05 Resistance

The rumors of large-scale redevelopment that accompany the incursion of the real estate market threatens to disrupt, erase, and push the marginalized identities and occupations into a precipitous and precarious state of existence on the peripheries of the city. Many brothels have been converted to manufacturing units thus displacing sex workers to the far flung peripheries. Suspension of redevelopment projects has also left several small scale manufacturers and migrant workers fearing for their future. They are no longer welcome in Kamathipura. Neither is the rest of the city welcoming of poor migrant laborers or small manufacturing, especially those involving waste recycling.

However, communities are pushing back against the neoliberal forces of redevelopment. While some groups are questioning the process of redevelopment and the trade-offs, others are reclaiming their right to inhabit Kamathipura and practice their fringe livelihoods. Kamathipura is a thus a unique mosaic of fringe identities and occupations. It continues to accommodate social groups and livelihoods that are morally and physically shunned by the rest of the city, albeit in a contested space.

Questioning who benefits from redevelopment

The promise of redevelopment has also pitted some residents who want a sanitized and de-stigmatized neighbourhood against the sex workers and waste workers who are viewed as impediments to redevelopment. Some native residents however challenge that view because they understand the dire socio-economic situations that sex workers will face if they are evicted from the neighbourhood. Brothel based sex workers are antagonistic towards the street-based sex workers who are perceived to draw too much attention from the police and residents. There is rising distrust within and between the different communities and livelihood groups in the neighbourhood preventing broader alliances.

Reclaiming the street

As buildings collapse due to neglect or are evicted and many of the sex workers, homeless populations and migrant workers are displaced, there is a visible reclamation of the streets and interstitial spaces of Kamathipura by these very groups, to practice their livelihoods and seek shelter. With the brothels shutting down, the sex workers have started occupying the streets. With the police and MCGM removing encroachments, homeless communities refuse to leave the pavements and set up temporary shelters in vacant or disputed plots. With residents complaining against the waste recycling clusters, these enterprises keep shifting spatially and occupying abandoned or half demolished buildings. The marginalised and migrant labouring communities of Kamathipura contest its stigmatisation to reclaim and transform their neighbourhood.

The question remains, what lies in the future for Kamathipura and its inhabitants?


Books and Book chapters

  • Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work, and Migration in the City of Mumbai Shah, Svati. 2014, Duke University Press.
  • Social Geographies of Bombay’s Sex Trade, 1880–1920 Tambe, Ashwini. 2019
  • In Bombay before Mumbai: Essays in honour of Jim Masselos Edited by Prashant Kidambi, Manjiri Kamat, Rachel Dwyer, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Red Light area mapping, Kamathipura March 2019. Prerana. https://www.fighttrafficking.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/RLA-Mapping-KP-FNL.pdf


  • Kabhi Aana Tu Meri Gali A film by Aparna Srivastava, Arya A. T., Garima Kaul, Ramadas Prini Sivadas, Sanghamitra Dutta, students of the School of Media and Cultural Studies, TISS, Mumbai
    The film attempts to trace the parallel story of the process of gentrification in Kamathipura along with the disappearance of sex workers from the area.




Nala Sopara