Gurgaon: When the scorch of summer hit this north Indian boomtown on the outskirts of New Delhi, and the municipal water supply worked only a few hours each day, inside a high-rise tower called Hamilton Court Jaya Chand could turn on her kitchen tap around the clock, and water would gush out. When the electricity went out in the city, which it did on average for 12 hours a day, the Chands' flat screen television glowed, the air conditioners hummed, and the elevators cruised up and down Hamilton Court's 25 floors.
Hamilton Court—complete with a private school within its gates, groomed lawns and security guards—is just one of the exclusive gated communities that have blossomed across India in recent years on the outskirts of prospering, overburdened cities. “A kind of self-contained island,” is how Chand's husband, Ashish, describes Hamilton Court.
The big divide: Poor sanitation in an urban slum. More than a quarter of all Indians still live below the official poverty line. (Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint )
But a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts raises awkward questions for a democratically elected government about whether India can enable all its citizens to scale the ladders of the new economy.
“Things have gotten better for the lucky class,” Chand, 36, said one day, as she fixed lunch in full view of Chakkarpur, the shantytown where one of her two maids lives. “Otherwise, it is still a fight.”
In India, poverty has dropped appreciably in the last 17 years of economic reforms, even as the gulf between the rich and poor has grown. More than a quarter of all Indians still live below the official poverty line (on roughly $1 a day), one in four city dwellers live on less than 50 cents a day, and nearly half of all Indian children are clinically malnourished.
At the same time, the ranks of dollar millionaires have swelled to 100,000.
Gurgaon's skyline is dotted with scaffolds. Glass towers house firms such as American Express and Accenture. Not far from Hamilton Court, Burberry and BMW have set up shop.
Chand, a doctor who decided to stay home to raise her children, trained in a government hospital. Her other maid told her recently that her own daughter had given birth at home, down there in the slum.
Sometimes, Chand said, she thinks of opening a clinic there. But she also said she understood that there was little that she, or anyone, could do. “Two worlds,” she observed, “just across the street.”