Thursday, 25 July 2013

Development of Social Spaces Through Infrastructural Development[1]


Munish Alagh

Jatin Christie


Urbanization, defined as the economic and demographic growth of urban centres essentially entails the growth of the percentage of urban population in total population of a nation physically.  Urbanization, as a phenomenon, is in a state of frenzy for sociologists, psychologists, behavioural scientists, and economists. With burgeoning urbanization, there have been discussions all around about urban ecology—a notion whose connotation extends beyond preserving natural environments only. Urban ecology refers to an understanding of how social environments are created and how people form groups and group norms alongside the social spaces they dwell and they interact in. One very important form of communication that we consciously and many times unconsciously indulge into is proxemics—communication via space. Proxemics explores how human beings use the space around them and communicate through it. It states of a person having Intimate Space (physical touch to 1.5 feet distance), Personal Space (1.5 to 4 feet), Social Space (up to 12 feet distance), and Public Place (25 feet or up to what naked eye can see). Depending on different cultures, we allow or disallow people to enter our intimate, personal, and even social spaces. It is interesting to note that we interact most of the time with reference to spaces as much as we do so with words and gesture.


In this paper, our focus is on the Social Space.  Social Space can be defined as, the combined use and perception of space by distinct social groups, as opposed to personal space. Social space provides an environmental framework for the behaviour of the group; it is culturally complex, flexible multi-configured, networked, and reflexive.


The reference to urbanization without discussing infrastructure development is incomplete. Be it metro cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or even the upcoming Ahmedabad, one has to note the metamorphosis that these cities have undergone in social, cultural and infrastructural changes. Mumbai has come a long way from being a city of seven different islands to being the commercial capital of one of the largest growing markets in the world. Bengaluru, on the other hand, boasts of not only infrastructural icons  like Microsoft, Google, or Infosys buildings and campuses, but it also has a real flavour of a miniature globe in it. Nevertheless, one has to mention that while cities are making exponential growth in social and other infrastructure, there are still pockets even in these big cities which are devoid of any signs of such changes.


This case aims to understand urbanization, and how social and other infrastructure have developed in Ahmedabad. It aims to highlight a deprived Muslim ghetto called Juhapura-Sarkhej area in this mega city where the urbanization chariot has not reached on its own in a natural and distributive way. The area has seen decades of non-development, but now with the interest and acumen of the local populace it is slowly catching up with the rest of the city areas.


The paper highlights how urban infrastructure development has come up in this area in the last few years and how this has contributed in changing the physical as well as mental landscape of this Muslim-dominated locality in Ahmedabad.  The paper explores the association between urban infrastructure development like a modern school, a retail store, and a recreation park with the development of social space


The infrastructure development stated above refers to:


  • Hearty Mart—a departmental store owned by a young and enterprising member of a prominent Muslim sect.
  • Crescent School—an urban and sophisticated learning centre catering to the knowledge palate of the local populace.
  • Muskan Park—a adventure park aiming to bring energy and synergy in the area


The study site entails a 3 km stretch from Vishalla Circle to Sarkhej Police Station (called as Juhapura)


Why this area?


The history of Ahmedabad  shows that the city has come a long way from being the “Manchester of India” to the modern day “Metro City.” The city today witnesses big malls, luxurious hotels, corporate houses, overbridges, underpasses, magnificent landscaping, and prominent roads. The latest developments in the city are the Kankaria Lake Front, the BRTS, and the upcoming River Front Development Project.


The infrastructure development of Ahmedabad should be traced along with the development of its roads. It all started with the Ashram Road, and then moved to the C. G. Road, followed by the 132 feet Ring Road, and the S. G. Highway. At present, Ahmedabad is expanding exponentially on the periphery of the 200 feet Ring Road. Almost all areas of Ahmedabad are  greatly expanding with hospitals, ATMs, and other necessary infrastructure too coming up..


However, the backwardness of Juhapura co-exists with prosperity! Juhapura has been treated like a step-child. For years the area has not witnessed any infrastructure development—basic and otherwise. Juhapura has a population of 3 lakhs but what is missing or are found in small measure are:



  • Streetlights
  • Gutter line
  • Town-planning schemes
  • Water supply
  • Internal roads


Thus, supermarkets, malls, banks, ATMs, and other important amenities of the day seemed a distant dream.





Juhapura – Past and Present

Juhapura, a Muslim-dominated area lies on the western outskirts of Ahmedabad near Sarkhej. It is situated along the National Highway 8A that goes towards Saurashtra and Kutch. Previously it used to be known as Jivapura and also as Sankalitnagar.

To rehabilitate 1972 flood victims, a colony of 2,248 homes was developed; this was known as Sankalitnagar  around which Juhapura developed. It was a small suburb with a small population until the early '90s. And as late as 1992, a large number of Hindus mainly from Dalit, Bhoi, and Thakore communities lived there.  

Most of the Hindus moved out of Juhapura after the communal violence that broke out post Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Jeevan Bhoi was one of those who lived in Juhapura till 1992. "After that it was frightening to live there," he says. "Many of my Muslim friends assured me that nothing would happen, but as I could not be at home for most part of the day, it worried me about my family's safety," he adds. [2]

Again, the communal riots of Gujarat in 1992–93 and especially after the 2002 communal riots, large numbers of Muslims migrated to Juhapura from Hindu-dominated areas of Ahmedabad for a safe haven.  From 1992–2002, Juhapura largely remained riot prone and downtrodden. It was deprived of basic amenities, and though it became a pre-dominantly Muslim ghetto, it was avoided by effluent Muslims.

Post-2002 communal riots, even the effluent Muslims shifted their base and moved to Juhapura. This changed the social dynamics of the area and it started getting attention from various corners. This migration of Muslims with deep pockets caused a construction and housing boom in the area with housing prices skyrocketing.


The Present Status: Coming up of Structures


There is a popular Bengali song written by Rabindranth Tagore which goes on like this, ‘If nobody comes at your beck and call to help your or support you, you go alone and do it (Ekla cholo re…).


Juhapura has also probably picked up a cue from this song and has charted its own plan of urban development.


People from the community have come forward and have taken up the challenge of creating modern infrastructure, and through them social spaces in and around this area. Today this stretch boasts of Hearty Mart (a modern supermarket), a multiplex, Havmor restaurant, modern schools in English medium, and two upcoming malls.  Many of them are owned by Muslim entrepreneurs. Based on these structures, we present three such cases of development of social spaces through infrastructural development.



Case  1. Hearty Mart: Faith, Hope, and Development


Juhapura has traditionally been a locality carrying the stigma of being a riot-prone, media-unfriendly area, and has always been highlighted for notoriety and civil disturbance. Perhaps that is the reason why no big brand (supermarkets, etc) ever tried entering this area which houses more than 5 lakh of some of the prominent people of the city.


When Hearty Mart was launched in 2004, the area was still trying to cope with the tragedy of the Gujarat Riots of 2002. This unfortunate incident saw many prominent Muslims shifting their base to Juhapura. Suddenly a locality which was never considered to be family-friendly became a preferred destination as a “safe haven. Still the problem remained as the educated people shifted but the basic amenities were simply below par. People had to move to areas like Paldi, Vasna, and Shyamal to meet their needs.


With a booming real estate, the area promised development, but still it remained devoid of basic amenities like a proper organized retail outlet which could provide convenience of purchase to the residents. Adanis had opened their supermarkets across Ahmedabad, but for an obvious reason avoided Juhapura.


It was in this gap that Nadeem Jafri found a huge opportunity to start an organized food-grocery store in the area in early 2004. Vishala Circle was the fastest developing area within Juhapura, as it was not cramped, and we could speculate a good growth of the area in near future.


With the vision of bringing convenience to the locality, Jafri started Hearty Mart in February 2004. It was modeled as an ideal neighbourhood store and positioned as Sabse khass ghar ke paas; it was a store which was equipped to cater to all their basic needs—a one-stop solution for their daily requirements of groceries, cosmetics, foodgrains, and so on  Thus was destined to bridge the gap between demand of daily needs and the options of supplies available.


However, the initial journey of Hearty Mart was not smooth.


Initial Problems


It is said that one problem leads to another; even Jafri faced certain problems which he could never anticipate while he was planning to open the shop here. Business operations were really difficult because of the negative feelings people had toward the area; vendors and suppliers were reluctant to support and give merchandize on credit. To break the ice win their trust, Jafri organized get-togethers and also gave them advances and post-dated cheques. Even the residents were reluctant to visit the shop and footfalls were few in the first year.  


The problem was that:


·       Most of them had migrated from other areas and they preferred to go back to the retailers from their old area for purchases. There was no shop patronage for Hearty Mart.

·       There was a lot of skepticism and suspicion on the future of Hearty Mart because they were all aware about the area and its image.

Promotions that Built the Brand and People’s Confidence


With some promotion and loyalty programmes, Jafri succeeded in having some loyal customers. Some of the initial promotion efforts included:


  • Putting up of signages and banners at prominent places in the area
  • Use of  auto-rickshaw-mounted loudspeakers to spread awareness about the store
  • Newspaper insertions
  • Invitation to prominent people from the area on the day of the launch

·       Taking specific  orders for specific merchandize from customers even when there was no demand for the overall product category. This made the customers feel special.

·       Launching schemes like free-gifts and discounts on purchases of more than Rs 1000.

·       On completion of 100 days, 500 gms of sugar with a personalized letter was sent to all the prominent customers. This was unique to the area.

·       Introduction of loyalty cards and free home delivery. Again this was new to the area as there was no proper organized player who could make such offers and provide such services

His faith in business and his efforts helped him gain their confidence. He slowly found that more and more residents became his patrons, and that helped him during the difficult initial phase of the business. The footfalls started increasing and the customer-base grew.


Contribution of Hearty Mart in creating a Social Space:


The success of Hearty Mart at Juhapura broke the myth that the area was not conducive for business. Many hesitant entrepreneurs, who closely watched the success of the mart,  are now successful businesses in the area.

The development of the area post-Hearty Mart is as follows:


  • Hearty Mart is a prominent landmark of Sarkhej–Juhapura Road.


  • A good organized neighbourhood store in the area promises a convenient abode for the residents. Presence of Hearty Mart at Elecon Tower, ensured that all the flats of the 10 floor high-rise building were sold at a premium; which the builder could not sell before as people were reluctant to purchase an apartment in a high rise after the earthquake. 


  • Though Subhiksha across India has closed down; it was success of Hearty Mart that encouraged Subhikhsha to set up its shop in Juhapura. In fact it became the first big retail chain  to open its shop here.


  • A private bus stop has developed just before Hearty Mart.


  • Lots of media coverage of Hearty Mart brand has perhaps inspired a leading Mumbai-based non-veg restaurant to open its outlet here.


  • Axis Bank has opened its ATM in the premises of Hearty Mart. Hearty Mart has rented them 100 sq ft for the ATM as a shop-in-shop concept. This is important looking at the fact that the area had no Bank or ATM since last many years. The ATM has been accepted well by not only the Hearty Mart customers but also by the local public staying in the area.


  • Radhe Developer has announced a 3 BHK premium apartment project “Imperial Heights” bang opposite Hearty Mart. It would have all the modern facilities for lifestyle seekers. Again a unique residential scheme for the area which none  would have thought of before.

Today almost 4 lakh Muslims live in Juhapura and that is why perhaps it has been termed as the largest Muslim neighbourhood in Gujarat. Contrary to its image of being crime-ridden and riot-prone, it has been of late a preferred area of Muslim professionals, artists, government officers of IAS and IPS ranks, and businessmen. It is needless to say that they have contributed in the development of the area in their own special way.


Today, Vishala Circle is perhaps the best locality for many Muslims in Ahmedabad, and they are ready to pay a premium for an apartment here.


Hearty Mart is not solely responsible for the infrastructural development that took place around it, but it has definitely succeeded in creating a social space for the Muslim community staying in the neighbourhood.


Case  2 : Crescent School



As stated earlier, Juhapura is an urban ghetto with poor streetlights, poor drainage and sewerage system, , poor internal roads, and water supply mainly through borewells.. What is worse is that there is lack of awareness among the people for the need to demand these facilities.



In addition, schools in this area are few,  and with 6,000 students seek admission in the first standard, choices are limited; although the demand for quality education is quite high given the changing class structure of the population. Moreover, there is a need to provide safe and secure environment for these students. During the 2002 riots commuting to and from the school was  a major concern for the parents as many had their children studying in far-flung schools like the Delhi Public School and St. Xavier’s school  which do provide quality education.  People, especially the middle class, look for amenities nearby, which include schools, and this needed to be fulfilled in Juhapura. In fact   there  was  a demand for “quality education in proximity,” which is waiting to be fulfilled.


Responding to this demand Asifkhan Pathan an educationist, set up  Crescent School. In the very first year there were535 enrolments. Currently, the school operates standards 1 to 5 in the English mediuim and standards 1 to 6 in the Gujarati medium. Crescent is not an Islamic school. It had initially taken non-Muslim staff (Christians, and Hindu) but they all left because of mostly social pressure or social exclusion or ostracization they faced for working in Juhapura. But that apart, the initiative taken by the school are  a tie up with Euro Kids for kindergarten (KG) and Sr. KG classes; SmartClass which are net-enabled classrooms with LCDs; and a Rs 12 lakh budget for teachers’ training at Calorex Foundation. Moreover, the student–teacher ratio is a favourable 30:1.




Cresent stands for quality education. What the parents of the children want is that cultural values be instilled in the children, specially moral values of their religion, keeping in mind the present day environement. When we went around the school, we noticed that there was in-depth interaction between the students and the teachers from the KG to the primary level. Teacher  in fact were giving practical examples to the students from their daily environment. The school follows a modern and contemporary curriculum that promotes overall and holistic development of its students. However, Crescent also aims to instil basic Islamic moral values among them through a uniquely designed English alphabet where each letter represents an Islamic artifact or value and also other distinct norms like using asalam e valekum as a greeting.





SPRAT stands for  Society for Promoting Rationality. It is an NGO working in several areas of Ahmedabad with an aim to understand the reality of deprivation of minorities and how it can respond to their problems through interventions at individual, community, and societal levels.


One of the important facts that SPRAT aims to cater to is the problem faced by people due to lack of infrastructure available to them; both physical as well as social. SPRAT has aspired to build a happy, peaceful, and harmonious society, which is tolerant, inclusive, and empathetic to all.


Juhapura has had a long-standing tiff with the surrounding areas, which are non-Muslim.  This is mainly due to the seeds of distrust and suspicion that certain section of the society have sown in minds to fulfil their vested interests and ambitions.


Muskan Park was envisaged in Juhapura, almost adjacent to Vejalpur, with the intention of promoting communal harmony by engaging the youth of various communities, castes, and classes in healthy recreation, and friendly competitions. The idea was to break the ice between the two communities  and enable them to share not only the physical space but also the mental space to eradicate suspicion and develop a sense of camaraderie, solidarity, and mutual respect.. The main motto of Muskaan Park, which is spread  over  2500 sq.m, is  “Shared Pursuits.”


Objectives of Muskaan Park


  • Communal and social harmony through affordable recreation
  • Health and happiness through pleasurable activities
  • Promote environment of peace, safety, and security
  • Eradicate hatred, discrimination from communities
  • Engage people in shared recreation





  • Health through adventure and exercise
  • Enable appreciation of science
  • Communal harmony


The park looks to create a good social and physical environment around in the area.


Muskan Park model was based on following perquisites:


  • It should be scalable
  • it should be modular
  • it should be replicable


Therefore recycled waste was used in Muskaan. This gave the park a very rugged look,  but also made it affordable and replicable.


Materials like tyres, wooden planks, steel rods were used to make equipments like see-saws, swings, slides, and so on. The park is not made up sophisticated material, is not perfect, and so can be easily replicable. There are no gears and no electricals. In fact, Muskan Park follows the policy of  selective neglect.





Initial Response


The initial response of the neigbouring community was not good. People staying in the nearby areas raised their compound walls to create visual barriers. Some changed the entrance of their houses so that it did not face the park. The number of non-Muslim users were less than 10 %.  There was some subtle unrest and apprehension among the people in the surrounding areas. . Even the Muslim community did not give a positive response to the park initially.  


However, as time went by people understood the meaning of the park and why it had come up. The initial inhibitions given way to the mingling of communities and castes and the park has moved toward becoming a place to spend time and for recreation.



Different spaces within the park


The park wants to create spaces for people belonging to all age groups and so they have created separate spaces for children, youngsters, and senior citizens in the park. These spaces house recreation material suited to the needs of the targeted age-groups. These spaces have been separated by different colours.



Help from corporate world


The park has been generously supported by AUDA-AMC, ONGC, BSNL, IOC, TORRENT-AEC, GED, and a number of small and big corporate houses. Amul too intends to set up shop there.

Muskaan Park has acted like a bridge between the two communities and has gradually emerged as being a social space in this ghetto where people can come and relax, spent time, spent time on recreation, and shed inhibitions.



Observations From the above cases it can be observed that a  holistic and overall development is strictly the need of the hour. It is also true that there are always few pockets that get neglected during development. But what comes out from the three cases is that if the community or local inmates shows grit, enthusiasm, resilience, and acumen,  any neglected area can embark on its journey toward development—both external as well as internal.


We strongly believe that Juhapura is fast churning out newer social spaces for its residents to encounter, operate, flourish, and nurture newer bonding and relationships. Also, the upcoming and developing urban infrastructure has started providing better quality of work and life to the people of this area and surrounding areas.




Thus there is definitely a link between urbanization and development of strong and healthy social relationships through creation of new social spaces. A park, a school, a mall, a hotel, or any such common property resource has no religion and are simply places for a community to mingle, interact, meet, share and indulge in recreation. However, when we look at development of such infrastructure in Juhapura, it has allowed the local community, especially the Muslim community, to find their own social space.


People find it easy to emulate success because there is a proven path to follow and it also increases confidence. The cases discussed in this paper—Hearty Mart, Crescent School and Muskan Park— show that they have enabled other entrepreneur and business entities from within and outside the community to invest in local infrastructural development.


We hope that this infrastructural development will not only change the face of the area but boost confidence of the local people to freely mingle and interact with each other in the newly found public places, which over time will become comforting social spaces.


We also feel that while on the one hand a city can fully develop through self initiation of local community, on the other there is a strong requirement for public–private partnership  and also a strong need for government support to foster holistic development.




[1]Edited Version of this article in Commodity Vision, January 2011