It's a little past midnight, and a lonely parcel of farmland not far from the new international airport in Bangalore, India, is soaking up a gentle rain. At the center of the lot is a house surrounded by a low stone wall. There's a hole in the roof and a bushel of ginger drying under an awning. Large block letters painted on the wall read: this property belongs to chhabria janwani. Inside, eight men—two armed with shotguns—confer in hushed voices as they peer out the windows. Is it safe for them to go to sleep, or should they stand watch another few hours? A guard wearing a dirty work shirt is the first to notice signs of trouble. In the distance, flashlight beams sweep the roadway. The lights advance, accompanied by a chorus of voices. Then the sound of people scrambling over the wall. One of the guards makes a break for the gate, sprinting toward a police station a mile away. Before the others can do much more than scramble to their feet, 20 attackers brandishing swords and knives emerge from the shadows. Some carry buckets of blue paint. It takes them only a minute to overrun the building. Three guards who stood their ground lie bleeding on the floor. The others surrender.
Firmly in control, the marauders shift gears. They pull out rollers and slather paint over Chhabria Janwani's claim to the land. By the time a police jeep pulls up, the sign is only a memory. The attackers have achieved their goal. Thanks to the convoluted rules surrounding land ownership, the removal of Janwani's lettering throws his claim into question. The dispute is no longer just a criminal matter of a gang of outlaws taking over a piece of ground; now it's a civil issue that will have to be mediated in the courts. This kind of legal battle, with its near-endless appeal process, could easily last 15 years. If Janwani hopes to develop or sell the parcel during that time, he'd be better off just letting his assailants have the property in exchange for a fraction of its value.
Bangalore, the fifth-most populous city in India, is the tech outsourcing capital of the world. In the past decade, more than 500 multinational corporations have established office parks, call centers, and luxury hotels here. The arrival of US companies like Adobe, Dell, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Yahoo, along with the emergence of homegrown outfits like Infosys and Wipro, has transformed this sleepy outpost into a premier showcase of globalism. Bangalore accounted for more than a third of India's $34 billion IT export market in 2007. Upscale commercial spaces like UB Tower, modeled after the Empire State Building, and first-rate educational institutions like the Indian Institute of Science set the standard for what India could become.
But there's a dark side to Bangalore's rocket ride. City officials—at least those who aren't taking bribes—struggle to reconcile the gleaming promise of the information economy with the gritty reality of systemic corruption, a Byzantine justice system, and a criminal underworld more than willing to maim and murder its way into control of the city's real estate market. As tech companies gobble up acreage, demand has pushed prices into the stratosphere. In 2001, office space near the center of town sold for $1 a square foot. Now it can go for $400 a square foot. Janwani bought his 6-acre plot in 1992 for $13,000. Today, even undeveloped, it's worth $3 million.
[read the rest of this piece on Wired here]