Course:GEOG352/Post-Colonial Theory in Mumbai, India

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Cuffe Parade Skyline, Mumbai, India
Dharavi slums, Mumbai

Introducing Mumbai

The Dharavi Slums are located in Mumbai, India. Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay while it was under British rule, and it is a rapidly growing metropolis. The city is the center of the nation’s flourishing Bollywood film industry, as well as home to ample commercial and industrial development. Like many of the world's fastest-growing megacities, there is a great division between the rich and the poor population in Mumbai. Luxury housing and commercial complexes overlook the densely populated slums, where residents live in poor living conditions and poverty. Dharavi is the most notable of these slums, and began as an area that consisted of fishing villages in the 19th century at the time of British rule in India. The legacy of British rule was oppressive and divisive -- like colonization in other parts of the global South, the British colonial officials sought to exert complete control in order to gain political hegemony and economic wealth. It was a period of high industrial development, and such development brought a population boom. There were dismal consequences of British rule that persisted even after their departure, and colonial processes had intensified disparities and given leeway into political corruption. While the legacy did seem to foster the city’s metropolis and mobility, the large expansion in population brought greater inequality among citizens and subsequently formed an environment that was conducive to the rise of slums.

Slums refer to squalid, run-down areas in which impoverished residents live their daily lives. Many of these slums are built near squatters on government-owned land. The Maharashtra state government has initiated several projects to redevelop the Dharavi slums, however, these efforts were often aborted with the decline of political support and financial investment. Linear theories of development have often been brought about as a way to construct understanding around the realities of the global south. However, in order to comprehensively understand the geographical intricacies of the global South, we must challenge these binary theories of linearity and instead think and engage with the colonial processes that continue to flow through and affect these regions. By using postcolonial theory as a lens through which we can view these areas, the histories and long-term consequences of imperialism can be deconstructed and analyzed accordingly.

An Overview of Mumbai

A History of Tension

Mumbai is gaining increased prominence globally, resulting from its “new landscapes of ‘neo-liberal’ urban economic growth, seen in financial districts and high rises”. [1] Global attention towards Mumbai is not only focused economically but is also evident in the cross-cultural exchange of images, goods, people, and ideas between the West and Mumbai. The global ‘scapes’, as discussed by anthropologist Appadurai, outlines the complexities of global cultural flows. Information in the form of images in film, news, and television allow audiences to create imagined worlds within the globalscape known as the “mediascape”. The experiences, images, and ideas of Mumbai are connected to viewers and markets overseas through advances in technology and international travel. [2]

Following the Indian economy’s liberalization in 1991, large cities experienced urban pressures from elite-driven economic strategies. These strategies included plans for new, privately-built towns, massive infrastructure projects and the empowerment of corporate actors in urban governance. These enterprises were met with grassroots empowerment discourse as citizens fought for their rights to urban space. As Shatkin notes, "the result is tension: between the egalitarian ethos inherited from traditions of socialism and Gandhian thinking, and the hard-driving utilitarianism of a globalizing business class; between the pluralist nature of Indian democracy, and the allure of authoritarian models of urban governance; between the modernist vision of a globally connected class, and the daily incursions on the planned order of the city by the poor. [3]

In thinking about cities in India, and specifically megacities such as Mumbai, it is important to consider the juxtaposition of land use in the informal slum settlements and consider the socioeconomic and cultural rhetoric surrounding such settlements. Bill Ashcroft argues that Mumbai is the “sine qua non of the postcolonial city… in every respect it encapsulates the processes of postcolonial movement and settlement that come to extend globally”. [4] While each postcolonial city is distinct in its own context, many postcolonial cities share common traits in their urban geographies. As a result of colonialism, Mumbai is a diasporic city where increases in mobility contribute to the large population flows, which subsequently exceeds infrastructural capacity and contributes to a rise of shanty towns.

Postcolonial Theory: A Definition and its Implications

The most dominant contemporary theory used in studying Indian cities is from the postcolonial perspective. Postcolonial theory is critical to understanding the historical, geographical and political complexities of regions in the global South. Postcolonial theory is difficult to bind to a single definition, though it is generally the study of how past and present colonial processes have influenced colonized populations and spaces. Ananya Roy extends this definition of Postcolonial theory to encompass a method of navigating Eurocentrism-- "not so much a way of interpreting and narrating the postcolony" but rather as a "method for interpreting and narrating the West" in urban studies. [5]

Mumbai, which was formerly known as Bombay, has become the poster-child of a postcolonial city through its adherence to global postcolonial processes. The city models concepts of mobility and cosmopolitanism, which are two factors that contribute to class disparity, inequalities, privilege and discrepancies in power structures. [6] When applying postcolonial theory, it is important to note that the concept of “postcolonial” does not have an exact temporal start and end, and is rather a recognition of how past colonial processes have shaped current “social, spatial and political structures” as an ongoing continuum, rather than a distinct era that exists separately from its colonial counterpart. [7] Breaking this pattern of linear thinking is critical to understanding and moving forth with postcolonial theory.

Slums afford people contingencies for lifting themselves out of extreme poverty by providing a living space within an urban environment that can function to increase economic growth, notwithstanding the squalid living conditions and inadequate sanitation that also emerge from such living spaces. The postcolonial government of India’s Slum-Free Cities Initiative is an indicator of a conclusive change in policymaking in the country. Previously, crude approaches such as slum evictions and demolitions were utilized during the process of world-class city making. The Slum-Free Cities initiative prioritizes the governance of spaces and ownership rights of the urban poor by transforming the slums into urban assets. [8] Roy argues that the spatio-temporal imaginations of postcolonial governments are divulged in Slum-Free Cities, and that these inclusive growth plans are methods of empowering the urban poor in capitalistic societies by allocating titles to the land they reside on. The initiative underscores the complexities and ambiguity of informal properties, as the land is converted to cadastral property, then valued as an urban asset. Roy stresses the limitations of such inclusive growth projects and the necessity of integrating the urban poor into urban growth plans within postcolonial governance.

A Case Study of Postcolonial Mumbai

Mumbai, Juxtaposed

The coming of independence in India did not signify an end to colonial processes and state oppression. The effects of these processes continue to influence regions such Mumbai, and many of the challenges that are faced by these regions are the direct consequences of globalization and economic liberalization. The rapid expansion and population growth of the city have resulted in disconnected methods of state governance and urban planning. [9] These methods of governance and planning result in Mumbai being a city of stark urban contrast, where the informal slums house the majority of the population in dense and often squalid conditions. These slums form their own communities and contain smaller-scale, informal economies, in which goods are manufactured and distributed within and external to the slum. [10]

The vibrant and dense culture of the Mumbai slums is juxtaposed next to affluent, industrialized and modernized areas of the city, where the lifestyles are contrastingly lavish and extravagant. The discrepancies between the rich and the poor in Mumbai can be traced back to British colonial rule in India-- the colonial city still reflects European power and influence through its social formation, political structure, and treatment of the working class. [11] Colonial structures have shaped the functions of India’s urban space and have subsequently influenced global perceptions of this space.

Global perceptions of Mumbai can be observed through the cinematic portrayals of the city. The Dharavi slums of Mumbai are portrayed in the highly-praised movie, Slumdog Millionaire. The cinematic perspectives modeled in films such as Slumdog Millionaire can be encompassed by the term “urban cinema”. Urban cinema emerges from areas such as Latin America, Asia and Africa and corresponds to cinema depicting urban transformations from rural to urban worlds. [12] Many of these urban international films are set in traditional, localized villages, depicting settings with historical and traditional moorings. Academics such as Lúcia Nagib urge for the importance of developing a contextual knowledge of these regions in order to “escape the traps of binarisms” that may be imposed by engaging with urban cinema without considering the dynamic nature of globalization. [13]

Cinema Culture and Slum Tourism

Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle, 2008

Danny Boyle’s production of the 2008 British drama Slumdog Millionaire portrays the contexts of the Dharavi slum through an exotic, aesthetically and cinematically-appealing light. The film follows a young man in his endeavours to raise himself out of the “squalor” of the Dharavi slums through a pursuit of luck and capital. The movie features the main character as a contestant on a modern game show; while he is competing, the film follows a series of flashbacks detailing the hardships and joys of his life within the slums. Slumdog Millionaire suggests through its exposition that the conditions of the Dharavi slums are impossible to prosper within, and are ridden with crime and corruption.

The first half of the film Slumdog Millionaire makes the suggestion that global media has the power to illuminate the lives of those inhabiting the social peripheries. The cinematic representation of Mumbai’s slumscapes is fused with depictions of social violence, which shifts the film’s script away from the category of a melodrama. The script of the movie fits into a category of dynamic voyeurism, where Indian social and cultural paradigms are manifested into human characters as an appeal to the consumer’s ethos. [14] Cinema such as Slumdog Millionaire that is tailored towards Western agendas develops a particular interpretation of India that consumers believe to be authentic. In actuality, these representations reflect a set of Western ideals projected into foreign contexts such as the Dharavi slums. [15] This kind of cinema enforces ideas of “slum tourism”, in which the cultures and histories of regions are exploited to depict less-than-accurate conditions in order to market ideas of exoticism to the West. Cinema that markets these concepts of exoticism tends to glamorize and reinforce this idea of a cinematic “global spectacle”, a type of voyeurism where depictions of foreign nations are reduced to stereotypes in attempts to make selected elements of such nations marketable. [16]

Slumdog: A Form of Modern Orientalism?

The discourse produced around Slumdog Millionaire is still relevant to some of the realities of contemporary India, however, it is important to recognize that the film depicts many immeasurable socio-cultural products that are often problematically accepted as authentic. [17] This reductive style of discourse encompasses the same space as transnational public debates about levels of “development” in formerly colonized states, in which development is used as a measurement of social, economic and political state in relation to a preconceived ideal. Cast members were selected based on their “psychosocial” suitability, in which many actors originated from areas in close proximity to the location of the film. [18] Both of these styles of discourse enforce dynamics about exoticism, slum tourism, and cinema that directly adhere to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism.

Orientalism is a term coined by Edward Said that is used to encompass the inherent Eurocentric orientation of Western literature and thought. [19] The common geographical divide between the “West” and the “East” places the West in a position that holds power over the East, where Western perspectives dictate the histories and representations of so-called regions of the “Orient”. [20] Orientalist perspectives were widely adopted during times of colonial rule in order to paint regions of the East as passive, exotic and undeveloped. [21] Using this pseudo-geographical divide in the past has given authority and power to Western regions, and it is important to note that such perspectives still exist prevalently in Western literature and ideology to date. Orientalism was an integral function of colonialism and the theory continues to hold significance in postcolonial analyses.

Orientalist moorings can be identified in modern media forms such as cinema and music-- the concept of erotic multiculturalism produced by such Orientalist moorings is introduced by Kristen McGee as “a relationship confounding and signifying the trajectories of the erotic and the exotic through the intersection of mass culture and new technologies”. [22] This idea of erotic multiculturalism can be identified in most forms of media and is spawned from the West’s imperial engagements and racialization of liberal multiculturalism. [23] The erotic multiculturalism that dominates Western media outlets is produced by globalization and reinforced by the commercialization of transnational multiculturalism through media. The music and media scholar Reebee Garofalo suggests that the consumer must rethink their understanding of the “transnational” image as one that is historically and locally rooted. Lawrence Lessig suggests that this media culture of multicultural hybridity exists as a product of a “technically-savvy” generation of individuals who use cultural hybridity as a means of harnessing their creative desires. [24]

Lessons Learned

Extending the Postcolonial

Mumbai is an exemplary model of the development of alternate modernities by postcolonial cities, as emphasized by the film industry. The idea of progress and modernity as an inevitable process of "development” is linked directly to Western imperialism. The multiplicities of modernization can be identified within the Indian film industry, which transforms western technologies into a profoundly distinct mode of cultural expression. The film industry has epitomized Bombay and Mumbai cosmopolitanism by portraying mergers of the Hindu, Muslim, North and South Indians. The multiplicity of contemporary modernity is demonstrated in the qualities of the postcolonial city. [25] When using Postcolonial theory to analyze the portrayal of global South and Eastern cultures, the effects of historical legacies, Western imperialism and Eurocentrism emerge to the forefront of academic discourse.

Slum tourism in cities of the global South is gaining popularity, and stems from the popularisation of exoticised images and ideas of the global South in cinema and other forms of mass media. It is relevant to note the heterogeneity of postcolonial cities when adopting a postcolonial perspective and to use this as a tool when regarding the complexities of the spatial-temporal conditions in which cities are organized. Urban informality is an important concept when understanding the phenomena of slums and the rhetorics provided by the urban poor. Informality is not only prescribed to slum settlements, but also to those of the elite class who command class power. Forms of informality across cities, between the slum and suburb, are dictated by those in power, where informal slum settlements are criminalized while elite forms of informalities are politically justified. After unpacking the meaning of “postcolonial” and recognizing such a theory's application as a global phenomenon, we must also recognize that Mumbai experiences postcolonialism differently from any other “postcolonial” city. There are intricacies to postcolonial conditions which may compare between regions, yet the intersectionality of these intricacies are what make the conditions of each city unique to themselves.

References

Reference List

  1. Harris, A. 2012, "The Metonymic Urbanism of Twenty-first-century Mumbai", Urban Studies, vol. 49, no. 13, pp. 2955-2973.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Shatkin, G. 2014, "Contesting the Indian City: Global Visions and the Politics of the Local", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 1-13.
  4. Ashcroft, B. 2011, "Urbanism, mobility and Bombay: Reading the postcolonial city", Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 497.
  5. Roy, A. 2015, “Who's Afraid of Postcolonial Theory?”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol.40, no.5, pp. 200-209.
  6. Jazeel, T. 2012. “Postcolonialism: Orientalism and the geographical imagination”, JSTOR, vol. 97, no.1, pp. 4-11.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Roy, A. 2014, "Slum-free cities of the Asian century: Postcolonial government and the project of inclusive growth: Slum-free cities of the Asian century", Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 136-150.
  9. Kidambi, P. 2013, Mumbai Modern: Colonial Pasts and Postcolonial Predicaments, SAGE Publications, Los Angeles, CA.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Krstić, I. & UPSO eCollections (University Press Scholarship Online) 2016, Slums on screen: world cinema and the planet of slums, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Hanrahan, F. 2015, “The Poverty Tour: Life in the Slums of Mumbai and Manila as Seen in Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" and Merlinda Bobis's" The Solemn Lantern Maker", JSTOR, vol. 37, no.1, pp.101-119.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Jazeel, T. 2012. “Postcolonialism: Orientalism and the geographical imagination”, JSTOR, vol. 97, no.1, pp.4-11.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. McGee, K. 2012, "Orientalism and Erotic Multiculturalism in Popular Culture: From Princess Rajah to the Pussycat Dolls", Music, Sound and the Moving Image, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 209-238, 265.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ashcroft, B. 2011, "Urbanism, mobility and Bombay: Reading the postcolonial city", Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 497.

1. Appadurai, A. 1996, Modernity at large : cultural dimensions of globalization, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Min.

2. Ashcroft, B. 2011, "Urbanism, mobility and Bombay: Reading the postcolonial city", Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 497

3. Hanrahan, F. 2015, “The Poverty Tour: Life in the Slums of Mumbai and Manila as Seen in Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" and Merlinda Bobis's" The Solemn Lantern Maker", JSTOR, vol. 37, no.1, pp.101-119.

4. Harris, A. 2012, "The Metonymic Urbanism of Twenty-first-century Mumbai", Urban Studies, vol. 49, no. 13, pp. 2955-2973.

5. Jazeel, T. 2012. “Postcolonialism: Orientalism and the geographical imagination”, JSTOR, vol. 97, no.1, pp.4-11.

6. Krstić, I. & UPSO eCollections (University Press Scholarship Online) 2016, Slums on screen: world cinema and the planet of slums, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

7. McFarlane, C. 2008, “Postcolonial Bombay: decline of a cosmopolitanism city?”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 26, no.3, pp. 480-499.

8. McGee, K. 2012, "Orientalism and Erotic Multiculturalism in Popular Culture: From Princess Rajah to the Pussycat Dolls", Music, Sound and the Moving Image, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 209-238, 265.

9. Pacione, M. 2006, “Mumbai”. Cities, vol.23, no. 5, pp. 229-238.

10. Raghuram, P. and Madge, C. 2006, “Towards a method for postcolonial development geography? Possibilities and challenges”, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 270-288.

11. Roy, A. 2011, "Slumdog Cities: Rethinking Subaltern Urbanism", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 223-238.

12. Roy, A. 2015, “Who's Afraid of Postcolonial Theory?”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol.40, no.5, pp. 200-209.

13. Roy, A. 2014, "Slum-free cities of the Asian century: Postcolonial government and the project of inclusive growth: Slum-free cities of the Asian century", Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 136-150.

14. Sidaway, J. D. 2000, “Postcolonial geographies: An exploratory essay”, Progress in Human Geography, vol.24, no.4, pp. 591-612.

15. Shatkin, G. 2014, "Contesting the Indian City: Global Visions and the Politics of the Local", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 1-13.

16. Tzanelli, R. 2016, Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of 'Slumdog Millionaire' Routledge advances in sociology v. 155, Routledge Ltd.

17. Williams, P. and Chrisman, L. 1995, “Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader”, South Atlantic Review, vol. 60, no.4, pp.168.



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