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

  • Research Group: Modern Indian History
  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ravi Ahuja
  • Researcher: Robert Rahman Raman, M.A.
  • Funding: German Research Council (DFG)
  • Duration: September 2013 bis August 2016

Project Summary:

This research project tests the hypotheses (a) that, in the course of the twentieth century, the changing self-identifications as well as the identifications by others of Bombay's working Muslims entailed an instable and precarious 'placing' of their neighbourhoods in urban space and (b) that these changing identifications and precarious placings impacted on the metropolis' political culture as a whole.

In concrete terms, it explores the transformation, in public perception, of localities in Bombay from 'worker neighbourhoods' with many Muslim inhabitants into 'Muslim neighbourhoods' sheltering many workers. In the first half of the century, localities like Madanpura and Mominpura were fully integrated, according to both inside and outside views, with the vast area in Central Bombay that was increasingly known by the epithet of 'Girangaon' (or 'mill village'). These neighbourhoods housed large sections of Muslim workers who were drawn to this then largest of India's industrial districts from various, mainly North Indian urban and rural areas. Towards the end of the century, however, they had received the derogatory lable of "Mini-Pakistan" to indicate and assert their "alien", quasi-extraterritorial and "unnatural" character.

From the beginning of the 20th century until the Bombay riots of 1992-93, these localities, in inextricable entanglement with adjacent predominantly Hindu or Dalit neighbourhoods, provided a dynamic field-of-forces where different socio-political currents encountered one another and contributed to transforming the political landscape of the city. In the forms of anti-colonial nationalism, the pan-Islamic Khilafat movement, communist mobilisation of workers, Muslim separatism, religious revivalist tendencies, as well as 'ethnicity'- and language-based regional sub-nationalism, these currents and their encounters were instrumental in influencing and shaping the socio-political atmosphere of predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods in Girangaon. Along with exploring the shifting associations Muslim workers of Girangaon had with these competing currents and mainly based on previously neglected unofficial Indian-language sources, this research aims to study the processes and devices through which the Muslim inhabitants of Girangaon over this period of time self-identified and located themselves (as weavers, Muslims, or Bombay workers) or were identified and 'placed' by others (as working people, inhabitants of Girangaon, aliens or even intruders).