B’luru, exemplar of diversity

General election 2019 is upon us and brings with it a shrill political discourse of a narrow binary between monoculturism and inclusion. From the perspective of our founding fathers, this represents the closing of the great Indian mind. This piece is about Bengaluru, a global city that celebrates diversity and presents a counter culture for the future of the idea of India.

A global city breaks down cultural stereotypes and narrow nationalist categories that are so limiting to culture, creativity, and communication. The defining feature of Bengaluru is the rapid pace at which the social and cultural forces drive and are driven by the migration of knowledge. This raises important questions: How do individual or group identities in urban settings shape the migration of knowledge? and how are they themselves shaped by the migration of the knowledge that accompanies them? Globalisation is changing the hitherto held notions of citizenship; challenging the concept of national sovereignty; eroding the territoriality principle; and signalling the end of monocultural societies.

This is not too distant a future for India. Though ethnographic studies are few, there is evidence that the metropolis of Bengaluru epitomises cultural pluralism of a unique kind — one that has grown out of many causes and several crossings — knowledge being the force multiplier of its cultural pluralism. Bengaluru also represents a global process at work: of international migration being the natural corollary to the transnational movement of capital and goods.

The city represents to the residents as well as to the world the striving for relative independence from the pressures of allegiance to the State, to a nationalist limitation, and a monochromatic culture. As a rising knowledge capital Bengaluru has given rise to a new class — the global citizen, unfettered by national boundaries and transforming the way in which social and cultural relations are conducted. Communication, cross-cultural encounters, and diffusion are playing a vital role in the construction of knowledge, and in turn, shaping identity and belonging in Bengaluru. Knowledge and not socio-cultural classes are pivotal to the workings of the city.

Urbanisation and the urban chaos that is unfolding in city after city in India is a crisis that needs urgent attention. While in many other metropolises, nationals might yet see migrants as ‘the other’ and thus differently entitled, Bengaluru has historically witnessed an unstoppable process at work, by which citizenship as the basis for access to social, cultural, and economic entitlements has for long been challenged. It has built on its eclectic cultural past, and seems less a colonial city than a self-produced centre of knowledge, asserting new scientific and unsentimental values that appear rational and progressive.

In Bengaluru, the citizen and the resident, the local and the migrant are unified as knowledge workers. Bengaluru is today a live symbol of ‘knowledge as the underlying principle of cultural pluralism’ that binds its residents together. Belonging to Bengaluru — living and working in the metropolis — is an idea that embraces both identity and space as one’s own, in which a shared culture is lived, produced and experienced. 

Bengaluru, as an urban agglomeration, defies the conventional logic underlining the dominant discourse of a hierarchy of cities that play a command and control role in the process of globalisation. Nor is it at the commanded and controlled end of such global circuits. Indeed, Bengaluru does not fit into the conventional, but varied narratives of the most important cities of capitalist accumulation; of cities that are large but do not necessarily dominate the process of globalisation; or even as part of the global economy predominantly comprising of those components of industries which are operating across borders. Simply put, the path of cultural pluralism that Bengaluru is progressing on is a historical process driven by knowledge.

In the context of the debate on nationalism and inclusive societies that dominates the election 2019, Bengaluru presents an interesting case study to understand how the dynamics of diversity — ethnicity, religion, language — were organically written into the city’s growth. How this enabled the locals and the migrants to convert the knowledge they had or brought with them into usable cultural capital in new social, economic and cultural contexts, thus constructing a progressive, modern and multicultural city, should serve as an exemplar for the country in these trying times.

A key question will be the role of the State as a barrier to or an enabler of cultural pluralism; and how the residents -- local and migrant alike — responded to the challenges of writing cultural integration into their city’s history, thus standing alone, and contradicting the myth of national homogeneity. It is time to recognise how a city speaks in a language designed to belong to the world and no particular country — the language of knowledge — and that the driving force of the city is its transcendental values that are universal to all peoples. If we do, we might yet steer India on the path of knowledge as the basis for inclusive cities.

(The writer is Director, Public Affairs Centre, Bengaluru)

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B’luru, exemplar of diversity

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