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Construction Of Public Sapces In India

1520 words - 6 pages

With the rise of British colonization of South Asia in mid-late 18 century came western ideas of the “public”, contextualized in spatial, social and political terms. The later construction of “public” spaces during mid-late 19th century, like parks, evidences that overtime the municipalities, consisting of both Indian and European officials, attempted to alter the landscape of the major cities in an effort to replicate the sociopolitical environment of the western world. However, although, as Sudipta Kaviraj argues, notions of the common or collective identity readily existed in India, adoption of a socio-politically defined “public” sphere proved to be difficult precisely because the ideas were not organically grown but rather were transplanted (88). Consequently, the conflicts that arose from the inclusion of aforementioned ideals within the indigenous ideology had impacts on the physical layout of the colonial city.
In Calcutta, and in other provinces as well, common spaces, structures and activities surely existed but did not align with the European philosophy of the “public”. Open spaces for games, festivals and Puja’s were common features of many villages (Kaviraj 88). Even though there were no legal or official markings for the space, it was assumable that these commons fit the colonial definition of a “public” space.
Accordingly, municipal committees were formed in 1862 to govern the use of urban space and property. As such Indians were forced to align their property claims within European definitions of the “public” versus private. In one such case that Glover extracts, a shopkeeper Nabi Baksh built a mosque without government permission. He persuaded the officer in charge to let him proceed with building because the mosque was for private use. This is consistent with Habermas’s observation, that at the end of the 18th century, “…religion became a private matter,” (51). When it became evident that the mosque was being used for the “public” interest, the municipal authority stepped in and ordered Baksh to stop the azan, or call to prayer. In his defense, Glover articulates Baksh’s argument that the mosque “was a pious endowment for the benefit of the community,” and therefore he possessed no private authority or control over its actions (7-8). While it seemed evident to the municipality that its classification as a mosque made it exclusionary by nature, its existence, based on the religious make-up of population, seemed to be justified not only on a rights based ground but on a political one as well. Brush notes that first, residential districts in cities were divided by religion and second, that there was little distinction between residential land use and industry. In fact he furthers that “manufacturing and retail …[were] carried on in the same establishments (60). Thus since the majority of the population surrounding the mosque was assumably Muslim, it clearly represented the “public” interest and ought serve the...

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