‘Bhendi Bazaar will look like Dubai’ exclaims a young Bohra boy. The Dawoodi Bohra community of Bombay, a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Islam, is currently engaged in one of the biggest urban redevelopment plans undertaken in India. Spatially organized around the Rouza (mausoleum) of their religious and spiritual leaders, the plan aims to architecturally, structurally and eventually socially transform, Bhendi Bazaar, the ‘Muslim ghetto’ located in the native town of Bombay. The Dawoodi Bohras are a transnational Muslim trading community, functioning as a strong social, religious and economic unit in India. Organized under a living spiritual leader they maintain a distinct Ismaili identity, in dress, language, religiosity and even architecture, separating them from other Muslim communities of Bombay.
This paper aims to explain on their engagements with identity, faith and construction in the city of Bombay through the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Plan (SBUP). By undertaking a very coherent architectural performance, the SBUP aims to rebuild the highly congested, chaotic, and dilapidated Muslim ghetto, into a state of the art, grid of skyscrapers and high-rises. The paper also explores how the Bohra community has contested the horizon set by the JJ flyover, over this ‘native’ ‘Muslim’ area of the city. The build up of their plan transforms this horizon into a new, posh, clean city space, also attempting to erase the earlier imaginations of the Bhendi Bazaar area, as a zone of congestion, dilapidated structures and the so called ‘Muslim problem’ of the city.
Sarover Zaidi is currently writing her PhD thesis on religion, architecture and urban spaces of Bombay. Her PhD ethnographically traces the manners in which everyday life and architectural practices enmesh to produce a city space, tenaciously holding relationships between citizens and the state. She has specifically focused on the old ‘native’ town of Bombay, namely Mohammad Ali road area, and has explored the manners in which the JJ flyover built over it reinstates the ‘ghetto’ nature of this Muslim dominated neighborhood. She is affiliated to the Max Planck Institute, Gottingen Germany and the University of Utrecht, Amsterdam for her dissertation. She has previously worked in development and public health across India, and studied philosophy and social anthropology.
This is the seventy third in a series of Urban Workshops planned by the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), New Delhi and Centre for Policy Research (CPR). These workshops seek to provoke public discussion on issues relating to the development of the city and try to address all its facets including its administration, culture, economy, society and politics. For further information, please contact: Christine Ithurbide at firstname.lastname@example.org,Partha Mukhopadhyay at email@example.com or Marie-Hélène Zerah at firstname.lastname@example.org