This is the story of the 300,000 workers of Mumbai’s textile mills, most of whom lost their jobs. It was during early 1980s, over 125 years since these mills shaped the city of Mumbai, when the mill owners deemed these mills unprofitable declined the workers’ wages. The workers had no choice but to call for strike, which lasted for 18 months. The strike collapsed, and the once called Manchester of the East, fell flat. Unlike what most Bollywood films depict, this is the true story behind Mumbai underworld.
Girangaon, or the village of mills, was the name commonly used to refer to the area in central Mumbai, which had almost 130 textile mills. The mills of Girangaon contributed significantly to the prosperity and growth of Mumbai during the later nineteenth century. It led to the transformation of Mumbai into a major industrial metropolis. The textile industry was offered government incentives in the form of long term leases, as mills stimulated the economic growth and employment.
In the early 1980s, the owners deemed these mills unprofitable and declared that they were incapable of paying their workers’ wages. They refused to upgrade their technology and declared losses. Soon most of the mills were shut down. The land in which the mills were built had become more profitable, if implemented in construction of huge shopping complexes and residential colonies. Mill owners used this opportunity to grab the precious real estate. The life of the 250,000 mill workers was at stake, but the then government, headed by Indira Gandhi, took a firm stance of rejecting the demands of these 250,000 workers, and refusing to budge despite the severe economic losses suffered by the city and the industry.
After a prolonged confrontation, the strike collapsed with the workers not having obtained any concessions. 250,000 mill workers lost their jobs. A few sought employment in other industries while many left the city. Some committed suicide, while others waited for justice. Some even joined the local criminals and thugs and led to the rise of mafia in Mumbai. Many till date protest against the government’s apathy on the issue and stay in dismal conditions. 30 years have passed since this tyranny. Justice is awaited.