Ahmedabad: the deterioration of the city from Modernisation and Colonisation 1

The history of Ahmedabad’s urban growth is a very particular and interesting case to examine. Lying in the intersection of roads between neighboring towns means that it is uniquely advantaged to become a trade town. Widely regarded as an asset to cities economically, socially and in terms of trade, infrastructure provides different conditions in Ahmedabad. Here the trade industry has developed by the 18th century, separate from and long before what is deemed “modernisation” from the British colonisation, of which the most prominent and evident impact is the Municipal Commission in 1857, introduction of textile mills in 1861, the BB&CI railway in 1864, and the city Municipality in 1874, changing the city physically and socially.

Proof of how the colonisation process caused deterioration lies simply in the comparison of the city before and after, how the city was previously in a leading state with incremental flaws at the time, and slowly develope problems that can be traced back to the British rule. “Described by 16th century European travelers as “the handsomest town in Hindustan, perhaps in the world,” in the 17th century as a “city comparable in size and wealth to London” and as “the Manchester of the East”…” (Bhatt, 2004), there has been without a doubt sufficient evidence showing how the trade industry in Ahmedabad and general town development is well on the way, before the British colonisation, that brought with it external connections by the means of the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway. Through historical maps , it is clear that the physical expansion of Ahmedabad flourished in the 100 years following the introduction of the BB&CI, well beyond the initial development from an settlement, however it is arguable that the increase in population is actually damaging to the vernacular urban fabric.

The city, as Tewari states in Indian Cities: Ecological Perspectives “has been shaped by modernizing forces.. [and these forces, namely the British colonisation and the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway reflects] in its mills, walls and slums – is the outcome of the interaction among all of these factors”. And it could be said that the colonisation process is a destructive process towards the growth of the city, in primarily the import of population that causes the build up of the slum area, the deterioration in the local cotton textile industry.



Growth of Ahmedabad from initial settlement - 1411, to 1960
Growth of Ahmedabad from initial settlement – 1411, to 1960
Phases of Growth of Ahmedabad © Unknown date, [online] Available at: http://www.the-euroindia-centre.org/newsletter/vol6/page15.htm

3 Comments on “Ahmedabad: the deterioration of the city from Modernisation and Colonisation 1

  1. Coming from India, it is interesting to see this analysis of ‘what could have been’ vs ‘what remained’. This is the case with most Indian cities, before the advent of the British. In fact, the British still the fact that the British still claim that India should be thankful for their colonization is an outright mockery and lack of respect towards the Indian subcontinent. If you look at cities like Agra, where lies the Taj Mahal, the crowning jewel of the Indian Mughal Empire, all that remains of it now are barren walls and the marble exterior. The insides were once glittered with gold and gemstones that were all stolen by the British. In fact, before the advent of the British rule, the Mughal empire, the last ruling dynasty in India, had one of the most complex tax systems in the world, and the British still claim that they brought ‘civilization’ to India. I mention a few isolated examples however, this was the case with all prospering states and major cities within the country. India’s share of the world economy was 23 percent before the British arrived and was down to less than 4 percent after they left. I would like to refer you to a speech by a prominent Indian spokesperson and speaker at the United Nation, Mr. Shashi Tharoor to give you another perspective on this entire debate.


    After watching the video, I would like to ask you, why do you think there is such a stark difference in the impact of colonization, in a place like Hong Kong, which seems to have clearly benefited from the impact of colonization versus a place like India or a city like Ahmadabad which hasn’t, since you are well researched on both sides of the spectrum?

    • It is very true that there is a biased record in the books of history of the weights between conquerors and the colonised, especially in cases like Ahmedabad and Agra. The British Empire is just like any other, where the colonisation of a certain location with such rich local resources mean the availability for consuming and extracting all that is financially valuable with disregard to the resulting or remaining land. This is especially the case with areas that involved the East India Company. What Britain deemed to be better is simply one approach towards how a city could function, a rather more top down approach that is named “civilised”.
      To contrast it to other colonised areas, it seems that on one hand, it could be due to the circumstances where resources met a corporation that is designed to make full use of , which could also be seen in the slave trade in Africa, the triangular trade etc. Hong Kong was an asset gained of war, not dissimilar to treaties of war. Perhaps again, due to circumstances of international relations, or courtesy, Hong Kong was not drained. The colonisation process has within it, very similar processes however, and the administrative aspect of government in both cases drastically changed.

  2. Great to see the dialogue around this post. It is true that the relationships between colonizers and colonized vary dramatically between different cultures and locations. The more violent form of subjugation surrounding Hong Kong really took place in China, vis-a-vis the Nanking Treaty and the Opium War. Historically, Mainland China looks upon Hong Kong in very unfavorable light for precisely these reasons. In India and China, the violence is more extreme, but British and Japanese occupation in Singapore and Taiwan respectively yielded very different results yet again. To return to the Ahmedabad analysis, it is critical to tease out historical voices from the city itself, to get a stronger sense of the role of rail infrastructure in its modernization process. Who were the people planning and building it, and who were the intended and unintended beneficiaries. Who paid the bigger price in the land acquisition process, and how did new forms of settlements or plans grow around the rail? It may reveal a more complex group of players and relationships beyond the binary opposites of colonizer-colonized.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.