On city margins

Print edition : March 08, 2013

CHRISTOPHE JAFFRELOT, the French social scientist, has emerged as one of the leading interpreters of Indian society and politics. His earlier works, on the growth of the Hindu nationalist movement and lower-caste political mobilisation, have received wide acclaim. Along with Laurent Gayer, he has now turned his attention to an issue that has received considerable attention following the publication of the Sachar Committee report: the relative backwardness of Muslims in India. The report was submitted in 2006, and since then a number of sociological and political studies have been done on this theme using the extensive empirical data contained in the report (cf. Lives of Muslims in India: Politics, Exclusion and Violence and Oxford Handbook of Muslims in India).

The editors of the volume under review have dwelt on the status of Muslims in 11 major Indian cities. “Muslim ghetto”, with a high concentration of Muslims, is used as an analytical entry point into the urban lives of the community. Thirty-five per cent of Indian Muslims, a higher proportion than any other community, live in cities, and this makes the volume an important addition to scholarly literature on Indian Muslims. The essays adopt a mixture of quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research methods to evaluate the social, political and economic situations of Muslims, providing rich and textured micro-studies of the ghettoes, most of which are underdeveloped and inhabited by people with low incomes. All the essays follow a template and examine the historical presence of Muslims in a city, their socio-economic and political situations and their presence among the local elite. This is a useful exercise as the cumulative surveys provide the editors with enough material to make interesting observations.

Muslims in India are inadequately represented in the judiciary, the administration and the police. It is clear that Muslims on the whole are marginalised, but when this is disaggregated, do we see this as a linear and general trend? This is the question that the editors pose.

The city occupies an important place in Indian Muslim history as it is here that kingdoms were established and ruled through the long period of India’s medieval history. It was also here that the syncretic Indo-Muslim culture flourished. The decline of the Muslim city in many parts of India began with the events of 1857, but with the migration of the Muslim elite to Pakistan following Partition in 1947, these cities almost completely shed their Islamic veneer. The relationship of the remainder of the Muslim populations with their cities changed after that. Vestiges of those old walled cities, where Muslim culture thrived, continue to flourish and are the modern hubs of Muslim city life and centres of Muslim identity politics apart from being areas prone to inter-religious rioting.

While these old settlements are often dominated by Muslims, enclaves have mushroomed on the new peripheries of old cities. This is because spatial reconfigurations are common in all the cities, with every communal riot acting as a catalyst in encouraging people to move to safer localities and, sometimes, the old city simply does not have enough space.

For example, Qudsiya Contractor demonstrates how Shivaji Nagar, a Muslim slum near Mumbai’s garbage dump, has been constructed as a “peripheral life space” through the state’s violent spatial strategies and the Hindu Right’s (mainly the Shiv Sena) cultural populism and communal politics. The Bhiwandi riots of 1984 and the 1992-93 riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid encouraged an influx of Muslims and an exodus of Hindus from parts of the slum. The state was perceived to be working against Muslims here as the police were complicit with the mobs of the Hindu right wing.

The editors discuss how Muslims from the old city and the industrial belt of Ahmedabad gradually moved into Juhapura on the outskirts of the city after the 1970s. In the wake of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, Juhapura emerged as a self-sufficient Muslim city within Ahmedabad. The state’s rabid anti-Muslim actions even in Juhapura have been well documented.

Gayatri Jai Singh Rathore’s study shows how communal spatial segregation started in the 1980s and reconfigured social structures in Ramganj, the area in Jaipur where the case study was conducted. It also shows the state’s contribution to the marginality of the Muslim population.

Gilles Verniers’ discussion of the Kashmiri Mohalla inhabited by the Shias of Lucknow shows how spatial congregations are dictated also by intra-Muslim conflicts between Sunnis and Shias. Three intra-Islamic riots—in the years 1969, 1974 and 1977—mark the collective memory of Muslims in Lucknow. It was during this decade that exchange of populations began to take place between Sunni and Shia areas.

Juliette Galonnier examines the interesting case of communally sensitive Aligarh as the presence of the Aligarh Muslim University there splits the town’s Muslim residents into two contrasts—the elite Muslims of Sir Syed Nagar and the lower-income residents of Shah Jamal in the old city.

Christophe Jaffrelot and Shazia Aziz Wülbers show how Bhopal’s Muslims have withdrawn into a shell, residing mainly in the old city, as they were affected by the riots of 1992 and faced discrimination from the state.

Muslims of Hyderabad, another former Muslim princely state, have also been disadvantaged by the departure of their elite to Pakistan, but Hyderabad stands out for its active political Muslim class represented by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Neena Ambre Rao and S. Abdul Thaha show that the Muslim political class is resilient in Hyderabad, but the irony is that the socio-economic condition of their constituents is dismal.

Laurent Gayer’s research in the Abul Fazal Enclave in Delhi shows that the overwhelming Muslim population is not forced to live here (ghettoisation) but chooses to live here (self-segregation).

Pralay Kanungo’s study shows how the small population of Muslims in Cuttack feels secure as it continues to live in mixed neighbourhoods even though it is economically, socially, educationally and politically marginalised.

Kozhikode in Kerala is an exception to many of the trends seen in other parts of India. Radhika Kanchana shows how Muslims in this politically aware city with a vibrant entrepreneurial class are the money spinners for the local economy.

Muslims in Bangalore, writes Aminah Mohammad-Arif, seem to be a “minority at ease”, with low levels of violence and better education, but things have changed since the 1980s.

Noticeable positive trends can be seen in the Muslim enclaves in many of the 11 cities. In Mumbai, for example, after the incidents of the early 1990s, progressive non-governmental organisations stepped into Shivaji Nagar and helped in establishing connections with the wider city.



Residents of Juhapura have realised that they need to become more self-reliant. There are also signs of the emergence of Muslim middle classes in Bhopal and Hyderabad who are taking advantage of newer economic opportunities. Employment in the countries around the Persian Gulf has also helped in the repatriation of significant sums of money. This is evident to some extent among the Muslims of Jaipur and Lucknow, to a greater extent in Aligarh and Hyderabad, and to the greatest extent in Kozhikode, where almost every Muslim family has one member working abroad.

Muslim-dominated enclaves, commonly called Muslim ghettoes (and pejoratively called mini-Pakistans), are easy to find in all these cities.

The editors question the idea of the term ghetto as they say that when the concept of a ghetto is elaborated, five features emerge: element of constraint over the residential options of a given population, class and caste diversity in the ghetto, neglect of these localities by the state authorities, estrangement of the locality and its residents from the rest of the city owing to lack of public transportation as well as limited job opportunities, and a subjective sense of closure of the residents. The editors point out that in this sense, it is only the extreme case of Juhapura that satisfies all the conditions of a ghetto.

They argue that the condition of Muslims in Indian cities shows “trajectories of social marginalisation” but this is not even across the country, with the decline being more pronounced in cities in northern and western India.

They also caution that though the term Muslim ghetto has entered common parlance, a distinction needs to be drawn between ghettoes and self-segregated ethnic enclaves. But it is also true that these enclaves have been formed as a response to communal insecurities.

Jaffrelot and Gayer’s work will clearly benefit a wide array of readers in the field of social sciences. While intensely scholarly, the book is also easy to read, making it useful for any layperson who is interested in the theme.