Ethnicity and urbanisation

Ethnicity and urbanisation

Nov 27, 2012-

Zulfiqar Shah

The transformation of South Asia from feudal and rural relations into the urban has enormous development contours along with highly sensitive challenges of its ethno-political stability and governance. Therefore, any discourse focusing cities in South Asia cannot avoid the issues and relation between demography, governance, and ethnic stability.

Mega transformation

South Asia amid uncontrolled population growth will have 1.2 billion urban mass by 2050, which no doubt will be the largest urbanisation of human history in any single regional entity. It will be a chain-process of transformation, converting a large number of small into big villages, towns into tertiary cities, and existing small cities into the secondary cities. Today’s metropolitans will touch their vertical and horizontal heights. The issues of land, population pressure, demography, resources, and governance as well as the niche of harmonised topography and ethnography will be the major focus for the governments.   

This process is bound to change the contours of human settlement and development patterns. The change in sociological configuration due to this has already become visible in some countries, where an increasing number of rural and newly born middle class has started attaining power-opportunities in the societies. Secondary cities augment rural development and play the role of sanctuaries of urbanisation and help creating new middle class and urban poor; thereby filtering the migrations towards metropolitans.

The situation has further strengthened the fold of broader civil society actors in the region that have started ascertaining their role in the given domains. It is expected that the cities like Delhi, Bangalore, and Lahore will cross their status of second line metropolitans in the upcoming decades. Kathmandu city can also be considered in the queue given the demographic mass and development in Nepal. It is therefore important for the future governance of these cities that the repercussions of uneven development, unplanned urbanisation, and fallouts of existing metropolitans should be taken into the consideration.

Ethnicity and conflicts

Population movement has already altered the socio-economic and demographic structure of the cities in the region and will certainly affect it in future. It has already created in some cases deep issues of ethnic conflict, development disparity, and the contest over resource, which also has resulted into violence sometimes. In Asia, such complex example of urbanisation based on ethnic diversity and antagonism rooted into the migrations is Jakarta. The other examples are Karachi and to certain extent Bangalore. Karachi is a peculiar case study for the region, where ethno-linguistically non-local migrant minority rules the city in terms of electoral politics as well as use of violence; and legislatively resists the urbanisation of native and indigenous Sindhi majority so as their minority rule remain unchallenged.

From the perspective of the growth of urban centers, it is apparent that “net internal migration from rural areas” has played a substantial role in urbanisation. According to UN modulated projections, Pakistan’s 48.9 percent population will be living in the urban hubs by 2030.  

Karachi has a jerky demographic history. Until 1965, it was a Sindhi majority city, in latter two decades it observed a win-win balance between Sindhi-Balochi, Urdu, and Pashtu ethnic groups. Today, it is again Sindhi-cum-Baloch majority city; however politically ethno-linguist Urdu minority of the city rules it. The city has observed around four waves of violence since 1972, which have taken lives of beyond ten thousand citizens.  

Governance, demography and discrimination  

Six major demographic groups form the politics of ethnic interests in Karachi. Their population-wise sequence would be indigenous Sindhi and Baloch; Urdu and Bihari, Pashtun and Punjabi migrants; indigenous miscellaneous group of naturalised Parsies, Rajasthanis, and illegal migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Iran. The peculiar aspect of this ethnic politics is the contest over the resources and opportunities, in which Urdu speaking Muhajir minority rules not only the city but also Sindh province in many ways.

In Karachi, the ethnic minority through ethnically biased governance and legislation is discriminating the development of indigenous people. During the rule of General Musharaf, the electoral constituencies of Sindh were altered in a manner that the indigenous majority may win lesser seats in the provincial and federal legislature.

Recently, the legislation over a controversial and popularly rejected Sindh Local Government Act has stirred up an insurgency like situation. The Act administratively separates Karachi from rest of the province and the Mayor of the city is given more authorities then the Chief Minister of Sindh. It has at least three discriminative aspects. By administratively converting five districts of Karachi into one, it will give edge to ethno-linguistic Urdu speaking minority, which is the absolute majority in only one district, Central Karachi. The Act gives authorities to the Mayor to decree demolishing of a house or a settlement. This has resulted into demolishing of two historical Sindhi Hindus settlements of Karachi within two weeks of its legislation in October 2012. The other ethnic groups of the city fear that this authority would be used against Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Punjabi settlements, which together form nearly 70 percent of the metropolitan.

Lessons for the South Asia

The ongoing urbanisation in South Asia is bound to create ethnic diversity in the existing and emerging cities; therefore, if this aspect is not part of urban planning, the ethnic chaos is inevitable. Avoiding urban conflicts, the right to rule and opportunities needs to be ensured to the ethnic indigenous population.  

The urbanisation in South Asia will also be carrying along the issues like poor governance, limited resources, housing, non-futuristic planning; infrastructure inadequacy; transportation lethargy and environmental problems. This requires adopting modern frameworks of urban planning, comprehensive master plans, efficient land-use, and appropriate zone regularization as well as building control. The future of South Asian cities could only be save through non-traditional and futuristic vision and planning that does not compromise rights of the land, native population as well as city dwellers.    

Shah is Executive Director at the Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan

Published: 28-11-2012 09:26

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