Contrary to popular opinion, Mumbai does manufacture things other than broken dreams and false hopes. The city was once a hub for textile mills.
Girangaon – translated from Marathi to the ‘village of mills’ – was n area in central Bombay that was home to 130 textile mills, and responsible for Bombay’s evolution into a modern metropolis. 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,the Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company, being set up in Tardeo 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.
Girangaon was the stage for many political movements, from the Independence struggle to the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. 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 impression that it is “safe for women”. Women constituted about 20-25 per cent of the total textile workforce until 1931, when with the introduction of the night shift (forbidden to women workers) and maternity benefits (which employers saw as an added cost), the number declined. The fact that they were working outside home and earning their living gave them a sense of independence, which lead them to be active participants in the freedom struggle and create a city-wide cutlure of working women.
In 1982, the general strike heralded the irreversible decline of the textile industry. The factors that lead to this were that the industry was largely indigenous and labour-intensive, and wilted under globalisation. Over three decades since the strike, not a single mill remains functional – some have been abandoned, and others have been redeveloped as expensive high rises. Take a look at the old mills of Girangaon and what they are today.
Explore Mumbai’s erstwhile hubs of manufacturing