The Home Motif

The Home Motif

The home and the neighbourhood have been the basic motifs and entities on which this city is organised, and this becomes crucial in view of the fact that migration and the following space and real-estate politics has generated a kind of urbanity. The fact that Bombay was never a city that began from a traditional base of a temple- or a bazaar-town, nor as a traditional trading port but is composed into a city through ‘imperial designs’ but indigenous capital brings about a crucial aspect to the way the city’s socio-urban landscape develops through migrating- men, cultures and ideas. The city at the turn of the twentieth century with its new living conditions of housing types and new lifestyles in a post-industrialized landscape, with its new administrative role, was a crucial location to define the space where the migrant negotiated an understanding of society - ‘family’, and was eventually also organizing the space of ‘community’. As Meera Kosambi mentions in her essay Home as Universe (Permanent Black, 2007), “(T)he extended family… was viewed as an indispensable support structure and, indeed, as the only viable way of life. Those compelled to leave its fold for higher studies or employment often made attempts to recreate an extended family by pooling together the nuclear families of friends, especially when financially constrained.” Narratives of the plague period at the close of the nineteenth century in Mumbai also indicate how a community or neighbourhoods are concepts that get questioned or defined, in many ways, during this moment of crisis in the city’s history. Migrations from the rural countryside or small towns to larger cities like Bombay or Calcutta resulted in changing familial patterns. At one level it was the simple break up of joint families living in wadas and havelis and other such rural and town housing forms,into smaller nuclear families now living in tenements and chawls;on the other there was the new condition of living in spaces like tenements and chawls. The chawl is structured like most post-industrial housing was thought about, a stack of rooms, a set of drawers that you can sleep in. To consider the issues raised by Thomas Blom Hansen in Violence in Urban India: Identity Politics, ‘Mumbai’, and the Postcolonial City (Permanent Black, Delhi. 2001, 2005) is important – firstly the question of single men who come in as migrant men, and then how the home undergoes a transformation with changing economies. At one point you have the migrants that live in and around places of work, occupying the work premises, or the passageways or pavements around it; you will have men, without any designated prototype of the home, moving around in a neighbourhood often to the disgust of other neighbours who see them as family-less objects, and also men without the know-how of living in a ‘city’ and carry forth their ‘village habits’ into the city and hence ‘dirtying’ the city. The single man, who comes in as migrant labour, also probably shows very less confidence in the life of his host city – the home is always where the family is – the village or the town; it takes a while for migrating men to get their wives or families into the city, only once a certain job and social stability is guaranteed in the existence of city-life.

On 6 December, 1992 Hindu mobs encouraged by Hindu Nationalist leaders and fundamentalists managed to break the police cordon around a sixteenth century mosque in the north Indian city of Ayodhya and destroy parts of its dome. The structure was under dispute as Hindu fundamentalist groups claimed that the mosque was built by Babur, the Mughal emperor, on the site of the ‘exact’ birthplace of Lord Ram, the mythic hero-figure of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.

This led to country-wide riots; yet Bombay did not suffer any large damage at that point. However just after this tense situation certain Hindu groups started performing Maha-aartis, a daily ritual to a temple deity now purposely performed with large crowds of devotees overflowing outside the temple complex blocking traffic on roads and pavements. This was claimed to be a reaction to the Muslims performing Friday prayers where they poured out on to the pavements outside their mosques. This tension finally built-up towards a week-long brutal rioting in the city – it was very clear that the attacking Hindu mobs had clearly identified lane by lane and shop by shop and house by house as to which belongs to which community and religion. Precise locations were attacked and robbed, looted and burnt. The Justice Sri Krishna committee report establishes very well how the riots were pre-planned and the close relationship between the geographical distribution of communities in the city and the corresponding scale of violence. These riots in many ways also landed up changing the urban social geography of the city.

The series of eight strong and destructive bomb blasts across Bombay, in March 1993 were seen as a reaction supported by some Muslims from the underworld.

© Promised City

We also know from recent history, e.g. the riots of 1993 in Mumbai, were always associated with large crowds of migrant populations flooding the railway stations to return ‘home’ leaving the city; and the continuous rhetoric against the migrants from Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu created an atmosphere that prevents the migrants from settling in the city. The men, who come to the city for work, now prefer not to get their families, being unsure of when they may have to leave the city; and as soon as there is a difficult situation in the city, they leave the city. Hence there is lack of ownership with the city, and this also has a second impact – many migrant work forces get concentrated in particular neighbourhoods, those which have the workshops and mills, and where the migrants are working. They would often not step out of these neighbourhoods, which become the site for work and living; a world by itself.

If the neighbourhood can be this important a space for a migrant worker, then for sure it develops a sociology that is more complex than being a quarter to live and/or work in the city. Rajnarayan Chandavarkar in Imperial Power and Popular Politics: Class, Resistance and the State in India. (Cambridge University Press, 1998) discusses how the neighbourhood develops a physical character of street corners, shops, akhadas (gymnasiums) or religious festivities and pandals that define the movement and relationships of the residents of the neighbourhood. The relationship of residents and space is further compounded by the economics of rent, loans, jobs and salaries.

The famous ‘jobbers’ in the days of the cotton mills, who got jobs to the migrating men, or rather acted as middlemen between the mill owners and managers and the workers, in providing men – permanent or temporary (badli) were one crucial component – urban character of the working class neighbourhoods. On the other hand Hansen (2001) discusses how the squeezing out of Muslim workers during distress periods (1980 onwards) in the cotton mills, and then the coming up of smaller weaving workshops and other such units in slums and suburbs, and also the migration to lucrative jobs in the Gulf changes the religious and social structure in some of the earlier mill-worker neighbourhoods while creating new ones. The mill workers most of the time got employed in the mills on the basis of their previous occupation, which at all times in India are based on caste and ethnicity. Hence migrant populations in the mills came from many parts and villages in the Deccan and United Provices, but were still concentrated in their caste or ethnic groups by nature of job in the mill and that also overlapped with the particular living practices of each group, and also the accommodation attained with the assistance of a ‘jobber’. In a sense then all these factors start concentrating people in certain ways in certain geographical spaces.

The riots and other forms of more silent but very sure attacks on the livelihood, and living conditions of the Muslims resulted in the breakdown of many ethnically and culturally mixed neighbourhoods. Muslim populations of all types, ethnically and economically, got pushed into neighbourhoods (mohollas in some of the older parts of the city) that were dominated by a Muslim population to begin with. This created demographic shifts of a drastic nature.

The other targeted group has been the lower caste Dalits. Represented by a strong political formation like the Dalit Panthers once, they hardly have any voice or adequate representation in the city today, where besides political manoeuvrings real-estate pressures keep pushing these groups to the fringe-suburbs of the city day by day.

In many situations workers lived, cooked and slept in their place of work itself. Accommodating parallel services like tailoring, or offices of money lenders, etc. were all crammed in close proximity or within the same physical space as living. At times stable jobs would see single men bring their cousins and families into the city, converting spaces where single men live into those where now wives and children enter. The earning of money with social mobility or future generations, results in many homes in the area undergoing a transformation, with goods and gadgets entering the same crammed space. Often families continued to live in their existing apartments, only flushing it with new amenities and gadgets acquired thanks to the new money entering from the jobs e.g. from the Gulf for certain localities and communities. The early squeezing out of Muslim labour from the mills, resulted in them searching for alternative lucrative income, and the jobs in the Gulf proved fruitful for this purpose due to the high wages there and the readiness of most Indian labour to do whatever labour expected. (Hansen, 2001)

The neighbourhood as a site of the extended family has been a continuous phenomenon. Besides the close ties maintained with other men or families from the same village or region, the city provides for more amorphous families, which are loosely defined but develop strong ties. In the mill districts, groups of migrating men from villages often had a matriarchal figure running common canteens or eating homes - the Khanavali. In some cases they continue to exist today, where boys from smaller towns like Nagpur or Nasik who come to occupy jobs created in the post-liberalised economy like media houses, etc. still have food in such canteens. These were also the essential spaces of a neighbourhood where socializing to politics would be discussed and enacted.