All posts by shekhar

Geographies of Resistance: Urban Housing in Mumbai

Presented at the Roundtable on Asian Cities and Cultural Change at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, July 2005.

The past twenty years have witnessed the decisive end of attempts at state-centred urban planning in Mumbai. The post-Independence Development Plan, which has guided land, housing, and economic growth since the sixties, has been displaced in favour of piecemeal investments in infrastructure and transport, and housing and slum rehabilitation by the state, with increased participation from private builders and agencies.

With the retreat of the state from its ambitious agendas of rational land-use, equitable distribution of services and resources, and protection of the environment, the instruments of abstract spatial planning used by the state have withered and mutated into new urban forms marked by severe exclusions and enclosures. Classical urban planning practice was historically premised on the segregation of the functions of modern urban life into residential, commercial/industrial, and public spheres, and their centralised location governed by state directives.

However, Asian cities have constantly demonstrate the falsity of this separation of functions — with their vast districts of dense, mixed-use settlements governed by porous legalities, popular politics, and tactical negotiations over space and survival. This vast and complex economy has been inadequately imagined as the Third World ‘slum’ or theorised as the ‘informal economy’. With the retreat of the state, centralised planning practice and its technocratic spatial imagination has been appropriated into a new spatial regime in which a predatory class of private builders dominates the production of formal housing for a minority of the rich, amidst rising inequality in access to housing and basic services for the majority of the urban poor in Mumbai [1].

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The Hidden History of Hutatma Chowk

Hutatma Chowk Martyrs' Memorial and Flora Fountain
Hutatma Chowk Martyrs’ Memorial and Flora Fountain

Heritage architects have complained for years that the Soviet-style concrete statue next to the Flora Fountain ruins the visual sweep of the Fort’s colonial facades and streetscape. But did you ever wonder what this monument is supposed to commemorate? Fifty years ago this year, the struggle for Samyukta Maharashtra spilled onto the streets of the city formerly known as Bombay.

This socialist realist sculpture was later erected as a martyrs’ memorial to Marathi nationalism — the Hutatma Chowk — marking the 105 people who died in protests against Nehru’s plan to make Bombay into a City State after Independence. Like with the Shivaji statue opposite the Gateway of India, the statue at Hutatma Chowk was intentionally placed to ruin a view of a famous colonial landmark, and reorient the symbolic geography of the city.

The battle for Mumbai heated up when the States Reorganisation Committee report, published in 1955, recommended statehood for Telugus in Andhra Pradesh, in the old princely state of the Nizam of Hyderabad. But the same report proposed the erstwhile Bombay State either be a bi-lingual Marathi-Gujarati unit with Bombay as its capital, or that Bombay be made an Union Territory, separate from the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

These proposals stirred a popular outcry against the denial of a Marathi state without Bombay, and a coalition of anti-Congress activists and political parties united in the demand for Mumbai to be the capital of a united Maharashtra — from Socialists, Communists and trade unions to the Marathi press, literati and workers across the city. After popular unrest and street violence, the Centre capitulated, and made Mumbai into the capital of the new state of Maharashtra on 1 May 1960.

It is no coincidence that Maharashtra Diwas is also May Day, the annual holiday when working-class solidarity is celebrated throughout the world. Samyukta Maharashtra was important because the demand for linguistic statehood was in Mumbai combined with a popular movement against rigid class hierarchies in an industrial city dominated by big business interests.

Flora Fountain in the 1950s, from the collection of Francis Pritchett
Flora Fountain in the 1950s, from the collection of Francis Pritchett, Columbia University

In the years before and after Independence, city politics was a conducted in back-room deals between the Congress Party cronies and fat-cat industrialists — the Parsi, Gujarati and Marwari sheths and sahebs of the popular imagination. It was this corrupt party machinery, identified with S.K. Patil and the party bosses, that was targeted by the Samyukta Maharashtra movement as unrepresentative, and not in keeping with the new order of things in independent India, where common people should participate in governance.

While today we identify the official changing of the name of the city from Bombay to Mumbai with the Shiv Sena in 1995, it was a generation earlier, during Samyuka Maharashtra, that “Mumbai” was first extensively used in the public sphere to signify a city different from “Bombay”. For Acharya Atre, S.A. Dange, and Prabodhakar Thackeray (father of Balasaheb) — the leaders of Samyukta Maharashtra — Mumbai was to be a working-class city with better employment opportunities and social justice for all — not just a city that spoke Marathi, favoured sons of the soil, and suspected outsiders of stealing their jobs.

Class justice was as important as linguistic unity in the socialist vision of the Samyukta Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena was founded in 1966, more than ten years after the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, when the city’s economy stagnated and shrunk, and popular dissatisfaction with the hopes of statehood led to the emergence of more parochial forms of linguistic politics.

Should Mumbai be a City State?

Originally published contra the case made by J.B. D’Souza on Should Mumbai be a City State? in TimeOut Mumbai, 10 April 2005.

There are several arguments routinely invoked about making Mumbai into a City State. They go something like this — for most of its modern history, Bombay was an island off the coast of India, a cosmopolitan port city with enterprising migrants and bustling industry and commerce — symbolic of India’s engagement with the world, rather than with its rural countryside.

This pre-Independence Bombay is now viewed with sepia-tinted nostalgia by heritage enthusiasts and the media as an innocent age of civic order, a beautiful city which existed before the filth and chaos of democratic politics. Bombay became the victim of narrow linguistic politics when Maharashtra was formed in 1960. Since then, the story goes, public culture has been parochialised by Marathi chauvinism and mismanaged by vote-bank-seeking politicians. The beautiful city is now a horrible mess, and this situation must be reversed through bold action, to make it a world-class metropolis again.

The economic rationale for creating a new City State is the counterpart to this narrative — that Mumbai is denied an equal share of the revenue it generates (which the Centre invests elsewhere in the country), that the city’s resources are otherwise plundered by rural politicians and illegal migrants who don’t care for the city, that new industries are locating elsewhere, and we cannot keep up either with Singapore or Shanghai, or even with Bangalore or Hyderabad. Something must be done to avert what the media have recently termed the “death of the city”, and statehood for Mumbai seems like a bold solution to a host of very real problems affecting the quality of life and governance in India’s biggest city.

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Mills as Public Spaces: Mumbai’s Industrial Heritage

This essay on  industrial heritage conservation was written when the first public interest litigation challenging the sale of mill lands in Central Mumbai was in the Bombay High Court in 2005, and published in Art India Magazine, ‘Heritage Issues’, Vol. X, Issue 2 (Mumbai), April 2005.

In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival in the past ten years in the same historical moment when manufacturing industries have closed and factories emptied throughout Greater Mumbai. Heritage discourse and conservation practice have only implicitly acknowledged this economic context. Since the Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-3, entire working-class communities across the city have been retrenched and dispersed in the Mill and Dock Lands of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Mumbai, and across the Metropolitan Region.

With job losses going into tens of lakhs, and uncertain growth prospects for Mumbai, several years ago the media and civic elite began speaking of the “death of the city” they once knew, whereas planners and academics eagerly awaited the birth of a new “global city”. However one described this restructuring of the city’s economy, it is clear that manufacturing has declined in value compared to the new service industries, not just in Mumbai but in big cities throughout the world. The post-industrial landscapes of London’s Docklands and New York’s Lower Manhattan are oft-cited symbols of this change monstrous, gleaming high-rise districts dominated by banking, finance, and white-collar services. In today’s urban economy, the making and marketing of immaterial signs has replaced the production of durable goods as the primary circuit of wealth creation.

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Future Academies

Lecture at the Future Academy Symposium at the Edinburgh College Art School of Architecture, March 2005, later published in Geetha Narayanan, ed., Tana Bana: Srishti School of Art Design & Technology Bangalore at Ars Electronica 2005 in Linz, Austria, August 2005.

Two distinct but inter-related phenomena have been dramatically reshaping the environments of academic institutions in India over the past five years. The first phenomenon is the widespread dissemination of networked media and information technologies, and the challenge this poses to large centralised structures, such as academic institutions and state bureaucracies. The second phenomenon is the decline of the traditional arts, humanities, and social sciences in the social prestige and market value they once commanded, and the erosion of the principle of liberal education and citizenship they represented. Taken together, these two technological and cultural shifts necessarily disrupt the institutional moorings of arts education, creating new spaces both inside and outside the academy for new pedagogic practices, which the academies of the future must seize on.

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Mumbai Industrial Museum Collaboration

Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002
Machinery in Kohinoor Mills no.1-2, Dadar (East), 2002

This is an edited and shortened version of a proposal for an Industrial Museum in the Mill Lands of Mumbai, which was initially supported by an arts collaboration seed grant from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) in 2004-2005.

Meena Menon, activist and writer, Neera Adarkar, arcnitect, Anirudh Paul of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA) Design Cell and film-maker Paromita Vohra helped to conceive the collaboration.

Rajesh Vora’s photography was later published in Darryl D’Monte, ed., Mills for Sale: The Way Ahead (Mumbai: MARG, 2006). Ashok G. Bapat of the National Textile Corporation (NTC) and Professor Raj Chandavarkar of Cambridge University expired in 2006, and architect Arvind Adarkar in 2013.

1. Introduction

The Mumbai Industrial Museum Collaboration seeks to address the crisis of civic imagination driven by two dramatic transformations in our contemporary urban landscapes — the deindustrialisation of manufacturing and production, and the dematerialisation of culture and information.

These parallel transformations have replaced large-scale factories and organised urban working classes with dispersed networks of subcontracted and informal production in slums and hinterlands on the one hand; and on the other hand, they have replaced the space of the traditional museum, library and archive with virtual networks of communications, entertainment and commerce.

While these historic industrial and technological changes are common to cities across the world, in Mumbai their articulation in the public sphere remains deeply contested and poorly understand. The new politics of space and work in post-industrial Mumbai has yet to be comprehensively documented, much less re-imagined, and the importance of inter-disciplinary and collaborative urbanism to this task is obvious.

In this proposal for the Industrial Museum Collaboration, we outline a project to develop a Public Museum, Archive and Library which can bring together various individual practitioners and groups into dialogue and action on these questions, in relation to the textile mill districts of the inner-city, also known as the Mumbai Mill Lands or Girangaon.

2. Mumbai’s Industrial Heritage

In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival, in the same historical moment as manufacturing industries and factory workers have fled the Island City and Suburbs of Greater Mumbai. However, heritage discourse and conservation practice has only implicitly acknowledged this important fact. Urban heritage has been almost exclusively about the colonial city — protecting its built fabric and rendering visible its monumental signs — reinvigorating civic pride through historical nostalgia.

Heritage has been about the colonial or modernist city, not about the industrial city. As heritage has increased in public consciousness and visibility — through legislation and protection, the organisation of new city and neighbourhood festivals, and an outpouring of romantic cultural representations — industry and manufacturing have been obscured from public view and memory.

In the twenty years since the Bombay Textile Strike inaugurated a post-industrial era of social and spatial restructuring — in which nearly a million factory workers lost their jobs in various industries — political and cultural responses to urban change are divided. They range from the celebratory rhetoric of the utopia of finance and services, styled on Singapore or Hong Kong, to the passionate protests of activists and community groups against the destruction of livelihoods and homes, in factory closures and slum demolitions.

Vast complexes of production and entire working-class communities across the city have been decimated and extinguished, in a prolonged social and spatial restructuring of the city’s economy since the Bombay Textile Strike thirty years ago — in the textile mills of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Greater Mumbai, and in the old docks of the Bombay Port Trust.

Through the Industrial Museum Collaboration, we hope to chart a shift in the focus of urban conservationists, arts and heritage enthusiasts, and the public from the monuments and signs of the colonial or modernist periods to illuminating this hidden Other of the picture postcards and coffee-table representations — the people, machines and places that produced the twentieth-century industrial metropolis of Mumbai.

The Collaboration is premised on rendering visible the history of the industrial city which has been extinguished by factory closures and the flight of manufacturing, as well as the new “global city” which is developing around economies of services, information and culture. Our proposed Collaboration seeks to recover the active presence of work and technology in our everyday lives, challenging the commonly-accepted vision of manufacturing inevitably giving way to services.

3. Re-imagining the Museum

In the era of globalisation, mega-cities like Mumbai have emerged as the primary site for the articulation of new social, economic and cultural imaginations, and the various technological means to realise these visions. The Industrial Museum Collaboration seeks to find a new cultural-institutional form to narrate these histories, and invite the urban public to tell its own stories of work, aspiration and movement that produced the thriving mega-city we know today as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The idea of a museum today departs radically from the concept of the modern museum as we know it. The form of knowledge represented by the traditional idea of the museum is often alienating — representing the abstraction of knowledge from its living contexts. However today museums can accommodate multiple narratives about objects, artefacts and their relationships to people, living relations which can be animated and narrated, rather than simply exhibited.

The idea of objects or artefacts taken out of their living contexts and self-evidently standing for themselves has no place in our conception of the museum, which seeks to explore how deeply enmeshed are objects — especially technological objects — with human activity and social formation.

What makes traditional museums so alienating is that while they exhibit artefacts and objects, the knowledge about them is produced somewhere else — by experts, scientists, and bureaucratic authorities. The sense of wonder and amazement which traditional museums generate is of knowledge as static object, of individual perception removed from personal meaning and social context. A similar alienation around knowledge is mirrored in many modern institutions — from the school and university to the central library and state archive — whose power and forms of knowledge we are only now beginning to question.

Recent advances in communications, information and media technologies have provided the conditions for this questioning, by blurring boundaries of time and space, of the actual and virtual dimensions of perception. Television and visual media have radically altered our perception of the written word, and the Internet has subverted traditional means of organising knowledge in libraries. This dematerialisation of perception through mass media presents an opportunity to re-orient our relationship to knowledge and its representations in public culture and space, thereby reconceptualising the museum as institution.

Unlike many institutions which tend to isolate themselves from their the surrounding community, the museum as a space is explicitly organised to admit a constant stream of visitors into its boundaries. However, despite recognising its character as a public space, we ignore the agency of the public which frequents museums, bringing their own ways of seeing and constructing subjective meaning from narratives, objects and artefacts.

Going to a museum can be an experience in understanding the complex relationships of perception and imagination that we have with objects, artefacts, and technology. Museums are spaces which allow for a more tactile understanding of knowledge, and how it is produced. Seen in this way, they are also the hub of vibrant cultural communities publicly interacting in a shared space of reflection and pedagogy.

Our conception of the Industrial Museum builds on the recognition of these possibilities, and seeks to take them further by engaging with the politics of museumisation, the tourism and culture industries, and practices of urban heritage and conservation. The Industrial Museum Collaboration will enter these debates by articulating a new kind of cultural institution, challenging the colonial and nationalist tradition of the modern museum, and revising their identity as public spaces.

Critics of colonialism have charged that museums in the colonial world represented the objectification of living cultures, and their classification and exhibition as a sets of lifeless artefacts and exotic objects is part of the domination of colonial science and racist ideology over native knowledge systems.

Another view of museums sees them as preserves of the past, of the lost history of communities or peoples, with no contemporary relevance except as cultural or historical memorials, or as tourist sites. Yet another critique views museums, like art galleries and other cultural spaces, as narrowly fixated on aesthetics or symbolism, reflecting increasing consumerism and the emptying of meaning in public culture.

While practitioners such as historians, architects, activists and artists each have their own powerful ways of imagining the city, it is only recently that their isolation from each others’ ways of seeing and understanding has been loosened. Wider economic and technological changes are breaking the sway of a generation of institutions which established the postcolonial nation-state as the dominant form of cultural and political imagination.

The breakdown of these forms — so far experienced largely as crisis and decline — presents an opportunity to reimagine the relations between knowledges on which nationalist institutions had imposed an estrangement, in the name of disciplinarity and expertise. Amongst these alienated forms are the traditional museum and archive, whose present crisis holds out the possibility of forging new forms of inter-disciplinary knowledge which arise from the deep disjunctures between different practices when they address the city as an object.

Indeed it is in only in cities and urban contexts that practices are compelled to recognise their complex interdependence when confronting crises of public spaces such as institutions, environments, and markets. The highly polarised and contested nature of the debate on Mumbai’s Mill Lands demands such a recognition of the collaborative nature of urbanism.

4. Industrial Museum Library & Archive

In the context of the proposed project, our idea of collaboration is centred around the possibility of creating new imaginations of civic community by engaging with the themes of dematerialisation/museumisation and deindustrialisation both within and between disciplinary practices in the city.

In the past ten years, the debate on the Mumbai Mill Lands and Girangaon has yielded a rich fund of documentation, critical literature and creative expression on the phenomenon of urban deindustrialisation — from academic monographs and books, to activist fact-finding reports, to urban design studies and planning documents, to photographic and video documentation of mill workers’ struggles, to artistic representations of the city’s post-industrial landscapes. Collaborators have been involved in these efforts at documenting, understanding and imagining these epochal social and spatial transformations, through their own work as film-makers, activists, architects, photographers, historians and curators.

Our proposed Industrial Museum Archive & Library will comprehensively index, collate, and compile into a online, public-access digital database these valuable resources and materials, many of which are at present inaccessible, out of circulation, or unknown to the public. The Archive & Library is intended to foreground the people’s struggles and resistances to urban deindustrialisation since the Bombay Textile Strike in the early eighties — a watershed event which, twenty years earlier, inaugurated new practices of fact-finding, investigation and documentation for a generation of young urban activists.

The Archive & Library aims at both empowering the people’s struggles through a recognition of their place in history, as well as encouraging new research and documentation on local and community histories of the urban working classes, the shifting social and spatial dynamics of land, labour and technology in the post-industrial city, the aesthetics and politics of industrial landscapes in art and cinema, and other concerns. The Industrial Museum Archive will be initially developed as a comprehensive index of resources, people, and materials presently known to the Collaborators.

These include historical photography of the strikes and working class movement in the neighbourhood; oral histories of poets, activists, and workers; development plans and policy documents relating to land-use, planning, and the redevelopment of the mill districts; maps and urban designs of the mill districts done in previous studies; architectural documentation and lists of structures for heritage conservation; bibliographies of Marathi theatre, poetry and literature specifically concerned with the mill workers movement; video footage of the neighbourhood and the community’s struggle over the past twenty years; and directories of individuals in the community and city concerned with all of the above. The Collaborators’ Workshops will generate more materials for the Archive, which we see a key medium of exchange — linking the specific disciplinary concerns of the Workshops with the wider inter-disciplinary agenda of the Collaboration.

As an outcome of the proposed project, this public digital archive will be operationalised through a web portal run on free/open-source software, published on a copyleft license which will protect the original rights of the authors and contributors, while encouraging reproduction and dissemination in new forms for education, research and advocacy.

The Archive will base itself on an overall map of Girangaon and Central Mumbai — listing both tangible structures and spaces and intangible memories, narratives, and images — providing a framework for indexing and archiving existing materials, and developing new inquiries about specific local institutions, neighbourhoods, or mill districts in a spatial context. This Archive will comprise the virtual resource base for a curated exhibition organised by Coordinators and Collaborators at the end of the grant cycle. The Exhibition will feature installations, documentation, material and artefacts which could provide the basis for a future museum or cultural institution, which the Central and State Government have already proposed establishing in the Mumbai Mill Lands, with the support of the National Textile Corporation (NTC).

Apart from those cited above, some of the many institutional sources of material for the Industrial Museum Archive we have identified are:

Study Group on the Cotton Textile Mill Lands of Mumbai (Correa Committee Report), Girangaon Bachao Andolan, Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti and Maharashtra Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Congress of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Girni Kamgar Union, Maniben Kara Institute, Trade Union Solidarity Committee (TUSC), Bombay Mill-Owners’ Association (BMOA), Indian Cotton Mills Federation, Indian Textile Journal, Maharashtra State Archives, Office of the Textile Commissioner, East India Cotton Merchants Association, Asiatic Society of Bombay Special Collections, National Textile Corporation (NTC), Union Research Group, BUILD Documentation Centre, Centre for Education & Documentation (CED), Bombay Textile Research Association (BTRA), and the libraries of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and the Indian Merchants Chamber.

We hope that, through additional funding from other sources, the Archive will subsequently develop into a resource base for researchers, activists, and cultural practitioners seeking a broader understanding of industrial and technological change in contemporary Mumbai.

Mumbai Vision 2010: Reporting the Future

Originally published as Mumbai Vision 2010: Reporting the Future in TimeOut Mumbai, 19 November to 2 December 2004.

If you look left while crossing Haji Ali into Worli, the brightly-lit ground floor showroom of a well-known auto major is emblazoned with the words “Improving the Quality of Life”. You can’t miss it, because this is a congested junction, with cars queueing up at the next signal to ascend the Worli Fly-Over. Stuck in the gridlock, you’re forced to ponder the shiny cars and hopeful slogan, and try and forget the honking horns, choking exhaust fumes, and street kids trying to sell you fashion magazines, before the signal changes.

Surely the guys at McKinsey and Bombay First, who must also get stuck in traffic jams, would appreciate the irony. Their recent report on making the city “world-class” and yes, improving its “quality of life” has just joined the long queue of studies, reports, and consultancies on the city’s ascent to becoming a global city. Recent changes at the state and centre have shown the government is increasingly keen to step in and clear the traffic on the road to Mumbai 2010. Plans and strategies that piled up for decades are beginning to move, and the authorities are trying to play traffic cop between contending visions of the city’s future.

While McKinsey is a recent entrant into the global game of urban brand-building, city architects and planners are its most usual suspects. For the past several years, the media and corporate world in Mumbai have been arguing over the “death of the city”. There seems to be neither enough money nor political will to tackle the monstrous problems of housing, transport, infrastructure, and the city’s slipping position in the global economy. Visions of Mumbai have been stuck between the apathy of our elected representatives — the politicians — and the elitism of our un-elected representatives — the NGOs.

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PUKAR Monsoon Doc-Shop

Originally published in Humanscape special issue on Learning Beyond Teaching, edited by Shilpa Phadke, August 2003.

It is a well-known cliche that today, all of us deal with information in much greater abundance and intensity than ever before. The Internet, the sign of this new economy, is a huge repository of information, with signs, images and stories flowing through its ever expanding networks. Any creative and critical engagement today also means learning to deal with such enormous archives and flows of information, and understanding how they are created. While on the one hand the world around us is increasingly mediated by new technologies and media forms that shape our perceptions acutely, on the other hand most of us do not have access to these technologies, nor are we encouraged to shape the mediated reality around us.

Any critical pedagogy today must address these questions, raised by the advent of new media practices, and the increasing importance of information and communication technologies to our everyday lives, especially in cities in India. The response of mainstream educational institutions has been primarily defensive, to shore up their role against a weakening state and an aggressive market — with the introduction of new diploma courses and degree programmes catered for lucrative careers in the corporate media, such as the Bachelors of Mass Media (BMM) courses in Mumbai. The responses from individual teachers and scholars, media producers and activists, and other groups and organisations is still being debated.

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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.


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.


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