Class 10 History

City in the Contemporary World: Colonial India

The situation in India was somewhat different from that in Western Europe. The pace of urbanization was slow during colonial rule. In the early twentieth century, no more than 11% of population was living in cities. A major chunk of the urban dwellers were living in the three Presidency cities, viz. Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.

These notes are based on the chapter City in Colonial World from class 10 social science NCERT history book and CBSE syllabus.

The Presidential cities were multi-functional cities. These cities had major ports, warehouses, homes and offices, army camps, educational institutions, museums and libraries. Because of being the hubs of business and political activities, these cities grew in population.

Bombay expanded rapidly from the late 19th century. The population of Bombay grew from 644,000 in 1872 to 1,500,000 in 1941.


In the seventeenth century, Bombay was under Portuguese control. It was a group of seven islands. After the marriage of Britain’s King Charles II to the Portuguese princess, the control of Bombay passed into British hands in 1661. After that, the East India Company shifted its base from Surat to Bombay.

Initially, Bombay was the major outlet for cotton textiles from Gujarat. Later, in the nineteenth century, it became the transit hub for large quantities of raw materials; like cotton and opium.

Gradually, it became an important administrative centre. By the end of the nineteenth century, Bombay became a major industrial centre.

Work in The city

After the defeat of the Maratha in the Anglo-Maratha War, Bombay became the capital of Bombay Presidency in 1819. With the growth of trade in cotton and opium, large communities of traders, bankers, artisans and shopkeepers settled in the city. Opening of textile mills initiated a fresh round of migration to the city.

The first cotton textile mill in Bombay opened in 1854. By 1921, there were 85 cotton mills. About 146,000 workers worked in these mills. Between 1881 and 1931, only about one-fourth of the inhabitants of the city were born in this city.

Between 1919 and 1926, women formed about 23% of the mill workforce. After that their number dropped steadily to less than 10% of the total workforce.

The railways encouraged migration into the city at even larger scale. Famine in the dry regions of Kutch forced a large number of people to migrate to Bombay in 1888 – 89. In 1898, the district authorities were so much worried during the plague epidemic that they sent about 30,000 people back to their places of origin by 1901.

Housing and Neighborhoods

Bombay was a much crowded city, compared to London. In the late 1840s, each Londoner enjoyed an average space of 155 sq yards. In Bombay, each person had to manage with just 9.5 sq yards. About 8 persons lived per house in London, while in Bombay 20 persons lived per house.

The Bombay Fort area formed the heart of the city in the early 1800s. It was divided between a native town and a European of white section. This racial pattern was similar in all three Presidency cities.

The city developed in an unplanned way; which led to huge crisis of water supply and housing by the mid 1850s.

The rich people lived in sprawling bungalows. But more than 70% of the working people lived in the thickly populated chawls of Bombay. About 90% of millworkers used to live in Girangaon. This was not more than 15 minutes’ walk from the mills.


A chawl was a multi-storeyed structure. These houses were usually owned by private landlords. Each chawl was divided into smaller one-room tenements. The tenements had no private toilets. The rent was so high that people were forced to share a tenement with relatives or caste fellows.

Since homes were small, streets and neighborhoods became the place for various activities like cooking washing and sleeping. Liquor shops and akharas came up in any empty spot. Street entertainers and hawkers also used those empty spaces.

People from the lower castes found it difficult to find housing. These people were kept out of many chawls. They often had to live in shelters made of corrugated sheets, leaves or bamboo poles.

The City of Bombay Improvement Trust was established in 1898. Its focus was clearing poorer homes out of the city centre. In 1918, about 64,000 people were evicted from their homes but only 14,000 were rehabilitated. A Rent Act was passed in 1918, in an effort to keep the rents under control. But this led to a severe housing crisis because landlords withdrew houses from the market.

Land Reclamation in Bombay

Bombay had largely been built on the land which was reclaimed from the sea. In other words, land was created by filling a portion of the sea with soil. The earliest reclamation project began in 1784. William Hornby (Governor of Bombay) approved the building of the great sea wall to prevent flooding of the low lying areas.

Many reclamation projects were taken up from time to time. By 1870s, the city had expanded to about 22 sq miles. Even the famous Marine Drive had been built on the reclaimed land.

The City of Dreams:
Cinema and Culture

Bombay is overcrowded and chaotic. But it attracts people from every corner of the country. Many people come to Bombay in order to fulfill their dreams which could be big or small. There are many rags-to-riches stories of people who migrated to Bombay to fulfill their dream. Moreover, Bombay is also known as the city of dreams because of its deep association of cinema. Most of the films produced in India are produced at Bombay.

The first Hindi movie; Raja Harishchandra; was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. By 1925, Bombay had become the film capital of India. In 1947, about Rs. 756 million was invested in about 50 films which were produced in that year. By 1987, about 520,000 people were employed in the film industry.

Most of the people in the film industry were migrants from different places. Majority of the film personalities came from Punjab (especially from Lahore of undivided Punjab), many came from Bengal and other parts of India. These people shared their experiences, happiness and sorrow while crafting a movie. Thus, these people developed a national character of the industry.

Cities and Environment

The development of cities resulted in long lasting damage to the environment. Use of coal in homes and industries in the nineteenth century England raised serious problems. In most of the cities, black smoke from the chimneys gave a permanent gray tone to the sky. Many people suffered from bad tempers, smoke-related illnesses and dirty clothes. By the 1840s, some towns such as Derby, Leeds and Manchester made laws to control smoke in the city. But it was difficult to implement these laws because industrialists did not want to invest in cleaner technologies.

Similar problems were witnessed in the Presidential cities in India. Burning of biomass and coal by homemakers, industries and railways created lot of smoke and black soot in the cities. Much legislation was passed to control air pollution but they could not produce the desired results.