In India’s largest Muslim ghetto

Basharat Peer in The Hindu:

19-Basharat_GLA_19_2443996gOn a recent afternoon, after a two-hour drive out of Mumbai, I followed a highway hugging the low hills of Mumbra, north-east of the city, near the Thane creek. As the road forked downhill, hundreds of grimy, teetering buildings stacked like tattered books in a neglected public library were the first glimpse intimation of Mumbra, India’s largest Muslim ghetto. Despite the heat, young boys played cricket in a clearing by a graveyard. A chaotic medley of vehicles choked the main street leading into the Kausa area of the ghetto.

Mumbra expanded with great velocity in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The Bombay riots of December 1992, which overwhelmingly killed Bombay Muslims, and the retaliatory bomb blasts in January 1993 by the Muslim underworld, reconfigured the social geography of the city. Bombay Muslims from riot-hit areas sought safety in numbers and found it in Mumbra, where Muslims from the Konkani coast had a long-standing presence. Through a combination of the desire for safety among Muslims, the relatively cheaper price of apartments, and continued rural-urban migration, Mumbra’s population grew 20 times from about 45,000 before the 1992 riots to more than 9,00,000 in the 2011 Census — possibly one of the fastest expansions of an urban area in India.

Assadullah Khan, an electrical engineer in his late 40s, was among the first groups of people who moved to Mumbra from Mumbai after the 1992-1993 violence. Mr. Khan was living in Kannua Nagar in the suburb of Vitroli, a mixed neighbourhood, where Hindus and a smaller number of Muslims lived together without incident. Mr. Khan, who also gave part-time tuitions to students, was the only Muslim in his building. After the riots, most of his Muslim neighbours began to migrate to areas with a heavier concentration of their co-religionists. Mr. Khan was weighing his options.

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