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Leeds varsity professor films anguish of Maharashtra's two Muslim ghettos
Sunday September 1, 2013 3:13 PM, Hena Farhat,

Two areas and localities- hundreds of kilometres away from each other, one has the privilege of being part of India's most promising metropolis, and the other is in a district which has as its headquarter one of Maharashtra's fastest growing city. But when it comes to the availability of basic amenities and infrastructure, both the areas depict similar stories.

Byculla in Mumbai and Malegaon in Nashik district, both are considered as Muslim majority areas, and have surprisingly similar stories of pain and anguish the people there had to undergo because of years of negligence and step-motherly attitude meted to them by the state. Documented regularly by various people, the issues with these two Muslim majority neighbourhoods are again in news, this time through two short films produced by an Indian-origin researcher at University of Leeds, UK.

Produced by Dr. Ayona Datta, an Indian origin researcher settled in UK, and assisted in India by Dr. Abdus Shaban, Professor and Chairperson of International Student Office at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the two films – one on Byculla titled as 'City Bypassed' and the other on Malegaon titled as 'City Forgotten', were screened for the students of the University of Leeds in August, and released by OpenDemocracy for global viewers.

Throwing the light on the motive behind producing these films, Dr Ayona Datta in reply to the questions e-mailed to her by, writes, "The films came about as a result of my disappointment in the dearth of visual teaching aids on citizenship, belonging and urban development for higher education teaching. I teach on these topics, yet it is difficult to find visual teaching aids through which the social, cultural and gendered impacts of urbanization and urban development, particularly in the global south can be introduced, discussed and debated with students."

She further writes, "I began with the notion that these mini-documentaries would tell the story of urban development in Maharashtra – a regional state in India which has Mumbai as its capital to boast and in recent years has seen rapid urbanization unsurpassed in India's history."

"Byculla is an inner city neighbourhood in South Mumbai, close to the business district hence facing rapid urban renewal, yet divided along various lines of religious, caste and community; and Malegaon a medium-sized single economy town approximately 300 km from Mumbai, relying on the powerloom sector but left behind by urban development", Dr. Datta writes in reply to a question.

The short films, which have all capacity to move their viewers, revolve around the local people from different fields including journalists, traders, entrepreneurs, social activists, teachers, students, weavers and small vendors both men and women, with a focus on the question why these areas with such a huge population of Muslims lag behind and what could be the possible way-out.

"Set in Byculla, South Mumbai, City Bypassed tells the complex story of the ironies of Mumbai's urban renewal and the casualties along this journey. Byculla has the the largest Muslim population in Mumbai and rose to notoriety as the site of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1992", openDemocracy comments on the short film on Byculla.

"Still coping with the stigma of communalism and violence, Byculla however has seen high urban renewal because of its proximity to the central business district. Yet this renewal comes at the cost of ghettoisation and increasing marginalisation of women and urban poor. City Bypassed explores the ways that Mumbai's minorities, women and poor continue to enter the public realm, claim citizenship rights and negotiate the larger forces of change dividing and shaping the city along class and religious lines", it added.

The film on Malegaon starts with a woman vegetable vendor mumbling with sheer despair '(power)loom bundh to sub bundh', describing in just one sentence how strongly the economy of the city depends on the local powerloom industry, and goes on with others recounting the pathetic state of the city, once regarded as the Manchester of India.

"The city has more than 2.5 lakh powerlooms and produces more than 2 crore metres of fabrics everyday. It shows what kind of potential for growth the city has. But, it is lacking in all sorts. Be it the basic infrastructure and availability of the essential amenities or the avenues of higher education and job opportunities, people here are devoid of everything", a local journalist has been filmed as saying.

At the same time the film generates a hope and banks on the strength of local potential to grow and race with other cities. "We don't demand from the government to convert the city into a London or America. Not even into a Mumbai or Delhi. We just hope to have what has been given to others and been warranted to all by the constitution. We are also working on it and are sure the city will pick up with time", a local journalist said in the film.

Dr. Ayona Datta herself writes, "Students from the college interviewed in the film spoke eloquently about the different ways that underdevelopment and marginalisation has gendered, and communal impacts that in the long-term divides communities even further. There may yet be hope for Malegaon as those filmed have suggested."

[Photo Caption: A Byculla street. (Dr. Ayona Datta)]

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