Mumbai is India’s largest city and home to some 14 million people. It is also the main financial and business centre of the country – and has been at the sharp end of the contradictions caused by India’s turn to globalised capitalism.
The attacks on the city have brought the world’s attention to its downtown area, packed with hotels and restaurants for tourists and India’s elite.
But Mumbai is also a city of the poor. Some 60 percent of the population live in slums. A third of the city’s residents have no access to safe drinking water.
It is also a multicultural city. Mumbai is the capital of the state of Maharashtra whose official language is Marathi. But many people – including thousands who have come to the city from neighbouring states to seek work – speak Hindi, Gujarati or other Indian languages.
Politicians have exploited these differences to maintain their grip on the city. Since the mid-1990s Mumbai has been dominated by a thuggish far right organisation called Shiv Sena.
Shiv Sena rose to power by whipping up hatred against migrants and mounting murderous attacks on trade unions and communists. In 1995 it took control of Maharashtra in electoral alliance with the right wing BJP party.
Both Shiv Sena and the BJP are supporters of the “Hindutva” – a far right ideology that claims Hindus are superior to other groups in India, especially Muslims. In December 1992 it orchestrated anti-Muslim riots that led to hundreds of deaths.
This in turn led to Islamist groups bombing the city in 1993 and in 2006. Both incidents killed hundreds of ordinary people – and triggered a backlash from state authorities out to scapegoat India’s Muslim population.