In the late 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through the ports of the British Empire in Asia, dramatising the vulnerability of imperial power in its urban centres of command and control. Colonial cities like Calcutta and Bombay served as gateways to regional and global flows of people, money and machines, centralised and accelerated by networks of steam, rail and electricity. Freedom to trade and the rule of law underpinned both business and politics. Within these cities, power was shared and contested between colonial rulers, Indian elites and urban populations.
My presentation explores the social and spatial restructuring of early 20th century Bombay in the wake of the plague epidemic, through a study of the construction of Sandhurst Road, an east-west arterial avenue. Since 1955 known as Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg, Sandhurst Road was named after the British Governor of Bombay Presidency who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896 by establishing the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) to “clean up” the city.
आशियातील ब्रिटिश साम्राज्याच्या बंदरांवर १८९०च्या दशकाच्या अखेरीला गाठीच्या प्लेगाची साथ पसरली. यामुळं साम्राज्यवादी सत्तेचं प्रभुत्व व नियंत्रण असलेल्या नागरी केंद्रांमधील असुरक्षिततेला नाट्यमय वळण मिळालं. कलकत्ता व मुंबई यांसारखी वासाहतिक शहरं प्रादेशिक व जागतिक पातळीवर लोक, पैसा व यंत्रं यांच्या दळणवळणाची प्रवेशद्वारं होती. वाफेची इंजिनं, रेल्वे आणि वीज यांच्या जाळ्यातून या शहरांचं केंद्रीकरण झालं होतं व त्यांना चालनाही मिळत होती. व्यवसाय आणि राजकारण या दोन्हींचा अंतःप्रवाह व्यापाराचं स्वातंत्र्य व कायद्याचं राज्य असा होता. या शहरांमध्ये वासाहतिक सत्ताधारी, भारतीय उच्चभ्रू आणि नागरी जनता यांच्यात सत्तेचं वाटप झालेलं होतं आणि सत्तासंघर्षही त्यांच्यातच होत असे.
प्लेगच्या साथीमुळं विसाव्या शतकातील मुंबईमध्ये सामाजिकदृष्ट्या व स्थलावकाशदृष्ट्या कोणते बदल झाले याचा शोध घेण्याचा प्रयत्न माझ्या सादरीकरणात केलेला आहे. पूर्व व पश्चिम भागांना जोडणाऱ्या सँडहर्स्ट रस्त्याच्या बांधणीसंदर्भात हा अभ्यास केलेला आहे. १९५५ सालापासून ‘सरदार वल्लभभाई पटेल (एसव्हीपी) मार्ग’ या नावानं ओळखल्या जाणाऱ्या या रस्त्याचं आधीचं नाव मुंबई प्रांताचा ब्रिटिश गव्हर्नर सँडहर्स्ट याच्यावरून ठेवलेलं होतं. १८९६ साली पश्चिम भारतातील गाठीच्या प्लेगची साथ निवारण्यासाठी ‘बॉम्बे इम्प्रूव्हमेन्ट ट्रस्ट’ (बीआयटी) या संस्थेची स्थापना याच सँडहर्स्ट यांनी केली.
In the late 1890s, an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through the ports of the British Empire in Asia, dramatising the vulnerability of imperial power in its urban centres of command and control. Colonial cities like Singapore and Bombay served as gateways to regional and global flows of people, money and machines, centralised and accelerated by networks of steam, rail and electricity. Freedom to trade and the rule of law underpinned both business and politics. Within these urban centres, power was shared and contested between colonial rulers, Indian elites and urban populations.
My presentation explores the social and spatial restucturing of early 20th century Bombay in the wake of the plague epidemic. In 1898, the British colonial state established the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) to “clean up” the city, equipped with draconian powers of compulsory acquisition and land clearance to demolish slums, erect new buildings and build broad boulevards. Within a decade, the BIT emerged as the single largest land-owner in colonial Bombay by seizing and plotting vast tracts into new planning “schemes” – though not without costly legal and technical challenges to its eminent domain from landlords and tenants, temples and mosques, and owners of shops, theatres and quarries.
Arbitrated through Victorian ideas of “market value” and techniques of measurement and valuation in colonial courts, urban environments once valued through overlapping chains of title and use were now awarded hypothetical cash values, driving speculation and generalising a new logic and political economy in colonial Bombay. I will examine this transformation in the urban land market through tribunals and court cases fought against the BIT by Indian claimants, appeals against acquisition and for higher compensation which often dragged on for years. These lengthy arguments and novel interpretations of Anglo-Indian land and property law continue to shape urbanisation in the cities of post-colonial South Asia.
The completion of global networks of railways, telegraphs and steamships across British India and globally in the 1870-1880s made possible the coordination of time signals across these lines of communication and transport, as observatories electrically transmitted the precise longitudinal time simultaneously from cities such as Madras and Bombay to their expanding territorial and maritime frontiers. However, the proposal to standardise time-keeping in cities confronted a multitude of visible and audible temporal signs in the urban environment – public clocks, factory sirens, office shifts, railway timetables, sunlight and sunset – as well as across the vast subcontinent, where local solar times varied by more than an hour between Calcutta in the east and Karachi in the west.
Despite repeated attempts to secure uniformity by colonial scientists and the state, a patchwork of temporal standards in colonial India resulted from rivalries between scientists, port, railway and municipal authorities, and persistent defiance of these standards by religious and civic leaders, traders, and the urban public. “Railway Time” or “Mean Time” on the longitude of the Madras Observatory – fixed on the completion of the trans-continental railway link with Bombay in the 1870s – encountered stiff public resistance in Bombay, for whom the new standard was more than 30 minutes ahead of local solar time, or “Bombay Time”, and was hastily withdrawn.
The introduction of “Indian Standard Time” (IST) amidst Lokmanya Tilak’s arrest and trial and the “Swadeshi” agitations in 1905-06 prompted further protest, from the stoning of public clock-towers to strikes by office employees and factory workers, as the state attempted to “turn back the clock” by more than half an hour. Thereafter, “Bombay Time” was observed in the city as an insignia of native difference and everyday resistance, as the “annihilation of space by time” was reversed in the spatial arenas of urban temporality. For Indian workers and office employees, “Bombay Time” could turn up later at work; native bankers and brokers could remain open for trading later than European commercial banks; and local philanthropists and municipal leaders sponsored public clocks at variance with official IST.