Abstract: Throughout its colonial history, Calcutta had been a Hindu-majority city in the heart of a Muslim-majority province. Until the mid-twentieth century, despite bitter rivalry, the city’s Hindu and Muslim populations inhabited shared spaces, even in areas populated chiefly by members of one community. In such localities, there were scattered pockets where people of the other community resided, creating a complex inter-communal sharing of neighbourhoods, infrastructures, and resources. Ghettos did not manifest to the extent they do today. However, the city’s character began to transform slowly in the interwar decades due to the twin effects of urban renewal and communal mobilization, culminating in an utter territorial defeat of Muslims in the mid-twentieth century. One of the outcomes of this was ghetto formation in the city’s margins. While ghettoization is a violent process, ghettos are also kept in place through violence.
This talk looks at how the police as an apparatus of public order ‘read’ the city as a communally divided territory in moments of civil unrest. It also demonstrates how the cop–mob dialectic redrew, reinforced, and refunctioned the internal boundaries of the city. In this negotiation between the police and the mob, the street emerged both as a territory and as a zoning device. At the same time, the street (and the spatial order of the city) also shaped the tactics and the outcome of this urban warfare. In this light, I examine the police evidence of a series of communal occurrences spanning the first half of the twentieth century—including a communal civil war in 1946. In doing so, I track social infrastructures that developed around these riots and various forms of mass politics that further enforced the territorial reordering of Calcutta in the first half of the century. Finally, the chapter analyses the implications of these zoning exercises for the emergence of an internally segregated city in the post-colonial period. The discussion that follows examines the street and the ghetto as two distinct configurations of territory that frame the spatial reconfigurations of this period.
About the Speaker: Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay teaches History and Political Economy at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali. He is also with the M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP). He is the author of Streets in Motion: The Making of Infrastructure, Property, and Political Culture in Twentieth-century Calcutta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022). Bandyopadhyay’s earlier and ongoing research projects explore themes in informality, infrastructure technologies, urban history and governmentality studies in late-colonial and postcolonial India. He works on the trajectories of capitalist accumulation and urbanization in twentieth century Calcutta, economic informality, postcolonial statecraft and its relationship with knowledge, social policy, rent and tenancy relations in South Asian cities, and mass political formation under popular sovereignty and neoliberalism.