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Renewing the City: Efforts to Improve Life in Calcutta’s Urban Slums

Poverty and environmental degradation: Inside PM Basti, Howrah. (Achinto Bhadra)

Poverty and environmental degradation: Inside PM Basti, Howrah. (Achinto Bhadra)

Communal Riots

Calcutta is also the city that witnessed the Great Killing of 16 August 1946. Bastis had been the centres of major communal riots between Hindus and Muslims during 1945-47, and again in 1950. Post-riot analyses dwelt upon the degraded conditions prevailing in the bastis, which led to the build-up of rage that erupts in riots. In December 1992, some Muslim slum areas of Calcutta were rocked by communal riots following the destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya. Looking from within a basti, it is possible to begin understanding how and why riots actually take place, in the context of the politician-criminal nexus that thrives on deprivation and disempowerment.

For the ruling state government, preventing communal riots has become a matter of utmost importance. Given that it is Muslims who are ultimately worst hit by riots, this commitment by the state is indeed commendable. However, despite being in power for 25 years, the state government has been unable to do anything about the steady social and economic disempowerment of Muslims.

Owing to the lack of direct control of senior party functionaries over basti matters, local criminalised cadres who face obstructions from the party are in a position to blackmail the party higher-ups by giving a communal colour to any matter going against them and inciting a small-scale riot if necessary to press their point home.

Slum environments are sites within which communal riots are manufactured. Hence the challenge, of making a breakthrough in empowering basti dwellers.