Their Bombay Our Bombay

Thousands of Muslims and Hindus have moved out of old areas of residence over the past 12 months in search of the security of numbers. The silent ghettoisation taking place in Bombay bodes ill for the future health of the urbs prima of India.
Hafeez Shiekh, a senior executive of a music recording company, residing at Takshila Housing Society on the Mahakali Caves road in Andheri (east), was traumatised by the events of January, 1993.
In an interview for the film, “Bombay – A myth Shattered”, last February, he had said: “My wife and other members of the family have been after me to shave off my beard..if the time comes I may even have to do that.” Before January 1993, Sheikh was living in a rented flat and was planning to buy one soon to make Takshila his permanent home. But shaken by the daily threats to Muslim residents from some hoodlums in the neighbourhood, he decided on a safer option. He and his family have now shifted to Dubai.

  • The Christian wife of Sajid Khan, a finance formerly employed with a foreign bank branch in the metropolis, told Combat some months ago: “All the young and well-qualified Muslims whom I know are anxiously seeking opportunities abroad. Who would risk the lives of their families after what went on in Bombay last January? If it can happen in Bombay it can happen anywhere.” The bankman and his family have already moved to Saudi Arabia.


  • Muslim residents of Pratikshanagar, a transit camp located close to the Shanmukhananda hall in central Bombay experienced a harrowing time last January. Hindus who had been neighbours for over a decade held starving men, women and children to ransom on the street for three days and nights.

A young sub-editor with an Urdu newspaper is only one of the victims of 455 families who were rescued by the army, never to return. “We are all scattered now, some in the Bandra (West) reclamation camp, others in Oshiwara, Jogeshwari. After being betrayed by our own neighbours, how can we ever think of going back?”

  • The plight of many Hindu families from the Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari, a western suburb where a family of seven was roasted alive last year, is no better. They still camp at the Gumfa municipal school thanks to the authorities. Four of them initially agreed to return to homes re-built for their rehabilitation by YUVA, a voluntary group.

“But,” said Navtej, the action co-ordinator of YUVA, “These families finally baulked at returning to take up residence. We have since converted the rooms into a space for community activities.

  • In the Hindu-dominated Chachanagar basti nearby, only five of the 28 Muslim families which had fled have returned on a temporary basis. With the first hint of fresh tension, they immediately move out of the area.


  • Though Ameena has a home of her own in the Housing Board colony in Nirmal Nagar, Bandra (east), she has been living with her parents in a nearby building for the last year. Last January, everything that her family ever owned was looted or torched. Her husband, a journalist who has to work odd hours, feels scared returning home.


  • There is just one more Muslim family living in the block where Ameena’s parents stay. “Rahna hai to dab ke raho (If you want to stay here, live under our thumb),” is the oft-repeated dictat for the few Muslim families in the housing board colony, from neighbours, in an area which has been the fiefdom of Shiv Sena MLA, Madhukar Sarpotdar, for the last few years.

Ameena’s husband, and most other Muslims living in the Shiv Sena dominated Nirmalnagar and the Kherwadi municipal BMC colony nearby, have applied to the Housing Board for transfer, with no success.
The couple have been constrained to hang on to their flatlet since no one is “allowed” to offer more than Rs. 1.75 lakh for property bought at Rs. 2 lakh a few years ago. “We have better amenities, more open space here in Bandra. But now we will have to shift to Madanpura (south- central Bombay)?”
A Hindu who had been residing in the area for decades, was killed last January while opening his shop on the Kurla Pipeline road in north-east Bombay. The widow, along with ten other Hindu families, have since moved out of the area and sought the security of a Hindu-majority locality.
A Hindu medical practitioner from Sewri, in central Bombay, resident for over 20 years moved out lock, stock and barrel though no incident had actually occurred in his immediate neighbourhood.
Only a small number of Muslim families continue to live in Charkop, Kandivli, a Hindu-dominated suburb in north-west Bombay.
Similarly Hindu families in Muslim-dominant Rafiquenagar in Deonar have shifted out.
In north-eastern Bhandup memories of the targeted looting of Muslim homes and shops by neighbours is so bitter that the ghettoisation of Muslims within Pathan Nagar is complete.
The bestial and barbaric frenzy of last January’s violence left more than a thousand dead and property worth crores destroyed. It caused more than one lakh people to flee and another lakh were condemned to refugee status in 21 relief camps across city. Twelve months later, many areas with a cosmopolitan character have seen visible shifts in population threatening to earmark others into distinctly carved out ghettos.
The large-scale migration of populations, both Muslim and Hindu from areas inhabited for several decades to the localities that provide them the security of numbers can be gleaned from the unnatural jump in real-estate prices in suburbs that are in high demand contrasted to the glut in areas from where people have fled.
“Many areas have recorded an unnatural increase of 50-200 per cent in flat prices over the past eleven months,” says Murari Chaturvedi, editor, Accomodation Times, a fortnightly  dealing exclusively with the issue of real estate and housing.
The desperate need to sell homes and shift urgently has resulted in a sharp rise in prices in select parts of the city. In comparison, other parts of the metropolis, except prestigious south Bombay, have recorded a mere 15 to 20 per cent normal increase over the same period.
“In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was a clearly discernible trend of Muslim families selling their congested homes in Muslim-majority areas in south-central Bombay and moving to more spacious dwellings in the far cheaper eastern and western suburbs. But this migration has been abruptly reversed after what happened in the city last January,” adds Iqbal Dudhwala, a builder who was very active in relief and rehabilitation work last year.
Chaturvedi’s and Dudhwala’s observations are confirmed by several real estate agents, operating from different parts of the city, who were interviewed by Combat.
While Muslims, the main victims of last winter’s violence (85 per cent of the lives lost and property destroyed was clear evidence of this), have undoubtedly been spurred by a greater urgency to home-in on Muslim-dominated areas, many Hindus, who were also traumatised in Muslim-majority localities or others who just did not want to risk staying in possible conflict zones, have also moved out.
Major housing co-operatives have also begun indirectly refusing residence to families from “other” communities. Over the last year, the cosmopolitan space in metropolitan Bombay has shrunk rapidly and the process of ghettosiation is still continuing.

The healers at work
“It was an incredible, intense transformation of human emotions. From arrogant jeering, to reluctant compromise, to utter humility which led to tearful embraces,” recalls Farida Lambay.
Hundreds of Muslim families, fearful and reluctant at first, felt comfortable enough after six months of reconciliatory efforts to return to reconstructed homes at Mahakalinagar in Worli Koliwada. Horrifying killings, arson and humiliation had been inflicted on them by Shiv Sainiks last January. The tireless efforts of the activists of the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, and Father Lourdinho Fernandes’ Pragati Kendra, helped heal the wounds.
Muslims were the main victims of violence in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, a slum colony in Antop Hill. But some properties of Hindus living next to Muslim families were also damaged.
Father Christopher Brian of the Dominic Savio church in the area, felt it was essential for ruptured relations to be repaired before houses were reconstructed. He refused the offer of cash from a wealthy BJP-supporter who wanted to fund the reconstruction of 50 huts exclusively for Hindus.
These are just two of the many such instances in the city where, thanks to the untiring effort to numerous social workers and activists, and even the local police in some cases, the ghettoisation of Bombay has to some extent been halted.

Among the more affluent Muslims who could not afford to emigrate, many have opted to move to other cities, the predominant choices being Bangalore and Hyderabad.

For others from this class, who either could not make such a drastic shift or opted not to, Vasai and Mira Road in north Bombay and Yari Road in Andheri (west) have been the preferred locales. The cost of flats in these areas have shot up 25 to 30 per cent over the past eleven months.
Hundreds of Muslims from the service class, small businessmen or artisans have preferred, naturally, to move into Muslim-dominant areas causing a steep rise in prices there. Some buildings in parts of central and south Bombay – near Maratha Mandir, Duncan road and Dongri – have shot up by 100-200 per cent due to the massive influx.
Flats or rooms in chawls in older buildings are today selling at rates which are 50-100 per cent higher than a year ago. A flat in a particular building close to the Famous Studio in Tardeo could not find a buyer at Rs. 6,000 per square foot earlier. The going rate today is Rs. 9,000.
Similarly, a large number of middle-class Hindus, mainly south Indians, have sold their homes in the city and moved to Vashi, in New Bombay. A year ago, accommodation was available there at Rs. 900 per square foot; today, living space cannot be had for less than Rs. 1600 per square foot.
In Nerul, further north from New Bombay, flat costs have zoomed from Rs. 400 a year ago to Rs. 700 per square foot now.
Within greater Bombay, many Hindus have moved to Borivali and Kandivali causing a steep rise in prices there. Said an estate agent from Kandivali: “Prices have spiralled. Even the World Bank aided government housing schemes are capitalizing on people’s insecurity. Last year, you could book a plot of 40 square metres for Rs. 15,000 with a long-term loan of Rs. 1,60,000 for a row house, today the booking itself is going for five-ten times the amount.”
Lower down the scale, where sheer economics prevents and easy shift of location, thousands of Muslim families have shifted en masse from Pratikshanagar, Andheri, Worli, Asalpha Nagar and parts of Jogeshwari to alternate transit camps in the suburbs giving them a strong communal complexion. Alternatively, they have gravitated to areas with large Muslim concentrations.
Hindus, from a comparable strata, have hurriedly moved out of areas like Kurla, Jari Mari Road, Sewri, Wadala and Deonar preferring the apparent safety of localities outside Bombay. Far-flung Kalyan, Thane and Panvel have seen a sudden spurt in prices. Many of these townships have clearly demarcated “Hindu” and “Muslim” areas now.
“Not only is ghettoisation taking place, but it is nothing short of a major disaster in the making,” says Farida Lambay, Field Co-ordinator, College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan. She  has been very active in relief and rehabilitation efforts over the past year. She added: “Not only will this eventually change the character of the city, but, God forbid, if another riot takes place, areas will be easily marked out for strategic targeting.”
“This kind of islanding of the city that is visibly taking place is unhealthy, cancerous and a blot on Bombay and will eventually harm the economic interest of the city,” asserts Chaturvedi. The tendency of people to reside and to conduct business in pre-determined areas and to avoid social interaction with others can only hamper growth, he adds.
Yuva’s Navtej concurs with Chaturvedi. “While Bombay is in one way returning to normalcy, there is a clear polarisation in living space, a geographical demarcation of space. Living in such a homogeneous environment is not a healthy trend. These are fertile grounds for biases to be built and myths and suspicious to grow.”
A healthy trend it may not be, but security seems to be the primary concern of thousands of Muslims and Hindus who over the past year have moved out of dwellings they had inhabited, for decades in many cases, to the security of areas where their co-religionists live. The large-scale demographic shift still continues.
Since the law and order machinery abdicated its responsibility of ensuring the safety of citizens, Bombayites are forced to seek the security of numbers.
(Except in case of people representing organisations, the names of others mentioned in the report have been changed to protect the identity of persons who spoke to Combat).




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