Mumbai’s growing Hindi heartland

At the same time, the number of people who claim Marathi to be their mother tongue is on the decline.

Mumbai is arguably one of the most linguistically perse cities in India, with a remarkable trove of languages taking root here over the past century. But over the last few years, demographic changes caused by migration, both in and out, have been slowly turning Mumbai's identity into that of a predominantly Hindi-speaking city.

While there is no recent quantitative data available about the origins of each Mumbaikar, a 2011 census report on the mother tongue of residents in the city has shown that respondents who identify Hindi to be their mother tongue has grown by over 40 per cent from 25.88 lakh to 35.98 lakh in Mumbai. At the same time, the number of respondents who said that Marathi is their mother tongue fell by 2.64 per cent from 45.23 lakh in 2001 to 44.04 lakh.

Also Read | How changing demography could affect Mumbai’s politics

Interestingly, this change is also evident in the peripheral areas of Mumbai with both Thane and Raigad district showing an 80 per cent increase in the number of Hindi-speaking residents.

The gradual change in the composition of Mumbai has had an important bearing not only on planning and governance but also in shaping the politics of the city.


Mumbai, which began as a port city, found further sustenance with the proliferation of textile units in the 1900s. The city's growth was fuelled by migrants, who in 1921 made up nearly 84 per cent of the city's population. Most of the migrants hailed from the erstwhile Bombay Presidency and came from areas like Konkan, Western Maharashtra, parts of Gujarat and adjoining states like Goa. These migrants helped Mumbai become a commercial and industrial centre of note.

In the last 40 years, the shutting down of its textile mills, and the transformation of Mumbai from a manufacturing hub to a services hub changed the migration pattern. Earlier, migrants into Mumbai were largely from other parts of Maharashtra, but the non-mill jobs did not attract them, and cheap labour from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar flowed in.

Ram B Bhagat from the Department of Migration and Urban Studies of International Institute of Population Sciences in his paper titled "Population Change and Migration in Mumbai Metropolitan Region: Implications for Politics and Governance" points out that the share of migrants from Maharashtra to Mumbai had declined from 41.6 per cent in 1961 to 37.4 per cent in 2001. At the same time, the number of migrants from Uttar Pradesh increased from 12 per cent in 1961 to 24 per cent in 2001 while the increase from Bihar was even more steep from 0.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

Changing mother tongue (Source: Census/2011)

Many of the North Indian migrants are said to have taken up jobs in the unorganised sector where the work was erratic and the pay very low.


Inpiduals who claim Marathi to be their mother tongue are still the largest ethno-linguistic group in the city. This is followed by Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati.

However, the data shows that the number of people who claim Marathi to be their mother tongue are on the decline. From a total of 45.24 lakh in 2001, their number declined to 44.04 lakh in 2011. In the same decade, the number of Gujarati speakers fell marginally from 14.34 lakh in 2001 to 14.28 lakh in 2011. The number of Urdu speakers fell from 16.87 lakh in 2001 to 14.59 lakh in 2011.

The only major linguistic group that has shown a massive spike is Hindi speakers, whose numbers have zoomed from 25.82 lakh to 35.98 lakh, which is an increase of close to 39.35 per cent.

This spike in Hindi-speaking numbers is not restricted to Mumbai alone. The housing constraints in Mumbai were a major reason for the gradual shift of Mumbai's Marathi-speaking population from the heart of Mumbai to its peripheral regions. But even these regions have shown a massive spike in Hindi-speaking population.

In Thane and Raigad, two adjoining districts where "native" Marathi-speaking Mumbaikars were pushed due to rising real estate costs and loss of jobs, the spike in Hindi-speaking residents is as high as 80.45 per cent in Thane and 87 per cent in Raigad district.


Enumerating a city as big as Mumbai with a population of 1.24 crore has its sets of problems. While no one denies the fact that Mumbai has acted as a magnet for migrants from North India, one important reason that is given for this massive spike in numbers is the probable under-reporting of these numbers in previous census.

"Over the last years due to the prevalent social and political climate in the city, there is a chance that there was under-reporting of Hindi-speaking members. The fear of being hounded as a "Bhaiyya" or an outsider may have led people to camouflage their identity. Language is closely tied to a person's culture and identity and many who lived in fear may have tried to hide it. In the present social, political climate, many would be feeling empowered enough not to hide their identities," Abdul Shaban, Professor at the Centre for Public Policy, Habitat and Human Development at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said.

Shaban explains the linkage of language with identity assertion by giving an example of the huge jump in the number of Urdu speakers in Mumbai between 1981 and 1991. Shaban says that while the actual numbers would not have increased that much, the Muslims of Mumbai faced with the then prevalent socio-political situation had chosen to assert their identities by identifying Urdu as their language.

He says the constant assertion and promotion of the narrative of Hindi with nationalism also seems to be paying pidends. "There may be a significant number of inpiduals who even if they hail from other states and speak other languages may want to identify with Hindi as their mother tongue. The prevalent socio-political condition of the country over the last few decades has helped increase such number of people," Shaban says.