ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ghettoisation of Economic Choices in a Global City

A Case Study of Mumbai

The “rise” of India on the global economic landscape has been accompanied by the revival of debates regarding the role played by social institutions such as caste, religion and gender in shaping an individual’s life chances. This paper engages with this debate by looking at a micro-level case study of the occupational choices of Muslim ex-millworkers in Mumbai city. Religion as a social institution combined with negative emotions and a lack of political patronage creates barriers for Muslims in the labour market, compelling them to seek livelihood opportunities in a ghettoised economy.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of the EPW for their constructive comments that were useful in revising the paper. The author also takes responsibility for any errors whatsoever in the paper.

In the past two decades, the question of economic marginalisation of Indian Muslims has become a subject of intense public debates, especially after the publication of the Sachar Committee report (Sachar et al 2006). The Sachar report noted that Muslims lagged far behind in their access to education, infrastructure, credit and employment in both public and private sectors. In a similar vein, the study conducted by Thorat and Attewell (2010), using correspondence method, also found evidence on discriminatory barriers for highly qualified Muslims and Dalits in the formal urban labour market. These findings resonate with other scholarly works, which have demonstrated the continuing relevance of social institutions such as gender, caste, religion and ethnicity in deciding an individual’s life chances (Harriss-White and Gooptu 2001; Thorat et al 2005; Thorat and Newman 2010; Deshpande 2011). While these studies have challenged claims by modernisation theorists (such as Panini 1996: 60) about social institutions becoming irrelevant in the era of economic reforms, state-commissioned reports as well as scholarly studies have largely relied on macro-level statistical data and have tended to focus on the formal sector of the economy. Besides, very little is known about various factors that feed into the prejudice against Muslims, which in turn creates barriers for their economic choices. Lastly, scholarly work on the erstwhile industrial centres, which is the focus of this paper, have primarily focused on the consequences of industrial closures on the retrenched workforce and their families (Breman 2004; Joshi 2002; Gooptu 2007). The question that remained largely ignored is whether social institutions played any role in determining the fate of the erstwhile industrial workers. This paper attempts to fill these gaps by examining the role played by religion, emotions and political patronage in deciding an individual’s economic choices in the city of Mumbai.

This paper focuses on the informal economy where most of the Indian workforce is located.1 The informal economy falls outside the regulatory framework of the state and is marked by low wages, more than legally prescribed working hours, the absence of social security benefits and at times abysmal working conditions. Against this backdrop, this paper seeks to investigate the following questions: what are the emerging trends regarding the economic choices opted by Muslim ex-millworkers in comparison with non-Muslim ex-millworkers? What role do religion as a social institution and emotions play in the context of neo-liberal urban socio-economic transformation and how far are the existing inequalities and hierarchies buttressed? I use ghetto as an analytical category for examining economic choices in contemporary Mumbai. Following Loïc Wacquant, ghettoisation is understood not as an “uncontrollable and undersigned process” but “as an instrument of closure and control” (Wacquant 2004: 2–3, emphasis in original). It is this instrument of closure and control, I argue, which confines Muslim individuals to work in a ghettoised economy. By ghettoised economy, I refer to that part of the economy, which is a product of the closure and control exercised by the privileged social groups upon the economic choices of the socially marginalised groups. The process of economic ghettoisation results in the confinement of Muslims to those occupations in which the upper caste or Other Backward Class (OBC) Hindus will not enter because of their perceived low social status and meagre earnings. Some of these occupations are even considered as polluting and defiling. The economic ghettoisation is enforced by creating “invisible” walls around occupations by the social institution of religion, negative emotions such as karahiyat and political patronage. Karahiyat is an Urdu word with several negative connotations such as aversion, nausea, disgust, detest, dislike, disdain, loathing, abhorrence, antipathy, disagreeableness and hideousness. Economic segregation between Muslims and upper-caste Hindus and OBC Hindus, therefore, is far acuter than just residential segregation. It is the idea of economic ghettoisation that I use to examine the occupational choices among Mumbai Muslims in relation to non-Muslims in post-industrial Mumbai.

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Updated On : 23rd Jul, 2018
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