A town on the fringes
Mumbra, once a marshy strip of land in the suburbs of Thane, became one of the largest Muslim refugee settlements after the Mumbai riots of 1992. Twenty years on, Mumbra is trying hard to move on
It is easy to own a house in Mumbra, easier still to build one. "Buildings as tall as eight storeys have come up here in the past few years. Some do not even have lifts. But people buy them. After all, it is affordable. If a buyer is looking for a flat here, it is unlikely he will get one with all legal documents in place," says Hussain Wagle, who calls himself a "legal builder" and a "native" of Mumbra—as opposed to the "outsiders" who fled Mumbai to make this wasteland their home after the riots of 1992. Much like Mumbra's construction business, its residents know the best way to grow is vertically, with memories of the riots tucked away in layers of time.
Till about 20 years ago, Mumbra, sandwiched between Thane creek and Parsik hills, was a marshy strip of land with a population of 44,217—most of them Konkani Muslims like Wagle and a few migrants who worked in Thane and made Mumbra their home. That changed with the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the riots that followed in Mumbai. Muslims from different parts of Mumbai fled 35 km north to Mumbra. It's now an 'overpopulated' suburb of Thane with a population of a little over nine lakh, 80 per cent of them Muslims.
Twenty years after the riots, Mumbra has come to represent the damage majoritarianism can do. Besides those who fled the riots of 1992, in the years that followed, as spaces in Mumbai shrunk, Muslims who sold their properties to cash in on the skyrocketing price of land, moved to Mumbra to be with their "own people".