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Chawls of Bombay

Around the corner from India United Mill No. 2 stands a dilapidated chawl that boasts of Victorian-style architecture. Police occupied it earlier, but since it was already in a state of ruin, it was vacated and is in the same condition till date.

The chawls of Mumbai have been the most recognisable characteristic of the urban identity of the city. Initially built by the colonial state for the working classes who migrated into the city to work at the illustrious textile mills, chawls gradually transformed into the most common middle-class residential spaces. The transition from crowded one-room tenements for single male workers to buildings that typified middle class existence, chawls have witnessed crucial processes of social change in the city. A large number of these buildings have had the same narrative of being rebuilt by developers into gated high-rise buildings to house the growing population. A module documenting the rich history of chawls set in the context of the transforming social landscape of Mumbai will provide a crucial glimpse into the life in the neighbourhoods of Indian cities. The module will document how the chawls were used as a conduit for its residents to interact with the city at large, in a space of collective existence that fostered harmonious coexistence as well as conflict. It will preserve the history of how communities participated in the development of a mega-city through their built environment.