaks of a sociality that is produced and reproduced under tightly controlled conditions. The Lucknow based Sahara corporation has plans for the ‘World’s largest chain of well-planned self sufficient high quality townships across 217 cities in the country’ (Ahmedabad: 104 acres; Coimbatore, Kerala: 103 acres; Lucknow: 200 acres); it has already constructed the Amby Valley township near the Maharashtra city of Pune on 10,000 acres which is described as ‘independent India’s first planned, self contained, aspirational city, remarkable for its unsurpassed grandeur and plush signature features’.
In the Rajasthan township of Bhiwadi, some sixty kilometres from Delhi, no less than eleven real estate companies have launched gated residential projects in different price ranges, hoping to cash-in the proposed development of a number of ‘Export Processing Zones’ and ‘Special Economic Zones’ by large corporations such as the Reliance and the Omaxe corporations... The Omaxe group has residential projects in 22 cities across nine states in north and central India. These include the Omaxe Riviera (Rudrapur, Uttarakhand), and Omaxe Park Woods in Baddi (Himachal Pradesh), a township that is ‘home to some of the top industries like Nicolas Piramal, Bajaj Consumer Care, Ranbaxy, Dr. Reddy’s Lab, Torrent Pharmaceuticals, TVS Motors, Colgate Palmolive, Dabur India, Cipla, Cadbury’s, Wipro, Wockhardt, Procter & Gamble, Marc Enterprises etc.... The Omaxe Heights in Lucknow offers an ‘In-house club with swimming pool and wave pool, tennis court, basketball court, banquet/community hall, squash court, steam room, jacuzzi, gymnasium and television lounge’
… there are two significant aspects of the developments outlined above. The first relates to promises of spatial cosmopolitanism and new ways of relating to the transnational sphere. The second aspect concerns the role of domestic spaces in effecting an inner transformation in the lives of the middle-classes who occupy gated residential enclaves. The emergence of a discourse of a homogenous swathe of domestic territory across the national space is… a significant and new aspect of the politics of space in India. Finally, simultaneously as the emergence of this territory is made possible by the state in its role as facilitator of large-scale private residential real estate developments, the latter are understood and represented as both distinct from, as well as alternative to, the activities of the state.
The phenomenon of installing gates that produce physically demarcated residential localities is not a new one in Delhi. Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs) have been particularly active in installing and maintaining gates at key entry points at several of Delhi’s residential ‘colonies’. The ‘gating’ of Delhi’s residential localities began in the mid to late 1980s... and was carried out under the aegis of RWAs in different parts of the city. The gates were the earliest visible signs of the RWAs’ increasing public presence as a formal entity in urban affairs. The raison d’etre of RWA activity was the activist-citizen, marking out privileged, delimited and ‘secure’ spaces, where urban ‘civil’ life and consanguinity could unfold. Ostensibly based around the notion of collective action, RWAs, in effect, became the key vehicles for articulating an exclusionary urban politics of space. The result was the de facto privatization of public thoroughfares….
Across Delhi, gates to residential localities index a number of contexts: the lack of confidence in the police to provide security, the strong sense of a ‘middle-class’ under threat from urban under-classes, and the overwhelming perception that such threats can only be countered through localized and locality specific means that convert public thoroughfares into private and highly regulated spaces.
In recent times, the trend of gating localities that had earlier been planned as relatively open neighbourhoods has given way to stricter spatial expressions of community, viz., the custom-built gated residential community. Hence, across the country, both in large and small Indian cities, a host of real estate developers… have begun to transform vast tracts of land into gated residential enclaves. These are frequently promoted through promises of personal transformations that will result from living within them. In any case, the new gated enclaves of Gurgaon have extended, rather than invented, the logic of separation that lay at the heart of the wave of gate-building that took place in different parts of Delhi in the 1980s.
...Anita and her husband Deepak lived for many years in North America and England, moving back to India in 2005. Deepak worked for a prominent American bank, heading a team of fifty Indians whose task it was to identify possibilities of ‘outsourcing’ the bank’s activities to India. The couple would live for a month or so in India, then move for six or so to New York, Brighton, Sydney, or wherever else the job demanded. Anita had a strong sense of her husband – and India – as being at the forefront of global change. I asked her if she had ever considered settling overseas. No, she says, never, because ‘my life in Gurgaon is better than what might be ‘there’’. ‘You know,’ she went to say, ‘most people who live in DLF’, have international experience. I went to a newly established furniture shop – made to look like IKEA – and asked them what it would cost to fit out our flat. The owner said around two crores! They don’t realize that most of us have international experience and have a good idea of what things cost!
While the majority of residents of gated communities across India may not exactly share Anita’s lifestyle or her husband’s career path, what they do share is a gathering sense of self-confidence about the place of Indian culture and ‘achievements’ in the world. The new Indian middle-classes – Anita seems to imply – are neither dazzled by ersatz Wests nor incapable of tabulating its ‘actual’ value. …Indian identities need not (any longer) struggle to resolve a crisis introduced by the encounter with the West; the West is just one way of making sense of the world, an idea that now exist alongside contemporary Indianness, rather than as a threat to the latter.
There is now a new social and economic elite that has an increasingly direct relationship with the corporate sector in order to achieve ‘social’ objectives [as compared to the older Nehruvian elites].... Hence, at Victoria Park enclave in DLF City, the rainwater-harvesting scheme is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company, whereas new forms of leisure practised at religious theme parks... and multiplex cinemas presage a change in the patterns of middle-class cultural consumption. Indeed, in advertisements for gated communities ‘corporate feel’ is a significant factor in the selling of new lifestyles....[and] …a significant context of [contemporary urban transformations] relates... to …perceptions of the ‘effectiveness’’ of private capital in ‘getting things done’….
But there are also other kinds of people in New Gurgaon and early mornings and late evenings offer the best vantage points for observing others who also constitute this locality. Between 5 to 7 am each morning, the streets around Victoria Park swarm with women and men who do not live within the gates: women walking briskly in groups and singly, clutching plastic bags, others riding in rickshaws, and, men with small cloth bags, some containing food and others small implements. This crowd appears almost magically between the above hours, making its way towards the high rise of the gated enclaves from tight clusters of single and double story tenement housing that can be seen from the sky scrapers.
These are the maids, servants, chauffeurs, and trades and other workers who reside in rented accommodation in some of the original villages that ring the condominium spaces. The women in rickshaws are maids being ‘driven’ to work by their rickshaw-driver husbands. The workers – from Bihar, West Bengal, and, some say, Bangladesh – live in tiny, ill-lit rooms located in spaces with potholed roads, open drains, and a variety of small-scale industrial workshops. As they make their way to the boom gates – and the immaculately maintained premises – of different residential enclaves, the women must produce identity cards that are examined by the guards at the gates, whereas the men are mostly allowed to pass without much fuss. By 7 am, the streets are empty of women in cheap, shiny sarees, and men in shiny trousers and shirts of fading colour.
The private guards who regulate the entry of maids (and also visitors) to the complex also follow a routine. Every morning, around 7, a ‘supervisor’ arrives on a motorcycle to initiate a ‘changing of guards’ that begins with a military style drill: those taking up duty for the day line up in formation, salute, and undergo ‘inspection’. They then disperse to take up positions, relieving the night-guards. Around the same time, many of the residents are being driven to offices as the working day, especially for those working in MNCs, begins early. There are also school children boarding buses – many of which sport ‘International’ or ‘Global’ as part of the name of the institutions painted on their sides—to begin their day.
The quiet of the day is punctured in late evening by another set of rhythms that define space. The lawns within Victoria Park are filled up with four sets of residents: young children, teenagers in mixed groups, older women sitting together on park benches, and live-in maids shepherding infants. Office workers – both men and women (there is a high proportion of working women) – have not yet returned from work, and the infants appear to be glad to be out of the house, being entertained by the maids. Those maids who work as daily – rather than ‘live-in’ – workers make a quiet exit from the complex, melting into the darkness, their persons occasionally checked by the guards to make sure they are not carrying out any goods ‘illegally’.