Ahmedabad/ Slum and Underdog: the Hidden Face of Urban Transformation

The colonial era under the British rule has brought about the major setting up of railway networks (1855-1864) connecting to other parts of India, together with the associated technologies and skills. It is particularly the storyline of a city’s transformation: the insertion of new technological breakthrough which is able to activate a society and change the face of the city in a positive way. Yet beneath the splendidness and glory there lies the under-face of the transformation, which is a direct result of the strike of railway networks on the urban fabrics.

It was never an intention for the British Government to improve the immediate nearby living conditions in the city of Ahmedabad. Instead they saw it as a long-term investment: the opening up and linking up  with the surrounding cities would raise competitions and communications, hence economic benefits to the colonial government. So the harms and immediate effects of the insertion of infrastructure to the urban fabrics is, more or less, out of the scope of the city transformation agenda.

Map of CC&BI Railway © 1900s, Dinesh Mehta
Map of CC&BI Railway © 1900s, Dinesh Mehta

With the insertion of the tracks, on one hand, it has brought about matters on pollution and mobility which adversely affected the livelihoods of the tenants living in the area. On the other hand, with the gradual opening up of the city, there was a sharp push for upward social mobility: citizens in Ahmedabad pusued a better living when they started to escape from the circumscription of the old walled city, gradually migrating to areas across the Sabarmati River, or other parts of India.The transformation in social structure left the walled city of ahmedabad unattended, essentially for groups of people who had no ability to afford other living places. “A separate sense of space has come to characterize the old walled city as a whole; once it was the better part of the city and today it has come to be treated as pathogenic, as a predictable place of violence” (Rajagopal, 2011). The way how the railway cut through the city fabrics, in a  way, also urged for the segregation of the city into several parts. The strong north-south orientation of the railway has denied connections between the eastern and western Ahmedabad, further closing off the old walled city fabrics to other parts of the city, ameliorating the disjunction of living quality between the old fabrics and new fabrics. And along the railway track, which could also be seen from nowadays Ahmedabad, there was barely settlement and community, instead only barren lands and loose cultivations were perceived. Moreover, these kind of loosened residue spaces were often left unattended by the colonial government and land owner, urging for the formation of interstices and slum areas.

Slum Area in Ahmedabad © 1900, Marv Gillibrad
Slum Area in Ahmedabad © 1900, Marv Gillibrad


Rajagopal, A., Urban Segregation and the Special Political Zone in Ahmedabad:An Emerging Paradigm for Religio-Political Violence,  South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal. Available from: https://samaj.revues.org/3285?lang=fr

R.P. Misra, Millions Cities of India Volume I, Sustainable Development Foundation, 1998

4 Comments on “Ahmedabad/ Slum and Underdog: the Hidden Face of Urban Transformation

  1. It is interesting to look at how infrastructure has interfered with the city fabric and hinder urban development. Especially railway is a tool that links with speed and mobility. Usually it is seen as a sign of progress as people will get more rapid trading with the surrounding and the economy would be improved upon modernization. I am thinking whether there is a main station or transition point where the train get to stop within the city core. By looking at those hubs, the railway may not be simply a barrier due to its physical nature, but actually may be due to other things happening at those hubs. I doubt that it is the railway that divided the city, instead, may be due to the natural evolution from the decaying walled city to the peripheral of the city. In this people continue to move their nodes of modernization from west to east, creating such a discrepancy in the social hierarchy across the city.

    • To respond to your question, there is no main station or transition point within the city core. As the railway was planned outside of the old walled city, new gates are built at the wall and roads are constructed to connect the old city with the station. (Detail study can be read in the narrative “Ahmedabad/Construction of infrastructure and corresponding change in old fabrics after railway”. The railway actually brought out the expansion of the city to the west. The population movement is possibly due to 1)the undesirable environment brought by the railway, i.e. noise and pollution; 2)The pollution created by the cotton mills around the railway line.

  2. Here the introduction of the railway track does not simply act as a physical barrier that cuts the city into parts, but also, as you mentioned, economically and socially. To be more specific, one can observe the formation of vacant residue spaces along the railway (can also be observed from nowadays Ahmedabad). This provides clue that the railway hardly blend into the urban fabrics of the city. Instead, undesirable spaces are formed (which is also attributed to poor urban planning strategy). The poor allocation of land wastes the amount of land provided for the use of citizens. And vacant spaces also symbolizes the gradual resettlement of local residents. And to respond to your ideas on railway as symbol of speed and mobilty, I have to say that Ahmedabad is one of the places that backfired. Different from other European countries that value a lot on infrastructure to hold the city together, Ahmedabad, I would say, lacks the sufficient urban structure and complexity to accommodate the infrastructural change.

  3. To refer upon the previous notion of population movement in Ahmedabad, the reasons can be split into 3 folds. The primary is the habits of the natives who have sentimental incentive as well as ownership differences for the area and thus creates some focal points on the map which would remain unchanged throughout the years, and for the sake of this argument, this only applies to the poorer sector of the population, which then form the Chawl slums. Secondly, the injection of migrants have certain habits of sticking together and creates certain slum areas. Then the wish for the rich to move out and away from the slums and the crowded area allowed the city to expand to the rural areas. It might seem that the demographical movement is much more due to a rational and logical nature, socially, rather than from pollution by the cotton mills etc.

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