Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (10.3 MB)

Ideas of Homeland and Politics of Space: A Study of ‘Muslim Localities’ of Delhi

Download (10.3 MB)
posted on 2021-11-22, 09:55 authored by Parveen, Nazima

The thesis investigates community-space relationship in colonial and post-colonial Delhi. Examining the process of identification, demarcation, organization and/or re-organization of space on the basis of religious demographics, the study questions the dominant imagination of ‘Muslim space’ as an objective, homogenous and permanent category. The research relies on extensive use of archival sources from national and local government, Urdu, Hindi and English-language newspaper reports and oral history interviews. The thesis particularly focuses on Shahjahanabad, that later became Old Delhi, to trace the story of the gradual transformation of caste/craft based shared community spaces into religion based ‘segregated’ pockets during the period of 1940-1977.  The study argues that the notion of communal space in Delhi is a product of a long historical process. The discourse of homeland and the realities of Partition not only demarcated space on religious lines but also established the notion of ‘Muslim dominated areas’ as being ‘exclusionary’ and ‘contested’ zones. These localities turned out to be those pockets where the dominant ideas of nation had to be engineered, materialized and practiced. Consequently, these localities were looked at differently over the period: in the 1940s, as ‘Muslim dominated’ areas that were to be administered for the sake of communal peace; in the 1950s, as ‘Muslim zones’ that needed to be ‘protected’; in the 1960s, as ‘isolated’ unhygienic cultural pockets that were to be cleaned and Indianized; and in the 1970s, as locations of ‘internal threat’ – the ‘Mini Pakistan(s)’ - that were to be dismantled.  The thesis starts with colonial Delhi where codification of cow slaughter practices; the demarcation of routes of religious processions; and the sectarian identification of residential wards, defined residential space and more specifically the electoral constituencies as ‘Hindu dominated’, ‘Muslim dominated’ or ‘mixed’ areas. The legal and administrative vocabulary that was deployed to establish such community-centric claims and counter-claims on urban space by political elite in the 1940s illuminates the ways in which a discourse of ‘homeland’ was gradually emerging in colonial and early post-colonial periods.  The thesis then moves on to the post-Partition period and explains the ways in which parallel imaginations of homeland, specifically the reconfigured idea of ‘Pakistan’, produced new imageries of communal space. It discusses the debates around ‘Muslim zones’, Muslim ‘refugee camps’ and ‘evacuee’ properties to unpack the issues of belongingness and identity of Delhi’s Muslims that termed Muslim dominated areas as ‘communally sensitive’ in the 1950s.  The thesis then explores the controversies around meat practice (its production, sale and consumption) in the 1960s -– to understand how an economic activity of slaughtering animals was turned into a ‘Muslim’ practice and placed in a binary opposition to selective Brahmanical vegetarianism claimed to be ‘Hindu’/ ‘Indian’ sensibilities. The consequent politics of space around Idgah slaughter-house, meat shops and the locality of Qasabpura is investigated to make sense of the contest over Muslim localities.  Finally, the ‘operation urbanization’ of the 1970s focusing on the re-organization of city space and communities through redevelopment, resettlement and population control is scrutinized. The thesis examines local politics and administrative policies to see how the authorities zeroed in to end Muslim ‘segregation’ through forced clearance and sterilization in Jama Masjid and Turkman Gate areas during the National Emergency (1975-77).  The study thus seeks to show that ‘Muslim localities’ are discursively constituted political entities that may or may not correspond to the actual demographic configuration of any administrative urban unit.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar; Lichtner, Giacomo