Immanent domains: Gods, laws, and tribes in Mumbai

Elison, William

     This ethnographic study follows parallel inquiries among two groups in Mumbai, India, whose practices of organizing space have conflicted with rival geographies. The first concerns the construction by a diversity of residents, to be identified with the settlers of slum colonies who retain ties with their villages, of what the city authorities call "illegal religious structures": shrines and related outposts that station Hindu gods and other divine protector figures on the public streets. The second inquiry focuses on urban members of the Warli community, a tribal ( adivasi ) group whose settlements occupy the city's wooded northern frontier. Most of this zone has been reserved as a national park, although some sections have been opened to development by business interests, prominent among them the Bollywood film industry. In this case, too, a subaltern community claims and settles space by marking out homes for the group's otherwise invisible members--tribal gods and spirits.
     The municipality, the judiciary, and middle-class citizens' groups have generally been antagonistic to these subaltern spatial projects. Lawsuits filed in the name of the public interest have resulted in the demolition of street shrines and the ordered eviction of the national park's tribal residents. Yet while different social constituencies inhabit radically different visions of the same city, it can be said that a pervasive anxiety about the scarcity of housing in Mumbai haunts elite and subaltern perspectives alike.

Doniger, Wendy