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This unpublished paper was presented at SARAI ‘CITY ONE’ Conference at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, January 2003.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 Urban Turn

This is a transcript of symposium on urban history held in December 2002 with historians and sociologists Gyan Prakash, Jairus Banaji, Sujata Patel and Rajnarayan Chandavarkar. You can also download the PDF of the transcript.

This symposium was organised by PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action & Research) at the Bombay Paperie, Mumbai. Thanks to Shonali Sarda for transcription and Neeta Premchand for hosting the event.

GYAN PRAKASH is Professor of History at Princeton University, U.S.A. and a member of the Subaltern Studies Editorial Collective. He is the author of Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labour Servitude in Colonial India (Cambridge, 1990), Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton, 1999), and has written several articles and edited several volumes on colonial history and historiography.

JAIRUS BANAJI is a historian and independent scholar based in Mumbai. He worked with unions in Bombay through the eighties, when he published, with Rohini Hensman, Beyond Multinationalism: Management Policy and Bargaining Relationships in International Companies (Delhi: Sage, 1990). His most recent book is Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity: Gold, Labour, and Aristocratic Dominance (Oxford, 2002).

SUJATA PATEL is Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at University of Pune. She is the co-editor, with Alice Thorner, of Bombay: Metaphor for Modern Culture and Bombay: Mosaic of Modern India (both Delhi: Oxford India, 1995), and, with Jim Masselos, of Bombay and Mumbai: The City in Transition (Delhi: Oxford India, 2003).

RAJ CHANDAVARKAR is a historian and is Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge University, U.K., where he is a Fellow of Trinity College. He is the author of The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Class in Bombay 1900-1940 (Cambridge, 1994) and Imperial Power and Popular Politics: Class, Resistance and the State in India 1850-1890 (Cambridge, 1998).

“The Urban Turn” (December 2002)

SHEKHAR KRISHNAN: Welcome everyone, on behalf of PUKAR. The panel discussion at The Bombay Paperie tonight is called “The Urban Turn”, which signifies many different things to many different people. What we wanted to do tonight was to honour the people who are sitting here, four distinguished historians and sociologists who have worked on Bombay in one aspect or the other. Continue reading The Urban Turn

Democratic Politics and Economic Reforms in India

Originally published in Contemporary South Asia, vol.10, no.1, Carfax Publishing, Bradford, U.K., 2000.

Rob Jenkins, Democratic Politics and Economic Reforms in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

For better or for worse, in most countries of the post-Cold War world, a fairly generalised packaging of liberal-democratic state institutions and neoclassical market economics has now achieved hegemony as the prescription of the possible future. A host of international financial and trade institutions, aid agencies, global policy elites, and their state and non-state apparatuses now debate the dynamics of making “transitions” to this model, and the “reforms” necessary to “complete” this effort successfully. Neoliberal ideology constructs this as a universal and ineluctable process, eliding the complex politics of market-oriented reform by trumpeting an ideal notion of democracy, almost entirely emptied of meaning.

This recent book attempts to analyse this contingent, political dimension of the change in India’s development strategy since 1991, examining the commitment of governing elites to market reforms in a long-established democracy. Their commitment is by no means inevitable and irreversible, India’s liberalisation being undertaken in a competitive political system, where powerful interests could pose obstacles to thwart market reforms, unlike other “transitional” societies in Eastern Europe, Africa or Asia. In this, Jenkins intervenes in debates on the relationship between democracy and market liberalisation, arguing for the importance of political incentives, political institutions, and political skills.

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Lexicon of Indian Journalese

LEXICON OF THE CLICHES, BANALITIES AND TRUISMS OF INDIAN JOURNALISM as conceived by Nikhil Rao and Shekhar Krishnan

For a while now, we have been engaged in a great philological project, our very own 21st century Hobson Jobson, as it were: that of compiling a lexicon of the marvellous cliches, truisms, banalities, and other little idiosyncrasies that litter the pages of our Great Indian Newspapers.

Contributions by David Clingingsmith, Aaron York, Eric Beverley, Arvind Rajagopal, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Namita Devidayal, Shailaja Neelakanthan, Anagha Neelakanthan, Rajeev Rao, Avtar Singh, Rohan Sippy, Rohena Gera, Rochona Mazumdar, Paul Beban, Sanjay Bulchandani.

The Lexicon

All text for all news in the English print media in India is essentially generated out of these words. Feel free to add, append, and modify the lexicon and the master paragraph below.

  1. confabulate: to confer. “The party leaders confabulated about the new agreement.”
  2. work out the modalities: sort out the details. “The party leaders confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
  3. supremo: head dude. “The party supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
  4. brigand: bad dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
  5. crack sleuths: smart dudes. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
  6. strongman: big dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
  7. hardened criminals: tough dudes
  8. airdash: to move at other than usual glacial pace. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in.”
  9. beefed up security: more bodies, but not necessarily more security. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security.”
  10. second only to Scotland Yard: usually cited while hailing the work of the Mumbai Police; the subtext is that they’re not anymore
  11. swing into action: to finally stop drinking chai and reluctantly get off your ass.
  12. swoop down upon: “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force, second only to Scotland Yard and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.”
  13. nab: seize
  14. flying squads of nuisance detectors: These are the Mumbai Police’s intrepid stalwarts who have been relentlessly patrolling the city enforcing the B.M.C’s recent ban on plastic bags of less than 20 microns thickness.
  15. abscond: to evade police.
  16. scam: normal conditions of doing business in South Asia.
  17. to the tune of Rs 10 crores: estimated dimensions of scam.
  18. point the finger of suspicion
  19. stung by criticism: react to weary but yet admirably persistent public outrage.
  20. take stock of the situation: to pretend to give a shit.
  21. take umbrage: to give a shit.
  22. take up cudgels on behalf of: to stand up for.
  23. cuddling and fondling: [this, we must admit, we have never seen, but Aaron assures us that he has seen newsprint to the effect of “Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma were seen cuddling and fondling in post-election bliss.”]
  24. fracas, also known as dustup: most often seen in close conjunction with unseemly. often applied to parliament and other herdings of political animals.
  25. inveterate, sometimes confused on sub-editor’s desk with invertebrate so one can find references to ‘invertebrate followers of the political scene.’
  26. the India Today ending, also sometimes the TOI edit page ending, which always takes the form of a rhetorical question, e.g.,
    1. is anyone listening?
    2. have the ends of justice been served, that is the question
    3. only time will tell (that old tattletale)… ad infinitum
  27. the ends of justice scattered all over, especially in the Calcutta journals. where are the beginnings of justice? doesn’t anyone care? is anyone accountable for the beginnings of justice? Is that the question?
  28. Eves and Romeos: young women and men, most often seen together in the context of roadside Romeos being accused of Eve-teasing.
  29. hardcores, ultras and clean shaven culprits associated with the Punjab action and other trouble spots.
  30. hot pursuit: recently-much-in-the-news
  31. the classic epitaph/retirement speech phrase: so and so must receive kudos for having rendered yeoman service to such and such.
  32. prepone
  33. the enigmatically enhanced pressurise
  34. cooling their heels in the lockup

The Ur Paragraph of Indian Journalism

The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s (S.T.F.) crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force (M.P.F.), second only to Scotland Yard (S.Y.) and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.

In other news today, a flying squad of nuisance detectors (F.S.N.D.) managed to nab red-handed three hardened criminals who have been remorselessly violating the ban on plastic bags (B.O.P.B.). Two other associates in the plastic bag scam (P.B.S.) are believed to be absconding in Delhi. Meanwhile, the Bombay Municipal Corporation (B.M.C.), stung by criticisms alleging that it is involved in the scam, has promised to take stock of the situation. The municipal workers union (M.W.U.) has taken umbrage at the allegations and has vowed to take up cudgels on behalf of their comrades in the flying squads. The scam is rumoured to involve sums to the tune of Rs. 10 crores.

Border Security Force (B.S.F.) cadres have been placed on red alert at the latest trouble spot (L.T.S.) on the Indo-Pak border following anti-national activities being engaged in by a band of hardcores. Highly placed sources at South Block (H.P.S.S.B.) point the finger of suspicion (F.O.S.) at a sinister foreign hand (S.F.H.) for sowing discord. Since the leaders of this band of ultras have been cooling their heels in the lockup of late, the most recent anti-social activities are probably intended to pressurize the government into preponing the date of their release. Kudos to our B.S.F. boys for having rendered yeoman service in putting a lid on this situation.

In related news, an unseemly fracas broke out in Parliament today while Members were “debating” the latest border situation. The issue at stake was a recent master plan that has been mooted by doyens of the Indian security establishment and that is intended to quash all manner of anti-social elements operating in backward areas. Inveterate watchers of the political scene shook their collective head in dismay. Will our leaders ever learn to lead? Will the ends of justice be served? Only time will tell.

Phoenix Mills Bowled Over

Originally published in Lawyer’s Collective Magazine, 13 July 2000

The collapse of the Bowling Company in Lower Parel after the storm which lashed the city in the past several days perhaps pales in comparison to the larger human tragedies that took place in other parts of the metropolis this week. However, the potential for a tragedy like the landslide which occurred at Azad Nagar in Ghatkopar should not be overlooked. Luckily the entertainment outlet remained closed on Thursday, but had the bowling alleys and the cafe inside been filled to their normal capacity, hundreds of people could have perished, when the rusted stilts and columns which grounded the century-old structure gave way.

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The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour

Originally published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, Fall 2001.

Jan Breman, Karin Kapadia, Jonathan Parry, eds., The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour (Contributions to Indian Sociology, Occassional Studies 9). New Delhi and London: Sage Publications, 1999.

Marking both a renewal of interest in labour studies and an important disciplinary shift, the publication of this anthology is a significant event. Introduced by Jonathan Parry, the fourteen essays by sociologists, anthropologists and historians in the volume include two “book-ends” introductory and concluding reviews of the respective literatures on the “organised” and “informal” sectors of the industrial economy in India, both by Jan Breman. These chart the shifts in labour studies from the narrow emphasis on the tiny formal sector of the economy — about workers’ “commitment” to the industrial setting, measures of productivity, the social profile of formal sector workers, and trade union strategies — to the much larger and unwieldy “informal” sector of the economy, incredibly neglected by research scholars. While questioning this dualism in the study of economic activity in India, Breman raises questions about the formation and coherence of the working-class or proletariat as an identity and analytical category, the diversity of forms of wage labour and industrial production — from home-based to small workshops to large factories — and the multiplicity of workers’ identities in both formal and informal occupations.

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Mill on the Loss

Originally published as “Mill on the Loss” in the Indian Express Mumbai Newsline, 5 April 2000

The history of Mumbai is a narrative of the struggle over space. The fate of the mill lands of central Mumbai, and its industries and workers, is the latest chapter in this story.

 

The life of any city is not simply tied to its flows of goods, services and capital, but also to its patterns of work, leisure and movement — all of which revolve on the use of space. Throughout Mumbai’s history, claims on land and space have been the narrative thread of the most celebrated and most notorious chapters in our urban history. These range from the legendary reclamations that linked up several marshy outposts and settlements to compose the island city in the eighteenth century, to the disastrous Back Bay Reclamation Scheme in the 1920s. This scheme to fill in the Back Bay earned the name “Lloyd’s Folly”, after the bungling of the then Governor, whose plan ended in failure and infamy because of engineering mistakes, corruption, and the crash in land values during the Great Depression.

The story of the mill lands is a fin-de-sicle echo of this familiar urban theme. The historic textile mills of the city are industrial dinosaurs dotted around the city landscape, whose textile production has been eclipsed in efficiency and profitability by the sweatshop labour employed in powerlooms towns like Bhiwandi. The millowners realised long ago that the lands of the city mill compounds are more valuable than the textiles they produce, and the workers whose livelihoods they have sustained for several generations.

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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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The Metaphor of Middle-Class Scorn

Originally published in Satyam Online, 1 March 2000.

 

In his first few years occupying the Chief Minister’s chair in Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav was found of recalling that, in his father’s village, the local upper-caste leaders would sit in similar thrones, and his father could not dare to come near the Brahmins and sit on a chair like them. That would have signified equality. His father and other backward and lower castes had to approach their caste superiors as humble supplicants, their faces averted and backs hunched, and sit at the feet of the lordly Brahmins.

Laloo’s claim to power, he seemed to be saying, was not just based on the boring details of parliamentary procedure such as the number of votes he or his allies polled. Rather, he incarnated the inversion of the brutal caste and feudal hierarchies of agrarian society, the awakening of the wretched of the earth. His rustic idiom of political expression, the discourse of the masses, was the only language he knew how to speak, and one that he took to the heights of the state, whose all-important symbol was the gaddi of power.

The Symbols and Substance of Power

What he did with this power is another story, one that we all are familiar with. As with the recent Assembly election, the middle-class is always ready to write off Laloo as more symbolism than substance. Our media never tires of representing him and his followers as corrupt and glowering peasants drunk on a power they for some reason seem not to deserve, considering Bihar’s present ills — the massive scandals, caste and class warfare, criminalisation and administrative collapse that have become synonymous with Yadav raj. When several years ago Laloo was hauled off to jail on corruption charges, his wife became an object of similar scorn. She was condescendingly portrayed as a hoodwinked pativratta, running the state from her kitchen, with too many children than is considered decent.

Why this particular hatred and fascination with Laloo, when there are thousands of other equally loud-mouthed and corrupt politicians who are deserving of similar derision? Laloo first came to power standing defiantly alongside his former colleagues in the Janata Dal, all of whom had risen simultaneously with the new politics of lower caste and lower class empowerment, in the legacy of Jayaprakash Narayan’s social justice movement and V.P. Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission reservations. While early in his reign, Laloo provided housing to the masses and made other pro-poor overtures, most importantly through his example showed them that the could control their own destinies.

Democracy and Insubordination

His irreverance is legendary — planting vegetables and grazing cattle in the prim gardens of the Chief  Minister’s official residence, or chomping a huge paan and regally spitting while conducting interviews with posh journalists from Delhi. A new type of politician of the television age, Laloo craved such opportunities, the chance to caricature himself for the camera, as the unreconstructed Other of the mannered and educated classes, the veritable metaphor of Underdevelopment — the oily and uneducated peasant whose spittle just stained your finely starched kurta.

While the middle-class elites would turn away in disgust and fear of this jungli, it is mistaken to see these performances as signs of a villager who could not forget his backward ways — it was a clear message to the poor that their way of life was as powerful and meaningful as that of the elites.

Laloo always knew that he was both the object of fascination of the better-off — because the Other always conceals the repressed desires and anxieties of the Self — as well as their worst nightmare, because his antics reminded the middle-classes of their irrelevance in a democracy where only numbers count, and even the media can’t hide that depressing fact. If Bihar is, according to the recent NDA slogans, a jungle raj, then Laloo styled himself the jungle ka sher.

Jab tak samose mein aloo rahega, tab tak Bihar mein Laloo rahega

It remains to be seen whether Laloo’s brand of insubordination will ever bring a real change to the lives of the poor. It seems not. But last week, Laloo’s staying power was again roundly underestimated by every political formation in the country.

While unlike the aloo in our samosa, one day Laloo might himself go, he and his ilk have had a permanent effect on our democracy, a change that it would be foolish to ignore. Political and social institutions are never neutral. For the powerless, the state is synonymous with the dominance of certain castes and classes whose hegemony are made to seem permanent. When the hierarchies on which this control of institutions are themselves swept away through the logic of popular democracy, their institutions might similarly be shattered. In regions like East UP and Bihar the social order, based on the brutalities of poverty, casteism and landlordism, is being overturned with an equal amount of ferocity and violence, and not a little showmanship

American Grand Strategy

This was an extended two-part series on the relationship of India and the United States, on the eve of the visit of U.S. President Bill Clinton to India in mid-March 2000, published in the erstwhile Satyam Online news service.

The rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was the central geopolitical anatagonism of the half-century that followed the conclusion of World War II, fifty years which also parallel the experience of India’s Independence. And with the collapse of the Soviet and state socialist regimes in the early nineties, India and the world have entered a new geopolitical era, an age whose contours are only becoming clear now.

The Policy of Containment

The guiding strategy of American foreign policy-makers and defence experts throughout the Cold War had been the policy of “containment”, premised on a turn-of-the-century geopolitical theory which had in fact been essayed not in America, but in England, by the strategist Halford Mackinder. Adapted to the Cold War, Mackinder’s famous theory of heartland and rimland states was the essential ingredient in American geopolitical thinking.

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