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Vadodara: Model City for upper castes

Sanjukta Bhowal

Stalwarts of the BJP regime, typically Savarnas, vouch for the idyllic, model like qualities of the city of Vadodara and its sister cities in the state – Ahmedabad, Surat amongst others. Undeniably it is an idyllic city, but only for UCs who seek the comfort of its refuge. The Prime Minister often claims the state is an archetype for his visions for the country. As a resident for the last 3 years, I can attest it is truly setting a precedent for bigots to follow all over the country.

Vadodara does not often find itself in the news until recently when a singular beneficiary from the Muslim community was allotted a flat under the CM Housing Scheme. It was followed by protests from other residents of the housing society, truly revealing the bigoted fabric of this “idyllic” model city.

This also begs the question why Vadodara is hailed as the perfect post-retirement settlement location amongst educated, corporate going Savarna (typically Gen X). This is the generational bracket that is currently heading public and private institutions in the country- the bracket the entire nation trusts to run it. Why is their faith so unwaveringly entrusted in the ‘comfort’ and ‘peace’ that Vadodara promises? The nature of this peace and comfort is quite see-through and comes at the cost of cleansing minority communities and sweeping them out of their homes. Peace for this cohort of educated Savarnas – who are dispersed everywhere from corporate to liberal arts institutions- essentially means living in a homogenous society of only UCs.

Baroda is home to MSU, which has birthed big names in the art, design, architecture ecosystem of India. But this “prestigious” education is lost in a labyrinth of respectability politics. Neither is it deployed in an attempt to call out the bigotry of the city, it is in fact used to sanctify and legitimise it. Art spaces curated for and by Savarnas are mushrooming in the city, that often tokenize artists from marginalized communities (marginalities that are easily consumable) – like UC queers. This tokenized inclusion in itself is atrociously caste blind, which was evident in the saffronisation of the recently organised pride march at Kamatibaug – it commenced with a prayer to Hindu gods. These tendencies find sanctity and legitimization by the ceremonial royal family of Baroda, the cis-het Savarna matriarch of which is a “champion” of the queer cause. She is dedicated to the protection of the community apparently, which she “proves” beyond scrutiny obviously, by her frequent collaboration with Sushant Digvikar. How uncritical content produced in collaboration with a Savarna queer materially helps the community at large, remains to be answered. A conversation with the staff at the queer run Gazra cafe in Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogyalay will reveal how overworked and underpaid they are.

This cohort of elite liberal Savarnas should take a critical look at their massive failure at calling out the bigotry unfolding in the city and how meaningless it renders their “art” that they so easily encash for cultural and intellectual capital. Their sanitization of spaces, post sweeping of marginalized communities, essentially translates to a murderous crime scene cleansing which is so conspicuous it is shocking if it does not hurt one’s conscience. This counter gaze on Savarnas is meant to pose the question: why are they the only ones entitled to a slow practice of the arts and thereby the elitism and leisure of it, when the rest of the slab of society is toiling away, inequitably doing their labour?

The city that votes Sanghis into power is also home to the deliberately invisibilized Muslim ghettos and a singular Buddha Vihar (Lumbini). The singular statue of Babasaheb at the Ambedkar Chowk and the blue flags hoisted around it are the only element of familiarity in the public aesthetics for the marginalized. They are hardly allowed to mobilise in this largely saffron city that saw massive celebrations for January 22, 2024 – even in secular institutions like public universities- but no holidays for the Buddha Jayanti Vesak nor Eid-ul-Adha.

Students from all over the country, belonging to marginalized communities, who come to study here at the public universities have to fake their identities in order to secure accommodation. This truly reveals what is the idea that an elite liberal Saverna envisions as a utopian city and aims to replicate for the rest of the country.


Sanjukta Bhowal is a 21 years old queer Ambedkarite student of mechanical engineering at Gati Shakti University, Vadodara. 

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