Diversity exposure course was organized by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism at Wilson College, Mumbai from 10th to 22nd December, 2018. The course consisted of lectures as well as field component. The course began with an orientation and introduction session by Neha Dabhade, Deputy Director of CSSS and Prof. Biraj Mehta, Philosophy Dept, Wilson College. On the same day, Prof. Nasreen Fazalbhoy, retd. Sociology professor from Mumbai University, conducted a session on conceptual understanding of diversity. The session helped the students in understanding the stereotypes regarding certain communities and noticing the diversity in the society.
Prof. Arvind Ganachari, historian, conducted the next day’s session which focussed on the ‘History of Mumbai’. Prof. Ganachari spoke in detail about how the city since its earliest stages has had diverse populations of Muslims, Parsis, Kolis (Fisherfolk) who came here for the purpose of trade. His lecture situated the history of the Mumbai through the global developments such as American Civil war, increase in opium trade and such other events. He described how in migrations happened of different communities in different periods – first the Telugu migration took place for construction workers, then the Konkanis came in the city around 1875-1910 to work in mills, then around 1940 upper caste Tamilians moved to Mumbai due to Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu, post partition migration of Punjabis and Sindhis and the recent ones from the northern states. The students were overwhelmed with the information the session brought to them and a lot of them also said that their history books never spoke of these incidences which Prof. Ganachari illustrated.
The enriching lecture by Prof. Ganachari was followed by Prof. Nasreen Fazalbhoy’s session on Diversity within Muslim communities. She explained that there is diversity in Muslim communities not just religion wise but based on region and culture. She displayed various pictures of diverse types of clothing within the Muslim community. She said that it is important to know that there is no homogenous Muslim community as people claim for political gains.
The third day began with the screening of the documentary ‘India Untouched’ which is a collection of experiences of caste-based discrimination in different parts of the country. After the film screening, the students expressed that they always knew caste system existed but to such an extent and in every day lives. The discussion on the movie was the starting point of the lecture which was followed by it and was conducted by Dr. Ramesh Kamble, Head of the Sociology Dept, Mumbai University. Dr. Kamble took off from the film and how caste was depicted in the film and moved on to explaining the making of an identity such as Dalits. He addressed ‘the notion of locating oneself’ and the process of selfhood in the society. He then moved on to explaining the Dalits in the city of Mumbai and long struggle through literature and other means which they’ve fought for justice. The discussion centred around the claim to the city spaces and dignity of individuals.
Prof. Ranu Jain from TISS conducted the fourth day’s session which was on ‘Construction of Identity’. Prof. Jain started the session with the basics of what constitutes an identity and how the process of socialization shapes the identity further. She discussed this identity formation process through the book ‘Mothering a Muslim’ by Nazia Erum who has described the discrimination faced by Muslim children in schools. The discussions revealed the discrimination faced by certain students when they were in school too. After the lecture, there was screening of the film ‘Seven islands and a metro’, which is a film about the Bombay of the working class and the daily struggles of this class. In the background of the film there is juxtaposition of the romanticizing words of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai about the city.
The next day’s session was conducted by Prof. Ivan John, Sophia College and Omkar Bhatkar, Professor and playwright. In the first half, Prof. Johns spoke about gender beyond the binaries of men and women. It broadened the perspective of the students to understand the issue of gender equality in more detail which included talking about politics of space, representation of different genders in popular culture and how society ascribes certain roles to certain genders. The second half was facilitated by Omkar Bhatkar who spoke about the history of theatre in Mumbai and how has it affected the city’s journey. He highlighted the diversity within the theatre in Mumbai and how caste, gender and class dynamics shape the art.
Bhendi Bazaar is a part of Mumbai which has rich cultural history as well as the business hub of the city. The students were taken for a walk to the area which was guided by Zubair Azmi, director of Urdu Markaz, an organization based in Bhendi Bazaar which works on Urdu language. Since the area has always been stigmatized as a ghetto, the students were surprised to know the cultural heritage of the space. The walk started at the famous Mughal Masjid and ended at a book shop which has been there since six decades. Listening to the stories of various poets like Jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir Ludhianvi etc. the students were intrigued by the litterateurs the place had produced. The walk made the students think about the prejudices they had regarding the area and the people.
The next day’s visit was to Vasai gaothans to understand the culture of East Indian Christian community. This visit was facilitated by Smita Lopes, a social worker from the community itself. She explained the students about the mixed culture of Christians in this area. Along with her, the students went to a Church, a temple and the Vasai fort to acquaint themselves with the religious and historical diversity of the place. Since there were some internal issues in the community that day the students couldn’t talk to the community people for a long time but did find some opportunities to interact while strolling around the fort. A wedding at one of the churches almost seemed like a Hindu wedding, one of the students exclaimed. The visit helped the students in understanding the fluidity of cultures amongst different religious communities.
The next two days were two walks by Rafique Baghdadi, film critic and a professional who conducts heritage walks. The first day the students went to Mazgaon area where they got to know about how Mazgaon docks came into existence, a walk through the old houses and also visited the Hasan Ali Shah’s Mausoleum. The sheer knowledge Baghdadi has regarding the areas left the students spellbound. The discussions ranged right from poetry, films, architecture to politics and economics of the city. The next day’s walk was to the old Irani cafes in and around Grant around. Again, the students discussed with Baghdadi regarding the food culture of the city and how the cafes are still in business. Some of the students said that they visit this area often but never tried to look through the lens as they did that day.
The course ended with a lecture by Prof. Indra Munshi conducting a lecture on the tribal communities of Mumbai. The lecture addressed the issues of tribal in the city especially due to the development narrative of the state which exclusive to these communities. The rights of the tribal are violated time and again by the state for the ‘greater good’ policy. The students discussed with Prof. Munshi about the existence of the tribes since a long time and the commercialization of forest resources.
The students gave their individual presentations on various topics related to the course. The topics of the presentations were fisher folk community in Mumbai, Mumbai and the war of 1857, the Irani Cafes (Video documentation), the city and the experience of visually impaired people, history of Jazz in Mumbai, the effect of terrorist attacks on the Muslim community of Mumbai and tribal and the forest resources.
The course was an eye opener for students as regard to the diversity of the city. A homogenized narrative of the city is always represented through media and therefore it becomes important to spread awareness of these counter narratives of diversity. Students said in the feedback that they though they had heard about the communities, places and events discussed in the course some times but neve thought to understand its importance and place in the larger narrative of city of Mumbai.