Dark Clouds over the City of Dreams The Bombay Riots Story told through Newspaper Reports

10, Jan 2018 | Sushmita

Few events in history change the face of cities in a manner not recognizable. ‘Bombay’, now Mumbai has been long known for its cosmopolitan fabric. Every day lakhs of people migrate to ‘Bombay’ with a thousand dreams. Some want to make it big in the Bollywood, some just want to earn a living. The city, with all its harshness, accommodates. The powerful resist this accommodation, but just like a new passenger struggling for a seat on a general compartment, people struggle to stay back. The city does not leave you easily. It is true when people say, “If you come to Bombay, you will never leave.” Regardless, in this city there are ghettos, areas that are unidentifiable to the Bombay that existed before 1993. This is looking back into the events that changed the face of this city, namely the Bombay riots of December 1992-January 1993. In this article, we dig through archives and tell the story through the lens of news-paper headlines.


Fateful Days

Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6 1992 and within few hours, victory processions and temple bell ringing (Ghantanaad) and Maha-artis started taking place in Dharavi, Pydhonie, Kalbadevi by afternoon and evening. These celebrations were organised by the Shiv-Sena and Bharatiya Janta Party, now the party in power. This was a celebration of bizarre proportions in which both the Maharashtra state and Central governments with Narsimha Rao as Prime Minister, failed to provide any sense of safety to the Muslim community. Apart from other things, Ashgar Ali Engineer notes, that the Maha-artis did the most damage as these invariably ended with anti-Muslim propaganda that exacerbated communal tensions. As per government’s own reports just between December 26 till January 5, there were 33 such artis! By January 8, 113 such artis had already taken place, which the police admitted as having aggravated communal tensions.

These celebrations proved humiliation and provocation enough to a minority, alienated by the failure of the Indian state to protect a 400 year-old Mosque. Some Muslim organisations also organised protests. The motivated campaign for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya had never been just about that; it had successfully unleashed a hitherto curbed hatred of the “Muslim other”, now blamed and victimised for historical wrongs and in a medieval and macabre dance of revenge, was being made to pay.


The morning after the Babri mosque demolitions, angry protesters came out defiantly and destroyed all symbols of authority. The police, not only watched but also shot to kill people especially in and around Mohammad Ali Road; and even attacked few journalists who were sincerely trying to do their duty. Casualties of over 220 were reported in the first 72 hours and by December 10, 1992 when Muslim bastis near Macchimarnagar in Mahim were set ablaze, Bombay well and truly burned. In some sections of the city like Nirmalnagar, Deonar, Nagpada and Byculla, acts of aggression by the Muslims were also clearly visible. Shiv Sena leader Bal Thakeray openly tried to twist facts by trying to blame illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for the outbreak of the violence.

In the second phase of riots, the notorious incident at Radhabai Chawl where four Hindus were burnt alive, became a trigger for the horror that was to be unleashed in the coming days.

This incident gave a chance to the likes of Advani and Manohar Joshi to say, “They were all anguished Hindus who were spontaneously reacting to what happened in Jogeshwari” about the riots that ensued. It is a different matter though, that the “reaction” was 600 times more in magnitude than the incident at Radhabai Chawl.

While the police was completely communalized, the then Chief Minister, Sudhakarrao Naik completely failed to control the situation which turned so grim that many from the city including Ratan Tata and Nani Palkhiwala demanded partial emergency and the handing over of the city to the army. The city had never witnessed communal violence of such magnitude ever before. Even the May 1984 riots were nothing compared to what happened during January 1993.

Scarring of the City

The days of riots saw Muslim families and communities living in sheer terror. Flats, even in high rise apartments were not spared. The bakeries of UP Muslims were burnt at a scale that caused the shortage of bread in Bombay city. It seemed as if the communal forces were determined to destroy Muslims economically, especially from all the prime commercial centers of the city. city. Shops belonging to the Bohras and Khojas, the two most peaceful Muslim communities who hardly ever take part in any political controversy, were not spared. Hundreds of Bohras and Khojas lost everything. Many of them had to leave the city for other places.

As a result of the riots, nearly 10,000 houses were burnt, and more than 1,00,000 people had to live in refugee camps for several of days. While most people could not return to their houses, some, who just wanted to check their lost property saw boards outside their localities saying, “Minorities not wanted”. Everyone wanted to sell their houses and “live with members of their own communities as far as possible” despite that translating into living in houses that were lower in standard. Ashgar Ali Engineer writes, “..even if it means, as Shahabuddin of Pratiksha Nagar said, “living in third-class surroundings compared with my A-class area”

The thing that happens with communal riots is the process of ghettoization of communities. The communal forces encourage this to stop the communities from inter-mingling and so that nasty stereotypes propagated about communities find no counter or different experience.

An article published in Sabrang.com noted, “Bombay 1992-1993 saw brute expressions of this targeted violence as organisations in their perverse attempt to “purge” areas of unwanted groups succeeded in terrorizing residents to remove or change name-plates that were identifiably Muslim, men to shave off their beards. Where previous bouts of communal frenzy had started the trend, 1992-1993 accelerated it – if Borivali today is a large Gujarati ghetto, then Yari Road is a mini Mohammed Ali Road.

Life within ghettos is always problematic, especially for girls and women as patriarchal norms, governed by cultural hegemony, become the norm. Minorities within the ghetto, be they driven by gender or thought, become victim. The state in India has remained a mute spectator to this dangerous trend that is dividing cities and neighborhoods, even as archaic and colonial British laws allow residential colonies to exclude persons on the basis of community or caste.”


*** Feature Image by Mukesh Parpiani

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Also read:

Has Bombay Healed

Anatomy of a Hate Crime

Bombay Riots Timeline



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