Religion-marked Spaces and Memories of Violence in Mumbai : Inhabiting and Remembering
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Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) is home to several religion-based segregated spaces, particularly of minority religions. In an ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2015-2018, I explore the relationship that inhabitants of such spaces have with the space they reside in and what memory narratives of violence circulate within these spaces. I chose three different minority religion-based segregated spaces or what I call religion-marked spaces; Mumbra with a Muslim majority; Dadar Parsi Colony with a Zoroastrian majority; and Gautam Nagar, a Dalit–Buddhist majority space. I chose two incidents of violence that took place in the ‘90s in Mumbai, the Bombay riots of 1992-93 and the Ramabai Nagar massacre of 1997, to study the memories of violence. The term “ghetto” is often used in the context of Muslim spatial segregation and Dalit spatial segregation both in academic as well as popular literature. In an overhaul of the term, I argue for its reconceptualization to accommodate different dynamics in the production of minority segregation in the Indian urban landscape. In this reimagination, I abandon the use of the term in isolation and instead, conceive of it in conjunction with the Hindi/Urdu, māhaul, that is often used by inhabitants of Mumbai (and my interlocutors) to describe the areas they live in. Māhaul differs across space and time. It serves to delimit spaces while at the same time diffusing around to exist at varying levels of intensity. It accounts for individual variations in experiences within a neighbourhood. It accounts for the multiculturalism within a locality. It allows us to comprehend space from the perspective of inhabitants. Through a semantic exploration of the word, I conceive of the māhaul as referring to physical surroundings, spatial culture, and habitus. That is, māhaul refers to the material dimensions of space, the culture within, and the dispositions engendered by the space. When ghetto is used as an adjective for māhaul, the term “ghetto māhaul” captures the different processes that lead to the formation of different minority religion-marked spaces. A ghetto māhaul is characterized by the religious māhaul, pañcāyati māhaul, and the safe māhaul. A religion-marked area provides an experience of safety within one’s own community leading to the safe māhaul. The religious māhaul refers to the preponderance of a particular religious culture within a religion-marked space. A pañcāyati māhaul refers to the experience of surveillance. Finally, I argue that while all three religion-marked spaces demonstrate a ghetto māhaul to some extent, Mumbra and Gautam Nagar additionally exhibit a place-based precarity that is not encountered in Dadar Parsi Colony. This place-based precarity is experienced through boundary-making strategies that describe disgusting spaces especially when perceived from outside. Place-based precarity has different manifestations; in Mumbra it manifests as victimized place-based precarity and in Gautam Nagar, it manifests as empowering place-based precarity. Memories of the two violent events differ across the three spaces in two ways. First, the quantity of memories that each of the events inspire occupy a rather large range. Second, the kind of memories (very often determined by the point of the interview at which they occur) differ considerably across the three spaces. With this context, I identify five different aspects of memories of violence. First, flashbulb memories (Brown and Kulik, 1977) are those that describe what the individuals were engaged in when they received the news of the violence. Second, first-hand experiences of direct violence refer to those memories where interlocutors describe personal experiences of direct violence. Third, Lifestone memories are those that emerged at points in the interview to indicate life transitions. Fourth, intergenerational memories refer to those that are transmitted from one generation to another. And finally, I group as absent memories all those instances where interlocutors declared they did not remember anything. Employing a narrative analytical strategy, I argue that the memories from Mumbra and Gautam Nagar must be seen within the framework of place-based precarity. In contrast, I argue that the data from Dadar Parsi Colony provides a launching pad to write an oral history of space and violence of the Colony that is locally specific and rooted in Bombay Parsi identity. In sum, this thesis demonstrates the complexity of the term ghetto used in the Indian urban context. It includes the concept of place-based precarity within the discussion of the term ghetto. It advocates analyses of memories of violence within the context of this place-based precarity. Finally, it demonstrates through a localized oral history how memories of violence intersect with historical trajectories and spatial identities.