Girangaon and its mill workers, both men and women, shaped the metropolis of Bombay till the shutdown of the 1980s. That history ought not to be forgotten by Meena R Menon and Neera Adarkar
Girangaon or the village of mills was at the centre of Bombay’s evolution into a modern metropolis. The textile industry was one of the first modern industries in India and mill workers among the pioneers of trade unions in the country. It was a stronghold of the Communist Party and an important part of the history of Indian independence. It was also here that the right-wing Marathi party called the Shiv Sena took shape and later grew to occupy centrestage in Maharashtra. The Bombay mafia was born here. So the history of Girangaon is, in a sense, intertwined with the history of modern India.
Our book One Hundred Years One Hundred Voices, published by Seagull in 2004, dwells on this point. Today, nearly a decade since we worked on the book, there is a fear that the people of Mumbai are forgetting the city’s history that is so inextricably linked to mill culture. Girangaon stretches over a thousand acres — from Byculla to Dadar and from Mahalaxmi to Elphinstone Road. Its evolution started in the mid-19th century with the first textile mill being set up in 1851. The industry grew substantially in the 1870s and 1880s, all through till the first half of the 20th century, leading to a massive concentration of mills and ancillary workshops, workers and job-seekers in Girangaon. When the general strike called by Datta Samant came into force in 1982 and continued for two years, nearly 2.5 lakh workers were affected. If one calculates the impact on their dependants and those belonging to other ancillary industries, the number would touch 10 lakh.
Mill workers were the first migrants to the city, braving the arduous journey from their native villages to work in adverse conditions. They put down roots, evolved social institutions and associations, fought great political battles, entertained and educated the city with their plays, music and verse. They influenced its economy, politics, culture and space in innumerable ways. They came from all over the country and made the city cosmopolitan. They gave the city its famous tagline: “A city that never sleeps”. They worked late into the night and then poured out on to the streets for some revelry. They also created the