Understanding the Meaning of Growth of Urban Settlements or Urbanization in India. Sociologists
define Growth of urban settlement or urbanization as the movement of people from village to town/city where economic activities are centered around non-agricultural occupations, such as trade, manufacturing, industry and management Broadly speaking, in order to explain to process of urbanization we can discuss the following three aspects:

  1. The demographic-spatial aspects of urbanization deal with shift of people from rural to urban areas, population density in urban areas and change in the pattern of land use from agriculture to non-agricultural activities.
  2. Economic aspects of urbanization relate to the change from agricultural to non-agricultural occupations. As cities have been the centres of diverse economic opportunities, they attract people from rural areas. This attraction pulls a significant section of the rural population to the urban areas. Rural poverty, backwardness of agricultural economy and the destruction of cottage and small industries also push villagers to urban areas. These pull and push factors of migration play an important role in the process of urbanization.
  3. The socio-cultural aspects urbanization highlights the emerging heterogeneity in urban areas. The city has generally been the meeting point of races and cultures.
  4. Some features of Urbanization in Ancient and Medieval India : The process of urbanization in various periods of Indian history had distinctive spatial economic, religious, socio-cultural political features.There features are described here under three broad headings.
  5. Political, Demographic and Spatial Factors: The early processes of urbanization had their close relationship with the rise and fall of sponsoring political regimes and cultural history of India, Indeed cities emerged in those periods mainly based on political considerations. “The composition of these towns was built around the ruler and his kinsmen and followers, whose principal interests were centered on agricultural activities in their vicinity and the surplus they could extract from these” (Sabarwal). Fortification in the form of a girdle of walls and defensive ditches was an important physical feature of the traditional towns. Town planning of ancient cities not only took note of the needs of defence but also of the settlement of various castes in separate wards, and the location of different activities connected with manufacturing, commerce, trade, religion, recreation, administration and justice.
  6. Economic: In spite of the rise and fall of the political powers and shifting religious bases, the social and economic institution of the traditional cities has shown certain stability. Guild formation was an important feature of traditional towns. Merchants and craftsmen were organized into guilds called shreni. In those towns there were the guilds based on the occupation of one caste shreni and also the guilds based on different cases and different occupations called puga. Rao points out that the guilds performed important function in the traditional towns in terms of banking, trading, manufacturing and to a limited extent judicial.
  7. Religious and socio-cultural: Authorities of the traditional urban centres patronized particular religion or sects. This had been delineated in the social organization and culture of the towns. For example, Pataliputra reflected the Brahminical Hindu civilization under the rule of Chandra Gupta Maurya, while under Ashokan rule Buddhism flourished Similarly the Islamic civilization was concertized by the Muslim rule in the imperial capitals of Delhi, Lucknow, and Hyderabad and in other places. The traditional towns were erogenous in terms of the multiplicity of the religious, sectarian and caste groups. Strain specialist castes like florist, tailor were to be found only in big towns. Each ethnic or religious group was governed by its own customary laws. The caste and the occupational guilds also had their own laws sanctioned by the political authority (Ray).

New features of Urbanization in Early Colonial Period

  1. With the coming of European colonial traders in India, the process of urbanization entered into a new phase. Cities grew up in the coastal areas as ports-cum-trading centres. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European trading posts were established initially for trading purposes. As the British power grew in the 19th century, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras became the political centres too, Indeed in this period with the introduction and development of advanced technological knowledge, we find the emergence of new economic and political institutions, new modes of communication such as telegraph, railways, advanced system of roads and waterways. The process of urbanization became smooth widened the structure of economic opportunity and widened the social horizons of people.
  2. In the nineteenth century, though the process of urbanization grew in a modest way, the countryside suffered from the gradual process of the destruction of the cottage and small industries in the rural areas. In this situation, the new economic opportunity structure pulled a significant section of population to the urban areas. Many of the artisans became unemployed Hence, the displaced rural artisans and labourers were also pushed to urban areas for employment The late nineteenth century, however, witnessed a large scale migration of the rural labour force especially from Bihar and eastern United Provinces towards the jute mills of Calcutta and other industrial destinations. To avail the new economic opportunities many people migrated either temporarily or permanently to the urban areas.
  3. With the spread of education, the institutional arrangements of the urban centres also changed The educated people joined the bureaucracy, and also took up jobs as teachers, journalists, lawyers and so on. They brought about a new worldview. The urban centres gradually grow up to be the centres of new social and political ideas, diverse economic activities and of heterogeneous populations. The new process of urbanization presented various economic opportunities and scope for occupational and social mobility; it was only the upper caste and class people who were able to make use of these opportunities.

Growth of Urban Settlement in Contemporary India

The new process of urbanisation which began with the advent of the British received a momentum at the beginning of twentieth century. The process of this urbanization has some distinctive features.

India is passing through a phase of rapid urbanization in the contemporary phase of the transition of society. The modern urban centres perform diversified functions in terms of economic, administrative and political and so on. Here, it is very difficult to classify the towns and cities in terms of a single activity. Generally, people classify urban areas on the basis of some prominent socio-economic and political features. For example, people mention that there are historical cities like Delhi, Calcutta, Banaras, Lucknow etc., industrial cities like Ghaziabad Modinagar, Kanpur, Jamshedpur, Bhilai etc., religious cities like Mathura, Hardwar, Madurai, Allahabad etc., Cities reputed for film making, like Bombay and Madras, have a special appeal for a villager or a small-town dweller. In sociology, we discuss the pattern of urbanization in terms of its demographic, spatial and economic and socio cultural aspects. But before we take up these aspects, let us also briefly explain how we define a town in the Indian context.

Any place which satisfied the following criteria of……

  1. A minimum of 5,000 persons,
  2. At least 75% of the working occupations are non-agricultural,
  3. A density of not less than1,000 persons per square mile, and
  4. A place should have certain industrial areas, large housing settlements, places of tourist importance and civic amenities.

Spatial Pattern :

  1. Spatial disparities have marked the Indian urban scenario.These disparities emerged mainly due to regional disparities, imbalanced population concentration and some times because of the change in the census definition of “urban areas’. In this context we need to mention about two concepts, namely over-urbanization and sub-urbanization. Towns or urban areas have certain limitations in accommodating population, providing civic amenities or catering to such needs as schooling, hospitals etc. Beyond certain optimum capacities, it becomes difficult for the town administration to provide facilities for the increasing population. Bombay and Calcutta are two such examples of cities (among others) which have urban population growth beyond their capacities to manage. This feature refers to over-urbanization.
  2. Closely related to over-urbanization of a town is a feature called sub-urbanization. When towns get overcrowded by population, it may result in sub-urbanization. Delhi is a typical example (among others) where sub-urbanization trend is taking place around it Sub-urbanization means urbanization of rural areas around the towns characterized by the following features :
    • Increase in the ‘urban (non-agricultural) uses’ of land,
    • Inclusion of surrounding areas of town within its municipal limits, and
    • Intensive communication of all types between town and its surrounding areas.

Economic Aspect :

  1. According to Mill and Becker, urbanization is a natural and inevitable consequence of economic development Urbanization accompanies economic development because economic development entails a massive shift of labour and other inputs from predominantly rural sectors to those predominantly urban. The National Commission on Urbanization of India recognizes the economic importance of the Indian cities and towns. It considers “urbanization as a catalyst for economic development and that the towns and cities despite their problems are for the millions and millions of our people, the road to a better future”.
  2. When we examine the various cities in India, we find that some cities have come up during the last eighty years in places where there was nothing but forests earlier. One of the first steel cities in India, like Jamshedpur in Bihar, has provided employment to a large number of people including the Santhals. These tribals who were relatively isolated earlier have come into contact with a wide section of Indian population, coming from different regions, speaking different languages, and so on. Besides Jamshedpur, three more steel towns have emerged after Independence. These are Bhilai in Madhya Pradesh, Rourkela in Orissa and Durgapur in West Bengal. Emergence of these steel factories has brought about not only property but has led to the modification of the whole social scenario of this area. According to Srinivas, areas which were socio-economically backward have now become prosperous and cosmopolitan.
  3. While talking about the economic features of urbanization in contemporary India, occupational diversification and migration appear to be the key aspects. The degree of urban-industrialization and planned development through the Five Year Plans could not bring about a significant shift in occupational structure in Indian. The percentage of Indian labour force in agriculture remained static between 1901and 1971. In the said period 69.4% of the total labour force was in agriculture respectively. Though the percentage of urban population increased substantially during this period there has not been corresponding increase in the percentage of the labour force in the urban manufacturing, construction and service sector.
  4. The proportion of urban population engaged in the primary sector (comprising, household industry, mining quarrying, and fishing) showed an increase and that in the secondary sector (Comprising manufacturing and processing) showed decrease contrary to expectations. The tertiary sector (comprising commerce and service) showed a slight recovery. Even within the urban sector, there is a distinct traditional/rural component of occupation which is significant.
  5. This brings out the still persisting, and unabsorbed rural element in the urban sector, mostly in the periphery of large urban settlements and in the medium and small towns with a strong agricultural base. It appears that the urban commercial sector responded more to urbanization than did the industrial sector in terms of working population.
  6. There is widespread unemployment among the unskilled and other marginal workers in most of the cities. Again, unemployment among educated classes in urban areas is a peculiar feature in Indian society. It is estimated that 46% of the total educated unemployed are reported to be concentrated in the four major metropolitan cities in Indian (Sabarwal).

Urbanization and Migration

  1. In the process of urbanization in India, migration of the rural people to the urban areas has been continuous and is an important feature. The Urban Commission of India viewed rural urban migration to be “of vital importance for the development of rural areas”. The commission again points out that besides releasing the surplus labour from the rural areas, for the landless labourers, harijans and adivasis these cities provide the opportunities which are enshrined in our Constitution. For these millions, our urban centres will continue to be havens of hope, where they can forge a new future (Mehta).
  2. In India, this increase in urban-ward migration is of fairly recent origin which began in the late 1930s. Of the total migrants in urban areas 20% persons are displaced from Pakistan, 51% from rural areas of the same state and 25% from the rural areas of other states. An important feature of the immigrant stream in urban areas is its predominantly male character (Sabarwal).
  3. Due to the increase of unemployment in the rural areas, surplus rural labour force gets pushed to urban centres with the hope of getting employment The other factors which have pulled sections of the rural population including the affluent sections) toward the city has been the expectation of a variety of glamorous jobs, good housing medical educational and communication facilities.
  4. Here it is significant to note that industrialization should not be taken as prerequisite for urbanization, as the process of migration from village starts when a relative saturation point is reached in the field of agriculture. This is a result of an imbalanced land/man ratio in the countryside.


Urbanization has been viewed as an important force of social change in India, this process has, on the one hand, meant economic growth, political change new values and new attitudes. It reflects also the elements of continuity between rural and urban social structures. In the process of urbanization the towns and cities of India have achieved heterogeneous character in terms of ethnicity, caste, race, class and culture.

In the urban areas there has always been coexistence of different cultures. Studies show that though various ethnic and/or caste groups have adjusted themselves with each other in the city they have also tried to maintain their traditional identity. The migrants have maintained distinctive cultural traditions in the towns. Various migrant groups have maintained their own cultural identity.

  1. N.K. Bose points out that the migrants tend to cluster around people with whom they have linguistic; local regional caste and ethnic ties.
  2. Jagannath and Haklar in there study on the pavement-dwellers in Calcutta shows that they retain close ties with kinship and caste groups for socializing and transmitting or receiving information from the village. Thus cultural-pluralism has been an important socio-cultural dimension of the urbanites.
  3. According to Srinivas many of the Indian towns have a “mixed” character, i.e., they are the capital cities, centres of trade and commerce, important railway junctions etc.In these types of cities we find a “core”area which consists of the old inhabitants. This area is the oldest in the city and on its fringe we find the new immigrants.The pattern of residence of this “core” population shows a close relation to language, caste and religion. Bombay is cited as an example of this type of city.
  4. Lynch also points out that in many Indian cities, especially in the traditional cities like Agra, neighbourhoods have remained homo-geneous in terms of caste and religious groups. There the untouchable Jatav caste is concentrated in particular areas called mohallas (ward). But changes have taken place mostly because of politicization, spread of education, and occupational diversification. But D’Souza noted that in the planned city like Chandigarh neighbourhood has not been developed on the basis of ethnicity, common interest and other similarities. In this city the religious activities, friendship and educational ties are often outside one’s own neighbourhood.

Family, Marriage and Kinship in Urban India

  1. Marriage and family are two important aspects of social life. In the urban areas caste norms have been flexible with regard to the selection of mates. There have been increasing opportunities for the free mixing of young men and women. Again the voluntary associations have encouraged inter-caste marriages. As a result there have been more inter-caste and inter-religious marriages in the urban areas than earlier. Though it has been pointed out that joint families are breaking down in the urban areas, studies conducted in several parts of the country also suggest that joint families do exist in the cities among certain castes like Khatris of Delhi and Chettiars of Madras.
  2. It is usually assumed that the process of urbanization leads to decline in family size, weakening or family ties and breakup of joint family system into nuclear families.This assumption presupposes that joint family, as it is found in India, is an institution of rural India associated with agrarian economy.
  3. But as a matter of fact joint families are found in urban areas as welL The correlation of “joint” family with rural areas and “nuclear” family with urban is not tenable. Sociologists have gathered ample proof that joint families are as common in urban areas as in rural and that in both rural and urban areas a family may undergo a process of cyclical change from nuclear to joint and back to nuclear within a period of time.
  4. When we observe the household dimension of family in urban India, the studies by K. M. Kapadia, I. P. Desai, A. M. Shah, R. Mukherjee, indicate that there is no correlation between urbanization and ‘separate’ unclear households.Assumption that Indian urbanites live in nuclear households and that urbanization leads to breaking up to joint families cannot be sustained. Some studies show that not only kinship is an important principle of social organization in cities but also that there is structural congruity between joint family on one hand, and requirements of industrial and urban life, on the other.
    • Milton Singer, from a detailed case study of nineteen families of outstanding business leaders in Madras city, argues that a modified version of traditional Indian joint family is consistent with urban and industrial setting.
    • I.P. Desai studied the role of wider family relationships. He points out that when there is some serious illness and people need to utilize the hospital facilities not available locally, members of the family and close kin residing in the bigger cities are called in for help. Likewise when a person in rural areas needs educational or economic advancement, be calls upon his urban counterparts for help.
    • Recent studies show the important role of family and kinship ‘networks’ for the rural based boys seeking new avenues in the urban setting. They also show how the elders negotiating with urban institutions like banks, the administration, or the polity, ask for the help of their young relatives in cities. This does not however suggest that there have been no changes in the family structure. Some of the changes, which call attention to the gradual modification of the family structure in urban India, are:
    • Diminishing size of the family, owing to the increasing awareness of family planning measures,
    • Reduction in functions of family as a result of relegation of certain educational, recreational and other functions previously performed by families to other institutions,
    • Relative equality in regard to status and rights of women as a consequence of more and more women seeking employment resulting in economic independence of women.
  5. The phenomenon of inter-caste, inter-communal and inter-regional marriage no matter how infrequent, in cities point to the changing attitudes of the urban individual Similarly one can see the change in the selection pattern too. In selection for their bride, a higher proportion of men from urban middle class background tend to favour urban educated, preferably working girls. The evidence also suggests that the new concept of wifehood i.e., emphasis on conjugal relationship, in India is associated with urban living.There has also been some evidence of increase in age at marriage in urban areas.Simplification of rituals at marriages and incidence of court marriages in the cities reveal a gradual separation of the institution of marriage from its sacred religious complex. Attitude of Indian urban youth towards marriage reflects willingness to depart from the traditional practices but often they are not able to put it in practice due to traditional sanctions and moral pressure which have retained their rigours to an appreciable degree in cities.
  6. Still there is a general preference for arranged marriage, marriages within one’s caste group and dowry. The increasing incidence of bride burning or dowry deaths as they are called clearly shows the increasing emphasis on dowry both in terms of cash and goods like color television sets, cars etc. In this regard value of the college educated urban youth of India has increase in the matrimonial ‘market’.

Caste in Urban India :

Generally caste is thought to be a phenomenon of rural India mainly associated with agrarian economy. Caste system has been viewed as a system which has restricted the development of non-agrarian economy. It is assumed that urbanization along with industrialization would induce certain essential changes in the caste-based system of stratification.

Sociologists, like Srinivas, Ghurye, Gore, D’Souza, Rao, have conducted studies in urban areas. Their studies have shown that caste system continues to play an important role in urban areas. Opinions are, however, divided regarding the degree of persistence or degree of flexibility in the caste system found in urban setting. In this section we will discuss how the caste system has continued to persist and exert its influence in some sectors of urban social life while it has changed its form in some other sectors.When it comes to everyday reality caste plays a significant role.

  1. Harold Gould’s study of the Rikshawalas of Lucknow shows that, as far as their occupation is concerned, they (i.e., the rikshawalas) follow secular rules but when it comes to personal family matters, such as marriage, the caste identities are all important. Thus, a dichotomy exists between workplace and domestic situation.
  2. M.S.A Rao, in another example, has shown that caste system exists in cities. But he points out some significant organizational changes in the way it exists in cities. He says that due to the introduction of modern industry, growth of professions and the emergence of new occupational categories there has emerged a new class structure along with new status groups. Due to the impact of democracy and the electoral system adopted by India, the power axis, i.e., distribution of power and the formation of different kinds of elites, has changed from the traditional system.
  3. In respect of the change in the distribution of power we find that in pre-British India, upper caste was also the upper class. It would seem that now with education and new types of occupations this correlation of caste and class is no longer the case. A. Beteille has pointed out that higher caste does not always imply higher class. This disharmony is most often found in the Indian cities where new job opportunities have developed.
  4. In spite of these changes caste has not disappeared and in the process of establishing social identities it is still widely used in all parts of India. In fact, some sociologists say that it is not necessary at all that with the process of urbanization it will give way to class system of stratification in urban areas.
  5. The establishment of caste association in order to help their caste fellows in terms of educational and occupational opportunities, political power, etc. again reveals the vitality of caste system. The most powerful role that caste identity is playing in contemporary period is in politics which governs the power dimension. The need to gain power through the modern political system has forced leaders to mobilize people of not only one’s immediate subcaste but the wider caste group itself. Caste provides a ready made identity along which people align themselves. In India we have at all levels a parliamentary democracy where the numbers of votes become very important Therefore, in today’s India, horizontal unity of caste over a wide area, in both rural and urban sectors, provides a vote ‘bank’ that can ensure the election of a candidate from one’s own caste.
  6. Caste seems to have also become a basis for organizing trade union like associations. These associations are nothing but interest groups which protect the rights and interest of its caste members, such as the Gujarat Bania Sabha; the Kshatriyas Mahasabha (Gujarat), Jatav Mahasabha of Agra; etc. These are caste associations which perform the functions of a trade union for its members. On the one hand, this can be viewed as the strength of a caste; on the other, as pointed out by Leach, once a caste becomes a trade union-like organization, it becomes competitive and therefore, it becomes a class group.
  7. Certain aspects of behaviour associated with caste ideology have now almost disappeared in the urban context The rules of commensality have very little meaning in the urban context where one may not know or may ignore the caste identity of one’s neighbours, friends, servants, etc. Though in family and marriage matters, caste is still quite important but other factors such as, education, occupation etc., of the partners are also just as important as caste.The frequency of inter-caste, inter-regional marriages have increased as the young people coming more in contact with each other in urban areas. It is clear that caste is still significant in urban areas, although its functions have changed and become modified.We may say that it has lost some of its earlier rigidities and has become more flexible.
  8. Sylvia Vatuk has shown that there has not been any marked change in the traditional family and kinship system in the urban areas. Neither does the Indian urbanite suddenly become an anonymous, city-bred person who is totally isolated from primary contacts outside the nuclear family. She found that the kinship organization in the old wards (mohalla) of Meerut city in the past and amongst the poorer section of the population in the city even today, follows the same pattern as in the rural districts of this region.The persistence of the similar pattern of kinship organization, as found in the villages, in the older and poorer sections of the city goes to show that there is no sharp cultural discontinuity between the masses of the preindustrial towns and the peasants of the countryside.

Social stratification in Urban India :

  1. Social stratification has taken a new form in the urban society. It is assumed that with urbanization caste transforms itself into class in the urban areas. But caste systems do exist in the cities though with significant organizational differences.
  2. Ramakrishna Mukherjee demonstrates that people in Calcutta rank themselves in terms of caste hierarchy.
  3. Stratification has also taken place on the basis of occupational categories. For example, Harold Goukl points out that the rikshawalas of Lucknow belonging to several religious and caste group’s exhibit uniformity in the pattern of interaction and attitudes in respect to their common occupation.
  4. Again it has been found that caste has not played a significant role in determining the choice of occupation in the urban areas. But it is important to note that both the caste and the class have their respective bases on time and space and have situational focus (Rao).
  5. Cities of India have to be studied in the context of cultural heritage. In the cities many little traditions have been brought in by the migrants and the great traditions have also achieved dimensional change. It has been pointed out that many forms of the great traditions are modified in the modern cities. Milton Singer shows that “the intellectual and ritualistic approaches to God are being discarded in favour of the devotional approach which is more catholic and suited to urban conditions in Madras city. Technological innovations like microphone, cinema automobile etc., are used in promoting religious activities. Religious activities are not on decline in the metropolitan city of Madras but are being modernized”.

Status of Women in Urban India :

  1. Status of women in urban areas is higher than that of women in rural areas. Urban women are comparatively more educated and liberal Against 25.1 per cent literate women in rural areas, there are 54 per cent literate women in urban areas according to the census of 1991.Some of them are working too. Now they are not only aware of their economic social and political rights but they also use these rights to save themselves from being humiliated and exploited The average age of girls at marriage in cities is also higher than the corresponding age in villages.
  2. However, in the labour market, women are still in a disadvantaged situation. The labour market discriminates against women and is opposed to equality of opportunity-understood in a comprehensive sense to include equality of employment, training and promotional opportunities. In this sense, change is not possible in the sex segregated labour market whose structures ensure that the career patterns of women will normally be marked by discontinuity, unlike the normal male career patterns which assume continuity. Because of the constraints of the sex segregated labour market, women tend to cluster in a limited range of occupations, which have low status and are poorly paid Women normally prefer teaching, nursing, social work, secretarial and clerical jobs – all of which have low status and low remuneration. Even those women have surmounted the hurdles to professional education are disadvantaged as they find it difficult to harmonize competing demands of a professional career and home.
  3. Generally speaking, it is difficult for a woman to remain single or to combine marriage with career. Apart from the general expectation that all wives must be housewives, it has been noted that women are called upon to sacrifice their carrier when the need arises, thereby subordinating their own career to that of their husbands. This often creates frustration among women, leading even to psychotic illness in a few cases. Rural women, however, do not have to face such problems.
  4. It has been further found that in the cities of India, high level education among girls is significantly associated with smaller family size. Though education of women has raised the age of marriage and lowered birth rate, it has not brought about any radical change in the traditional pattern of arranged marriages with dowry. Margaret Cormack found in her study of 500 university students that girls were ready to go to college and mix with boys but they wanted their parents to arrange their marriage.Women want new opportunities but demand old securities as welL They enjoy their newly-found freedom but at the same time wish to carry on with old values.
  5. Divorce and remarriage are new phenomena we find among urban women. Today, women take initiative to break their marriages legally if they find adjustment after marriage impossible. In Delhi alone 20 couples file cases every week seeking divorce from their spouses. About 2,000 divorce cases were filed in Delhi courts in five months between January and May 1999 (The Hindustan Times, June 12, 1999). Surprisingly, large number of divorces is sought by women on the grounds of incompatibility and mental torture.
  6. Politically also, urban women are more active today. The number of women contesting elections has increased at every level. They hold important political positions and also possess independent political ideologies. It may, thus, be concluded that while rural women continue to be dependent on men both economically and socially, urban women are comparatively independent and enjoy greater freedom.

Thus, it may be said that though we may accept the views of scholars like Ashis Nandy, who have talked about new aspects of urban social organization which have replaced traditional ties, yet we cannot reject the prevalence of traditional aspects in the functioning of family, caste, kinship and religion in urban settings.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments