Editor's note: This is the third of six weekly installments of "Dispatches from India" about Southern Oregon University Honors College students' trip to India this month to learn more about democracy in action.
Very recently, we were part of a group that returned to Ashland from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India. Over nearly two weeks, we visited Delhi, Agra and Bangalore to learn about how Indian democracy really works. It was an incredible trip, and each of us left India having experienced at least one thing that changed the way we look at the world.
A major component of the trip was meeting with various bureaucrats, politicians and reporters to discuss democracy in India. Something that kept coming up in these conversations was the trend of migration by village residents into large urban centers.
According to one journalist we talked to, there is an ideal that has infiltrated Indian culture, which fuels this movement of people from rural villages to cities; to explain this new ideal of urban success, he told us a story about one of his employees. This man used to own 40 acres of land outside of Bangalore. He sold all his land and used the money to move into the city and start a new career as a security guard. The journalist told us the guard felt city work was his way to be truly successful, and it wasn’t satisfying enough for him to live in a rural area and earn a living by working the land. Among many rural residents, city life has been presented as the pinnacle of success and therefore attracts many to the urban centers.
From our observations, it was clear to us that a continuing influx of people to the cities from rural India presents a variety of health concerns. The infrastructure is already stressed in many ways, and more people in the cities can only compound those problems. One of many critical aspects is traffic.
The traffic presents a problem by preventing emergency services from responding as quickly as they might be able to otherwise. There are times of the day where traffic flows slowly, if at all, making it nearly impossible for cars to clear a path. In addition to transportation issues for patients, the hospitals are simply overwhelmed.
Gandhi was known to say, “India lives in her villages, not in her cities.” He was staunchly pro-village, advocated for local self-reliance, and saw increasing urbanization as a potential threat to the health of the nation. In light of this, and knowing the widespread respect for Gandhi’s vision of Indian nationalism, it puzzled us that so many people readily abandon village life for the cities.
We visited only one village, so our exposure to them was limited. The one we saw, in a rural district outside Bangalore, seemed to be a much better place to live than the cities. We were pleasantly surprised by how much space is left between houses, the presence of agricultural plots near the living areas, and the availability of safe drinkable water. Of all the places we saw and visited in India, that village struck us as the most appealing place in which to live and raise a family.
It was not until the last day of the trip when we had a discussion with an Indian political scientist that we gained a really good grasp on the reasons behind the trend of urbanization. The political scientist filled in a missing piece of the puzzle for us by explaining that in the United States, the 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserves powers for the states and the people that are not delegated to the national government. This is meant to limit the size and power of the national government and to ensure a healthy degree of self-governance for the states. In India, the opposite is true. Certain powers are specifically listed in the constitution and delegated to the states, with the remainder of the powers going to the national government by default.
This division of power inherently strengthens the national government and centralization of power in New Delhi. In Mumbai and Bangalore, business and industry have spurred growth through economic opportunities; in Delhi, the centralization of power has fueled centralization of population by sending a message to the people that cities rather than villages are the heart of India.
Ben Barnes and Bri Morgan are respective second and third-year Honors College students at Southern Oregon University, and both are studying biochemistry. Ben plans to attend medical school and someday hopes to practice medicine among underserved populations in both the United States and abroad. Bri is considering career options in biochemical research and the medical field. Next week, other students will write about ““International expressions: Reflecting cultural values through the arts."