Dissertation Abstracts

Chawls, Malls and High Rises: Rethinking Gentrification in the Textile Mill Lands of Mumbai

Author: Dwiparna Chatterjee, dwiparnachatterjee@gmail.com
Department: Humanities Social Science Department
University: Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India
Supervisor: Kushal Deb
Year of completion: 2019
Language of dissertation: India

Keywords: Gentrification , Mumbai , Mill lands , Chawls
Areas of Research: Social Classes and Social Movements


This thesis is an attempt to comprehend the process of gentrification occurring in the mill land areas of Mumbai. This thesis studies the various processes occurring over the last four to five decades in the textile mill lands of Mumbai known as Girangoan and analyses it through the rubric of gentrification. It attempts to look into the different localised indigenous processes of gentrification and simultaneously seeks to comprehend its everyday manifestations. By everyday manifestations, the thesis seeks to understand how mundane everyday lives become a part of the gentrification process and negotiate with it through varying tactics. The contemporary space of the mill lands of Mumbai appears like a historical collage. The process of deindustrialisation in Mumbai city which led to the eventual closure of the textile mills from 1980 onwards coincided with the emergence of a new landscape. Remnants of a number of old mill gates that were once the site of many textile mill movements are standing in a forlorn fashion along with their cold functionless chimneys jutting up in the sky. The rugged brick and stone buildings, typical chawl residences of the working class people standing along with the tall residential high-rises and corporate offices with modern architecture portrays a city space of juxtaposition. The agglomeration of large and small mill structures, small scale industries, and hundred years-old chawls juxtaposed with recently emerging gated communities, high-end restaurants, night clubs, art galleries, slum and chawl redevelopment buildings bring heterogeneity to this area. The existence of creative spaces in the form of art galleries along with vada pav stalls and printing presses run by former textile mill workers in the erstwhile textile mill compounds bring uniqueness to this place. What was initially mill land has transformed into a space of plurality and contrast. There is a spiralling up of the land value at an astronomical rate. The upper-class outsiders who are moving in are needed to pay exorbitant rents or huge amounts to buy flats. In comparison, the original inhabitants pay either nominal rent or no rent is given the existing rules of the Rent Control Act. Furthermore, by claiming ownership to their one-room tenements, the residents of these chawls are able to bargain for high rates of compensation from builders so as to facilitate their movement into more comfortable housing in the suburbs. Therefore different classes of people are brought together in the same arena without complete displacement of one by the other. This has not only complicated the entire process of gentrification but has also enhanced the scope for negotiation and bargaining with the real estate developers. The state plays an important role here. The state's policy formulations are often pro-gentrification, and this forces the ex-textile mill workers (a disappearing category) to continuously negotiate with the state for housing and employment. The thesis seeks to understand the differences and inter-linkages of various processes operating within the mill land areas at three specific sites: the working class chawls and their surrounding locality; the gated communities, the redevelopment buildings and the surrounding slums; the transformations within specific textile mill compounds and few other commercial spaces. The three sites are being chosen because they give different insights into the complexity of the gentrification process. The chawls were the erstwhile hopes of the textile mill workers. In any gentrification literature, one reads about the displacement of the working class by the upper class (gentry). But the scenario here is complex. The inhabitants are constituted not just by the textile mill workers (as many have since moved away) but also by other working-class groups. More importantly, the strategies adopted by the chawl residents to deal with pressures of eviction due to rising land values and high rents have been varied and interesting. The gated communities and its surrounding slums have been studied because the residents of the gated communities are supposed to exemplify the typical upper-middle-class gentry who are moving in to displace the urban poor. So a study of the gated communities to comprehend the type of residents, their reasons for moving in and their attitude towards the slum dwellers were deemed important. Further, the residents of the gated community and the surrounding slums share a dependent relationship which needed to be studied. The third site which was chosen was the mill areas which got converted into shopping malls and entertainment zones like night clubs and discotheques, art galleries and also corporate offices. In some of the studies of gentrification undertaken in the west, there is focus on the moving in by youth and artists into the inner city areas, made famous by Sharon ZukinÂ’s (1987) study of loft culture. The researcher wanted to study if such images and ideas have travelled to the newly emerging global cities like Mumbai. A Brief Description of the Methodology The research plan or research map has various phases of fieldwork which started in 2011 and ended in 2015. The field was revisited for a short period in 2017. Each phase of the fieldwork was for three to four months duration, sometimes continuously and sometimes with breaks. In 2011 it started with a one-day field visit to a chawl in Girgoan area in South Bombay. This one-day field visit allowed me to gather ideas about chawls, rents in the chawl and the pagdi system (certain sum kept as a deposit with the landlord) prevalent there. The next phase of field visit started in 2012 summer after arranging some initial contacts with probable respondents. This phase of fieldwork became very important as I was able to build rapport with some of my respondents and was able to find out some of my key informants. This phase of fieldwork was mostly with the erstwhile textile mill workers and their family members during visits to their chawls. The semi-structured interviews conducted with the mill workers in their chawls helped me to understand the chawl structure and their everyday practices. It also helped me to understand the chawl redevelopment processes, mill land redevelopments, the nexus among the chawl dwellers, chawl society members and the real estate developers. The next set of field work started in 2013 when I visited the three mill compounds i.e. Mathuradas mill compound, Phoenix mill and Raghuvanshi mill compound to comprehend the transformation within these structures. The third phase of fieldwork was conducted in the Apollo mill compound where gated communities have emerged amidst surrounding slums and were conducted in 2014. This fieldwork was conducted in order to find out the distinctiveness of this new class of people coming into the locality. The fourth phase of my fieldwork started in 2014 and continued till 2015. Here I tried to go along with the morchas of mill workers regarding their demands for the right to the city and tried to undertake some participant observation. It was in 2015 that I also visited Mitra mandals and interviewed the theatre artists, tamasha artist and rangoli artists and idol makers. In 2017 I revisited the working-class chawl areas to understand them further.