From Girangaon to ‘Mini Pakistan’: The Precarious Place of Working Muslims in 20th Century Bombay

Robert Rahman Raman, Junior Research Associate, MWS IBO

My PhD research, on the social and political history of labour in Bombay (now, Mumbai), focuses on the plebeian culture of Girangaon, the so-called ‘village of textile mills.’ Housing a substantial section of workers employed in Bombay mills, along with various other sections of the urban workforce living in various localities marked by region, language, caste and religion, Girangaon developed its own unique history and heterogeneous political culture. This history and political culture of Girangaon embodied a range of diverse socio-political currents within different neighbourhoods that existed side by side. Of these, neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by Muslim migrants from various parts of the subcontinent have not been explored systematically in the existing literature on the city.

The prevailing tendency in both public discourse and scholarly work has been to depict the heterogeneous political culture of Girangaon as essentially Maharashtrian and Hindu. Hence, the diverse and divergent histories of these neighbourhoods have as yet not been analysed on their own terms. More specifically, an understandable but disproportionate historiographical as well as ethnographic focus on the ‘saffronisation’ of Bombay along with the rise of Shiv Sena has resulted in a blinkered view of linguistic and religious minorities of Bombay’s urban milieu. By studying the Muslim workers neighbourhoods like Madanpura, Mominpura, Nagpada or Kamatipura, my research provides a window to an alternative understanding of the diversity and richness of Girangaon’s political culture and the transformations it witnessed during the first half of twentieth century.

The main objective of my research project is to study long-term changes in the identification of Muslim dominated neighbourhoods in Girangaon by its inhabitants as well as others as “Muslim” neighbourhoods and the impact of these precarious ‘placings’ on the social and political landscape of Bombay as a whole.  Specifically, the project explores the transformation of localities in Bombay from “’working-class neighbourhoods” with many Muslim inhabitants in the early decades of twentieth century into “Muslim neighbourhoods” in the years following independence, sheltering many workers. It further looks into how these “working-class neighbourhoods” which in the early decades of the twentieth century were identified as an integral part of Girangaon received the derogatory label of “Mini-Pakistan” to indicate their “alien”, quasi-extraterritorial and “unnatural” character in the years immediately following India’s partition in 1947.

To study this shift, I use Frederick Cooper’s conceptualization of the processes of identification. This allows me to map the shifts emerging in the way the Muslim workers of Girangaon navigated between relational and categorical modes of identification and how in changing situations and contexts they were identified by others (Cooper 2005, Ch. 3). For the study, along with colonial records and private papers, I make extensive use of relevant primary sources in English and other Indian languages that have been largely neglected by historians. These include various newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, biographies and autobiographies produced in Urdu, Marathi, Hindi and English, and housed in libraries like Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya and Awami Idara.

Related Presentations

Paper ‘The General Strike of 1919 and the making of Bombay’s mill District’ at an international conference organised by University of Bombay and University of Leicester titled Exploring the Unexplored: New Perspectives on the History of Mumbai in Satish Pradhan Dnyansadhan College, Thane, India, 5-7 January 2019

Paper ‘The General Strike of 1919 and the making of Bombay’s mill District’ at a summer workshop ‘Epistemes for Conceptualising the Contemporary’, organised by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and South Asian University, Uttarakhand, India 5-12 June 2018

Related Publications

“Civil Disobedience and the City: Congress and the Working classes in Bombay, c.1930-32”, in Prashant Kidambi et al, eds., Bombay before Mumbai: Essays in Honour of Jim Masselos, Hurst & Company, London, 2019