Gated communities coming up in Madurai are drawing the middle class. Gated residential complexes have burgeoned in areas such as P and T Nagar, Iyer Bungalow, Uthangudi, Vilangudi, Avaniapuram and Othakadai.
Residential complexes and commercial establishments are coming up in and around Madurai. A decade ago, suburbia represented the dream spaces of the middle classes where they could invest in plots and build independent houses. But not any longer. People now prefer the “fortified enclaves,” also called the gated communities, for better security, amenities and facilities.
Gated residential complexes have burgeoned in areas such as P and T Nagar, Iyer Bungalow, Uthangudi, Vilangudi, Avaniapuram and Othakadai. Agrini Enclave was the first to come up in Andalpuram. Says the Principal of Madura College, R. Murali, one of the 672 residents, “The construction of this new built-up environment leads to the restructuring of older forms of societal relationships. The newly created enclaves as part of the urbanisation process with an explosion of constructions outside the urban spaces are an issue of real concern. In our enclave, we have made every effort to democratise the space and make it more inclusive.”
Another resident within the enclave, who prefers anonymity, says, “I feel these gated residential developments that restrict public access have resulted in the isolation of the occupants from the local communities. It cannot be denied that the gated communities and other big residential complex occupants have a fragile relationship with the local communities.”
But S. Palaniappan, General Secretary, Agrini Enclave Houses and Flat Owners Association, says, “Facilities such as security, uninterrupted water supply and privacy within the enclave attract house owners from elsewhere in the city.” Mobile hawkers, salespersons and auto rickshaws are not allowed inside the complex. Only a petty shop, milk booth and grocery outlet rented by the association are allowed to function within the gates.
The consumption pattern of these communities is an indication of how the residents’ shopping, leisure, and home life are cut off from the wider community and does not bring economic benefits to the local area. A local shopkeeper says that the residents rarely venture out for day-to-day purchases as their needs are met on site. As a result, local shops in the vicinity do little business. The residents in the big apartments rarely hire an auto, complains auto driver Rajendran.
Vasudhara Enclave, behind the Agrini Enclave, even has an on-site hospital. Palami Enclave on New Natham Road is another elite space where the city’s big traders, jewellers and restaurant owners reside. The business class occupy the row houses and the middle class is concentrated in the flats. M. Natarajan says safety was the prime motivation for him to shift here, besides availability of better facilities.
Surveillance cameras are a regular feature in many of these enclaves. An enclave, nearing completion on New Natham Road with 92 luxury apartments, has plans to fix at least 75 CCTV cameras within the enclave for security considerations.
The use of surveillance cameras, recalls French social theorist Michel Foucault, who said: “Having surveillance systems and their technologies over modern societies is a practice of social control and discipline over its population in all areas of social life.”
He feels the streets and the city, an essential aspect of identity, stand eroded by gated communities. These communities function on the ‘principle of exclusion’ as the residents can access safety and meet other needs by paying money and are independent of the State. They have their own conservancy staff, plumbers, electricians and tank operators.
Many argue that gated communities, being residential areas with restricted access, create a private world that share little with their neighbours or the larger social system. This fragmentation undermines the very concept of citizenship-based community life. It is the upwardly mobile classes that are occupying these exclusive spaces and view them as status symbols.