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The Bookends of a Jarring Transformation

From Albert to Salim

Saeed Mirza’s parallel cinema echoed the working class’s discontent and frustrations, even pre-empting the massive social transformation brought on by the Great Bombay Textile Strike.

On 18 January 1982, the textile mill workers of Bombay (now Mumbai) called for a strike. The mills had been built by the indigenous entrepreneurs of Bombay in the early 19th century after India became an importer of raw cotton from England. The mill workers were largely composed of migrants from the rural hinterlands and the coastal regions of western India. At the time, the industry employed approximately 2,32,000 workers across different parts of ­India. The working class culture of Bombay spatially organi­sed the city in a particular way, notably so in Girgaum, the “village of the mills.” With the strike and the impending arri­val of liberalisation, the landscape of Bombay was to transform in a disruptive, radical manner. Led by the powerful trade unionist Dutta Samant, the movement relied upon the support of more than 2,00,000 workers, and the mills were effectively shut down for 18 months. The Great Bombay Textile Strike is one of the longest working-class movements of Indian history, and it is yet to be formally called off. The ­failure of this movement also resulted in one of the biggest job losses in Indian history, with the retrenchment of 1,06,000 workers.

Registering their demand for a life of dignity, the mill wor­kers—comprising 25% of Bombay’s formal labour force—fought an arduous battle that they were bound to lose. The strike became the perfect opportunity for the mill owners to shut down an unprofitable venture and shift their investment elsewhere. Coinciding with liberalisation reforms, the redevelopment of the mills started in 1992 during a project to “modernise” the city. While the state government received two-thirds of the total open spaces of the mill land for the construction of state amenities, the mill owners could redevelop the rest for commercial use. By the turn of the century, the character of these redeveloped “mills” had changed drastically, with gaming arcades, shopping malls and fine dining restaurants embodying the consumerist, Westernised dreams of the Indian middle and upper classes.

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Updated On : 30th Oct, 2019

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