Category Archives: essays

Bombay Between the Wars: Politics, Information & Institutions in Late Colonial India

This is a proposal and summary of my ongoing research project on Bombay City between the two world wars, a future sequel to my current book manuscript on colonial Bombay, called Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay.

Bombay Between the Wars is a social history of urban politics, information and institutions in late colonial Bombay City, from the years before World War I until the outbreak of World War II. Through this study, I seek to understand the transformation of colonial rule and urban governance in the inter-war period, using the city as a window into networks of people, ideas and power in South Asia in the final decades of British rule.

In this period, India’s commercial capital witnessed rapid social and technological change, with the rise of mass politics, state formation and the development of civic and local institutions which have remained under-investigated. My specific focus in the proposed study will be on two city agencies – the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) – whose records and archives were until very recently inaccessible to scholars and especially historians.

New scholarship on the cities of modern India has challenged the premises of earlier studies of colonial nationalism and urbanism, demonstrating that British power was often most insecure in its urban seats of command and control in its port cities and capitals. By the turn of the twentieth century, the expansion of trade, transportation and communications networks, the growth of factory industry, and large-scale inward migration rendered porous the boundaries between cantonments and native towns, factories and neighbourhoods. Urban society and politics were the contested outcome of the interplay between colonial power, subaltern resistance, and an emerging mass politics of nationalism.

In stages between 1919 and 1935, administrative reforms and political devolution transferred control of urban governance in cities like Bombay to local institutions run by Indians, while an anxious colonial state reoriented its priorities to security and surveillance of nationalists and anti-colonial revolutionaries. These parallel developments – of localisation of provincial and urban administration and centralisation of imperial security and defence – define the field of my proposed study into the urban and local history of late colonial Bombay between the wars.

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Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay

This is a summary and chapter outline of my first book manuscript, based on my doctoral dissertation research in the Program in Science Technology & Society (STS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) submitted in late 2013 and developed as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore (NUS), 2016-17.

Empire’s Metropolis: Money, Time & Space in Colonial Bombay is a social history of technology and urbanisation in the “commercial capital” of modern India. It spans the period from Bombay’s first boom and bust during the American Civil War – when the city emerged as a gateway for the global cotton trade – to its rise into one of Asia’s largest industrial centres following World War I.

The principal sources for this historical study are newly opened municipal archives and private papers that chronicle the growth of the colonial port city from the 1860s to 1920s. Six interlocking themes and periods are explored in chronological chapters on the history of share trading and merchant banking; railway, shipping and telegraph infrastructures; urban land acquisition and valuation; clocks and time-keeping; cadastral surveying and property rights; and the place of street networks in the city’s built environment.

Modern Bombay developed within and against empire. Imperial hegemony was often most insecure in this metropolitan seat of command and control, even as external trade and factory industry fuelled the city’s rapid expansion. Attempts to impose modern practices of commodity exchange, standard time, market value and private property were neither taken for granted, nor simply resisted or rejected. Neither “urbanisation” nor “industrialisation” unfolded smoothly, as elite strategies and mass struggles over finance, labour and land shaped the paths of technological and social change.

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Not Just Bose, but Bombay Too

Published as “Not Just Bose, Bombay Too” in Mumbai Mirror, Cover Story, Sunday 19 April 2015.

Nehru and Patel’s Government not only authorised snooping on the extended family of Subhash Chandra Bose well after Independence, but many other ex-Indian National Army (INA) veterans, including prominent Mumbaikars who served as Union and State ministers.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, ex-Chief of Staff of Bose’s Indian National Army and later Union Minister for Rehabilitation (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)

Jagannath Rao K. Bhosale and S.A. Ayer together led the Bombay branch of the Indian National Army (INA) Relief & Enquiry (R&E) Committee established in 1946 at Congress House with Sardar Vallabhai Patel as its chair and patron. Remembered for his work with displaced Partition refugees and returning WWII veterans – and the road named for him in the sixties at Mantralaya – Bhosale was Netaji’s Chief of Staff in the INA, and served as Deputy Union Minister for Rehabilitation in Nehru’s cabinet from 1952.

Ayer was the Director of Information of the Government of Bombay from September 1946 until 1951, when he joined the Censor Board. A Bombay journalist since 1918, and the first Indian to head Reuters and Associated Press India, Ayer was a correspondent in Bangkok at the outbreak of WWII. He soon became a close associate of Bose and in October 1943 was appointed as both Propaganda Minister and member of the War Council of Netaji’s Azad Hind Sarkar.

S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose's Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay
S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose’s Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay

After the fall of British Singapore in 1942, almost 50,000 Indians became prisoners of war (POW), and of these around 25,000 had joined the INA – soldiers who served the Azad Hind Fauj or civilians in Azad Hind Sarkar based in the Andamans. By the end of WWII in August 1945, the drop of atomic bombs, Japan’s immediate surrender, and the mysterious death of Subhash Chandra Bose a few days later, his myth had reached its peak just as the Allies (and ex-colonisers) deployed the tired and near-mutinous Indian Army to re-occupy the arc of territory under Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC), derisively known as “Save England’s Asian Colonies”.

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सुभाषबाबूंसोबतचे मुंबईकर साथी | शेखर कृष्णन

Marathi translation of Not Just Bose, But Bombay Too by Avadhoot. Originally published as the cover story in  Mumbai Mirror, Sunday 19 April 2015.

नेहरू आणि पटेल यांच्या सरकारने स्वातंत्र्यानंतरही सुभाषचंद्र बोस यांच्या एकत्रित कुटुंबावरती पाळत ठेवायच्याच सूचना केल्या होत्या असे नव्हे, तर आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये (इंडियन नॅशनल आर्मीआयएनए) सामील झालेल्यांपैकी अनेक माजी सैन्याधिकारी व नेत्यांवर पाळत ठेवण्याचे आदेश देण्यात आले होते. केंद्रीय व राज्य पातळीवर मंत्री म्हणून काम केलेल्या काही मान्यवर मुंबईकर व्यक्तिमत्त्वांचाही यात समावेश होता.

 

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Jagannath Rao Bhosale, ex-Chief of Staff of Bose’s Indian National Army and later Union Minister for Rehabilitation (Bombay Chronicle, May 1946)जवाहरलाल नेहरू व बोस यांच्या आझाद हिंद सेनेचे ‘चीफ ऑफ स्टाफ’ आणि नंतर केंद्रीय पुनर्वसन मंत्री झालेले जनरल जगन्नाथराव भोसले. (बॉम्बे क्रॉनिकल, मे १९४६) 

काँग्रेस भवनामध्ये १९४६ साली स्थापन झालेल्या आझाद हिंद सेना दिलासा व चौकशी समितीच्या (रिलीफ अँड इन्क्वायरी कमिटी) मुंबई शाखेचे नेतृत्त्व जगन्नाथराव के. भोसले आणि एस. . अय्यर यांनी केले. सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल हे या समितीचे अध्यक्ष आणि पुरस्कर्ते होते. फाळणी काळातील निर्वासित आणि दुसऱ्या महायुद्धातून परतलेले सैनिक यांच्यासंबंधी केलेल्या कामासाठी भोसले ओळखले जातात आणि त्यांच्या स्मृती जागवण्यासाठी मंत्रालयाजवळच्या एका रस्त्यालाही त्यांचे नाव देण्यात आले. आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये भोसले हे नेताजींचे ‘चीफ ऑफ स्टाफ’ होते आणि १९५२ पासून त्यांनी नेहरूंच्या मंत्रिमंडळात पुनर्वसनाचे केंद्रीय उपमंत्री म्हणून काम पाहिले.

अय्यर हे सप्टेंबर १९४६पासून १९५१पर्यंत मुंबई सरकारचे माहिती संचालक होते. त्यानंतर ते सेन्सॉर मंडळाचे सदस्यही झाले. मुंबईत १९१८सालापासून पत्रकारितेत कार्यरत असलेले आणि ‘रॉयटर्स’ व ‘असोसिएट प्रेस इंडिया’ या वृत्तसंस्थांचे पहिले भारतीय अध्यक्ष राहिलेल्या अय्यर यांनी दुसऱ्या महायुद्धाच्या काळात बँकॉकहून युद्धाचे वार्तांकन केले होते. त्याच काळात ते बोस यांचे जवळचे सहकारी बनले आणि ऑक्टोबर १९४३मध्ये नेताजींच्या ‘आझाद हिंद सरकार’चे प्रचार मंत्री व युद्ध मंडळाचे सदस्य म्हणून त्यांची नेमणूक झाली.

S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose's Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombay
S.A. Ayer, Propaganda Minister of Bose’s Provisional Govt of Free India, and later Publicity Minister of the Govt of Bombayएस. ए. अय्यर. बोस यांच्या हंगामी आझाद हिंद सरकारमधील प्रचार मंत्री व नंतर मुंबई सरकारमध्ये प्रसिद्धी मंत्री म्हणून काम. 

ब्रिटिशांच्या सत्तेखालील सिंगापूरचा १९४२मध्ये पाडाव झाल्यानंतर सुमारे ५० हजार भारतीय युद्धकैदी बनले आणि त्यापैकी सुमारे २५ हजार सैनिक आझाद हिंद सेनेमध्ये दाखल झाले होते. त्यातील काहींना आझाद हिंद सेनेत सैनिक म्हणून काम केले तर काहींनी अंदमानस्थित आझाद हिंद सरकारमध्ये नागरी सेवेत योगदान दिले. ऑगस्ट १९४५मध्ये दुसरे महायुद्ध संपत आले असताना अणुबॉम्बच्या हल्ल्यामुळे जपानने तत्काळ शरणागती पत्करली आणि त्यानंतर काही दिवसांनी सुभाषचंद्र बोस यांचा गूढ मृत्यू झाला. त्या दरम्यान थकलेल्या व बंडखोरीच्या उंबरठ्यावर असलेल्या भारतीय सैन्याला मित्र राष्ट्रांनी (व तत्कालीन वसाहतवाद्यांनी) माउंटबॅटनच्या अखत्यारितील आग्नेय आशियाई प्रदेशावर पुन्हा ताबा मिळवण्यासाठी धाडले; या मोहिमेला ‘इंग्लंडच्या आशियाई वसाहती बचाव’ असे अपमानास्पद नाव देण्यात आले.

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Who Sank my Mothership?

Experts, journalists, and film-makers are seeing motherships everywhere.

In an interview today on Here and Now with Bob Baer, former CIA analyst for the Middle East, he just let drop the terrifying scenario of a jihadi mothership docking in Baltimore Harbor and launching commando attacks from a swarm of dinghies, in imitation of the attacks in Mumbai two weeks ago. Not surprisingly, the film Syriana was adapted from Baer’s intelligence memoirs.

In the weeks before the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, a Saudi oil tanker was hijacked off the Horn of Africa. In a direct action against Somali pirates menacing the high seas, on 19 November the Indian Navy sunk what was called a “pirate mothership” in the Gulf of Aden, in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa. This seemed to many Indians a swift and effective strike in the subcontinent’s own maritime near-abroad, the western Indian Ocean. Continue reading Who Sank my Mothership?

The City as Extracurricular Space: Re-Instituting Urban Pedagogy in South Asia

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Mumbai Metro RegionThis journal article, co-authored with Anirudh Paul and Prasad Shetty, was published in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, London), Vol.6, No.3, 2005, in a special issue on South Asia edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha. The original essay originated in a presentations given by myself and Anirudh Paul at the 2004 Annual Conference of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society (IACS) in Bangalore and in the work of the Design Cell of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA) and CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust) in Mumbai from 2000-2004.

ABSTRACT

This paper addresses the pedagogic and disciplinary challenges posed by the effort to understand urban spatial practices and institutional histories in Bombay/Mumbai, and other postcolonial South Asian cities. Many cities in the region, such as Chandigarh and Dhaka were designed as iconic of the abstract space of the nation-state.

The dominance of the nationalist spatial imagination in the understandings of public space, citizenship, and the metropolitan environment – combined with the functionalist perception of architecture and spatial practice – have resulted in an urban pedagogy that regards the city only as a technological or physical artefact. Architectural education and urban pedagogy is therefore unable to address the diversity of social-spatial formations in the city, and its political regime of predatory development, tactical negotiation, and blurry urbanism. To better understand this new regime, we require a collaborative urbanism that treats the city as an extra-curricular space by which we can reconstruct existing institutional frameworks.

Drawing on the work of CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust), Mumbai, this papers explores the post-industrial landscapes of the Mumbai Mill and Port Lands as a case study in two extracurricular research projects, which grew into urban design and community planning interventions in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where urban spaces became the arena for re-imagining the relations between knowledge production, institutional boundaries, and civic activism on which nationalism has imposed a long estrangement.

The Spaces of Post-Industrial Mumbai

This unpublished paper was presented at SARAI ‘CITY ONE’ Conference at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, January 2003. It records the findings of the Post-Industrial Landscapes Project which I directed at PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action & Research), 2000-2003.

Deindustrialisation?

The pivotal role that cities have played in the global shift in the dominant sectors of production from large-scale, mass manufacture of durable commodities to the provision of producer services like finance, banking, and information is by now well-established. Like many other globalising cities in the North and South, Mumbai in the nineties has witnessed a number of other dramatic transformations associated with the processes of globalisation.

These include the world-wide integration of finance and capital markets; the increasing importance of the sphere of consumption to public culture and politics; the percolation of new technologies of information and communication through computer networks, reorganising the space and time of social life and production; the decentralisation and informalisation of economic activity; and the erosion of the authority of centralised state bureaucracies and governments to regulate and control social life and production within their national territories. This set of processes are overlapping and historically contingent, and take different forms in different places.

landuse

Over the past decade in Mumbai, a debate on the changing industrial landscape of the city has been articulated by trade unionists and activists, journalists and scholars, architects, urban planners and designers, and the business and policy-making community. This emerging discourse on the city has many been voiced around many inter-connected concerns — the shrinkage and closure of manufacturing industries in the city and suburbs; the “informalisation” of manufacturing production, and the increasing exploitation of migrant labourers, women and children in this new work regime of casual and contract labour, undermining the employment base and solidarity of the old working classes; the notorious instances of high-income gentrification in former working-class neighbourhoods and industrial districts like the Mill Lands (1); as well as the fears of the “death” of the city with the flight of its industries, its declining quality of life, environmental degradation and overburdened infrastructure, and its questionable prospects for future economic growth (2).

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The Murder of Phoenix Mills

This long essay is a study of the closure and redevelopment of the Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel, Mumbai, conducted from September 1999 to March 2000. Click here to download the original booklet (PDF) published by the Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti (GKSS), Girangaon Bachao Andolan and Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana in April 2000 in Mumbai. Since the tragedies at Elphinstone and Kamala Mills in 2017, the full text and booklet is re-published below with minor revisions and colour photography from 1998-99.

The Murder of the Mills: A Case Study of Phoenix Mills

1. Introduction
2. The Murder of Phoenix Mills
3. Ghosts of Girangaon
4. Redeveloping Mumbai
5. Leisure and Labour
6. Conclusion

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Workers’ Rights and Labour Law

Click here to download PDF of Workers Rights and Labour Law (India Centre for Human Rights & Law, 1999).

Workers Rights and Labour Law: A Backgrounder for the Workshop on Labour was compiled and edited with the help of Jairus Banaji and the Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC) in Mumbai in 1999. It was published for the National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and the Law held at Panchagani, Maharashtra in December 1999 by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai.

“Analytics of Caste Power in Modern India: Discourse, Antagonism & Hegemony”

Dr B.R. Ambedkar, portrait in the Samyukta Maharashtra Museum, Shivaji Park
Dr B.R. Ambedkar, portrait in the Samyukta Maharashtra Museum, Shivaji Park, Dadar, Mumbai

This is my unpublished M.A. thesis, submitted in 1999 to the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where it was awarded a distinction.

You can download the full PDF for offline reading. Please note that this work is not for citation without my permission via email.

Abstract

This essay argues for an analytics of caste power in modern India through an argument of the indeterminacy and fuzziness of its practice, symbolic forms, and modes of articulation in the discourses on caste offered by the synthetic theory of Louis Dumont; ethnographies of the dominant caste and king; and in the discourse of colonial governmentality.

Secondly, this essay makes an intervention in the analysis of subalternity, showing that the lower-caste domain is constitutive of the hegemonic order of caste society by making present the negativity that inheres in the caste order and provides a ground for its criticism and transformation. In this regard, it describes the emergence of social antagonisms in the anti-caste polemics of modern non-Brahman ideologues, with analyses of the particular discourses of Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Kancha Ilaiah, arguing for an understanding of antagonisms as constitutive of the social in the plastic political world of modernity.

Finally, this essay addresses the egalitarian imaginary of modern politics, its introduction in Indian society through nationalist politics, and the generalisation of this form of politics in the postcolonial era through the proliferation of caste antagonisms and the practices of hegemonic articulation in contemporary democracy.

Throughout, there is a consistent theoretical concern with abandoning essentialist conceptions of the unitary subject agent and the sutured social totality, and with presenting the symbolic and discursive construction of subject positions and social relations, affirming the open, politically negotiable character of the social.

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