Mumbai has become a breakable city: Book

New Delhi: Mumbai is not new to communal riots – the oldest riot in the city dates back to 1893. Despite this Mumbai has always been hailed for its cosmopolitan spirit. Communities have always existed together in the past and continue to do so in the future. Mumbai has rejected philosophy of hatred, says a new book.

Mumbai, however, has become a fragile city, very breakable, and yet the fissures are underneath- over it is the gloss of unity and toughness. Mumbai is in reality, a breakable city. It is another matter that it joins up very fast, says the book.

Written by Meena Menon, a journalist, `Riots and After in Mumbai, Chronicles of Truth and Reconciliation` provides a synoptic record of events in Mumbai looking into the political manuipulations that ordinry people of both communities alike are subjected to by the ruling powers and political parties.

"Ordinary people are sharp to realize that there is an enormous political stake in all this. As more than one person pointed out (during interviews by the author), the ruling class encouraged this policy of divide and rule as the segregation of communities helps their vote banks", the author says. The political establishment benefits from this division, the helplessness of a community, and the threat of marginalization is like the sword of Damocles hanging over it.

The book says that reasons for the backwardness and helplessness were not being addressed at the first place. As a result, the reconciliation, post riots, with their lives is at a deeply personal level and there is little political attempt to breach this communal divide. .

Political parties pay lip service to secularism, and nurture people as their voters, the book says. Tracing the history of communal riots in Mumbai, the author says there is no attempt to understand the factors that drove the violence and redress those issues which are splintering communities.

Riots are followed by displacement and then the element of living in separate townships or ghettos comes up. Mumbai already had places where Muslims lived separately. History shows that Hindu-Muslim tension is not new to Mumbai. Mumbai`s first communal riot dates back to 1893 and since then there have been several riots in the Bombay Presidency and during and after Independence, the book says. The process of ghettoization could have started in those days, the author says.

Mumbai, over a century has changed vastly both in terms of its geography and population. From a cluster of seven islands, Greater Mumbai is spread over 468 sq kms, while the Mumbai metropolitan region extends over 3887 sq kms. Though ghettoized in parts, in Mumbai, people have not allowed themselves to be defeated by a divisive philosophy. There are many examples of people helping each other during the riots and there are great many stories of courage. That is what must give hope for the future, the author says.

Menon has divided her 266-page book into sections, beginning with history of the metropolis, chronicling communal riots in Mumbai, emergence of ghettos, displacement and polarization, loss of livelihood, perception of justice and then concluding her research.

The author`s findings and comments are based on research which she says largely consisted of tracking down people affected by riots and interviewing them.