Life of Original Mumbaikars, Kolis

DOI : 10.17577/IJERTV10IS070110

Download Full-Text PDF Cite this Publication

Text Only Version

Life of Original Mumbaikars, Kolis

Taarika Ganesh

Graduate, B. Arch

School of Planning and Architecture VIT University, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Chadchan Jayprakash

Associate Professor

School of Planning and Architecture VIT University, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Abstract A group of fishermen, the Kolis have been living in Mumbai for the last 500 years. They have been known as the original Mumbaikars as it is believed that many prominent places in Mumbai have been named by this community. Their Koliwadas (meaning home facing the sea) are in various regions in Mumbai, such as Worli, Juhu, Thane, etc. Their livelihoods depend on fishing and at present, due to the increasing competition in the business, they are facing a lot of problems and due to this they have started looking at other means of income. Another major problem the community is facing is the new Coastal Road Development Project. The project poses a major threat to their land and there have been several resistances against this. However, this has not received any positive response and the community is facing the threat of being displaced from their inherent land.

The research aims to throw light upon the community, the various problems they are facing, study the reasons for their decline and look at options for revival and rejuvenation of the Kolis. The research will also look at how the area inhabited by the Kolis can become a potential tourist site by incorporating the abandoned Worli fort, keeping in mind traditional and cultural aspects.


    Kolis are an ethnic group of fishermen found in regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh etc. The area that has been chosen for the study is Worli Koliwada [1]. This community has been an important part of Mumbai citys identity and residents have been prime victims of the citys development. Figure 01 shows how over the years the number of fishing villages in the city have vanished rapidly due to the citys growth and development.

    The Kolis have been a part of Mumbai city for a long time now and they have witnessed and been a part of the changes and developments that the city has undergone. Even before Mumbai became the city that it is today, the Kolis have been inhabitants of the land. They are a crucial part of the city and have become a part of the identity.

    Figure01. Location and Growth of fishing villages in Mumbai, [Source: Kanekar, Sahil. "Re-interpreting the resource Case applied Sassoon Dock, Mumbai." Architectural thesis, Academy of Architecture. 2013- 2014.]

    In 1770, the community experienced a rather life-changing move. It was the time of the British patronage and they had taken control of several parts in the city. As the city developed, the Koli community was removed from Dongri by the East India Company. This caused the marginalization and sidelining of the community. As more land was reclaimed, the men of the sea had to settle elsewhere. They were stranded in the Cuffe Parade, and they started their traditional deep-sea fishing here. The Backbay reclamation in the 60s would have caused further marginalization if the community had not approached the court. Now their lands are protected under the law. [3]

    Recently, the community has been facing several issues, few of which have been highlighted in previous sections. The members of the community are now looking at various other livelihood options. The youth of the community are not interested in joining the fishing business and prefer taking up corporate jobs where they feel there is more scope for money. Due to the competition in the sea, overfishing is a

    common scenario. The Kolis do not get enough catch as they are no longer the only ones in the business. [14][15][16][17][27][36]

    To avoid further depletion and eradication of this community, strategic steps need to be adopted to ensure their protection and wellbeing. Therefore, the objective of the study is as follows:

    • To conduct a literature review of Koli communities located in Mumbai with respect to history, education, socio-economic and cultural aspects, government schemes and policies etc.

    • To undertake a detailed case study analysis of Worli Koliwada focusing on socio-economic, spatio-cultural, and infrastructural aspects.

    • To outline and suggest the need for alternative redevelopment strategies to empower the Koli community in general and Worli Koliwada in particular


    Historically, there has been difficulty in identifying the people as Koli or Bhil. The term Koli was used to describe lawless people and it was during the British rule, that the definition of this word changed and was later used as a noun to describe them as nothing but inferior to the Kunbis (a term used to refer to traditionally non-elite farmers in western India. [1]

    It is said that Kolis were the first inhabitants of the Mumbai city (then Bombay) and that they resided along the coast of the seven islands. It has been mentioned in several articles and videos that the etymology of Mumbai and several other locations in the city, have been from the Koli community. For example, Mumbai got its name from Mumbadevi, their goddess, and the patron deity of the city. Several other examples are Kolabhat which went on to become Colaba, Paalav (a type fish), went on to be known as Palva Bunder which then went on to be named as Apollo Bandar and Machagaon became Mazgaon. [2]

    When the East India Company removed them from Dongri in 1770, they were stranded in Cuffe Parade. It is from here that they began piling their ancient trade of deep-sea water fishing. The Backbay reclamation of the 60s would have eliminated and marginalized them further, had they not taken this issue to court. Now their lands are protected by the law. The Kolis live in communities and this place is called Koliwada (house facing the sea) in various parts of Mumbai such as Worli, Versova, Thane, Juhu etc. [3]

    Although there have been several efforts made to study the problems faced by the community through various studies

    and surveys, there has been no effort made to understand the potential and importance of the Worli Koliwada.


    Development is crucial for the growth of any city or country. The various impacts, both positive and negative, can be seen clearly if one looks carefully into the micro level picture of the city/country. There is a constant need for development in our country, however, at what and most importantly, whose cost?

    Mumbai has been known as the city of dreams and is one of the most populated cities in the country, with a population of 1.84 crores (as of census 2011). The city has served as a host for various immigrants who come looking for jobs and to settle down. Being the economic capital of the country, the city has witnessed and been a part of the fastest developments in the country. However, this development has also paved the way for disparities among the citizens at various social, economic, and cultural levels. Within the boundaries of this metropolitan city one can also find slums and people living in extreme poverty and living conditions. Slums like Dharavi are well known, and this is a clear indication that development does not favor all. To understand the life of this side of Mumbai, these aspects were studied:

      • Education Although they are traditionally fishermen, the Kolis have started educating their children due to the severe economic decline the community is facing. They do not want their kids to ace the same problems and want better lives for them [21]

      • Literacy Rates Now that the members of the community have started educating their kids, the literacy rate has increased. . From various surveys and research conducted, it can be observed that the youth in the community went on to pursue degrees and diplomas in the field of engineering and computer skills which were required for them to be hired for jobs. [21]

      • Health The health situation has improved but is still not the best. Many people still do not have access to good toilet and sanitation, and this paves way for the spread of diseases like diarrhea, malaria etc. The community has access to local government hospitals where treatment is provided at affordable rates. [21]

      • Culture – The Kolis have their own set of cultural settings and festivals that give them their identity. From their dressing to their folk songs, the Kolis will make you feel at home and a part of their community in just a few minutes. Koli folk songs and dances incorporate elements that the community is familiar with – sea and fishing [21]




    LATITUDE – 19º 0133N, LONGITUDE – 72º 4914E

    Worli is a locality in South Mumbai (Figure 02). Being one of the most prominent areas in the city, this area was initially one of the seven islands that made up the present-day Mumbai. It was a separate island and later joined with the other islands in the 19th century. Worli is connected to the closest suburb, Bandra, the sea through the famous Bandra – Worli Sea Link. The highlight of the area is the seaside promenade, giving the user a vibrant view of the Arabian Sea

    The study has been carried out by looking into various parameters and understanding how urbanization and development in the city have impacted the community. This was done by referring to various secondary sources such as research papers, government documents, surveys conducted etc. The data available for the study, was majorly focused on all the Koli communities residing in Mumbai



    The city of Mumbai has witnessed a tremendous increase in population since 1991. The population has almost doubled and is currently at an estimated 22 million, and most likely to keep increasing. This boom in population has been caused by the migration of people into the city looking for employment opportunities. The population density of the city is approximately 73,000 people per square mile, thereby making Mumbai one of the


      • Although several studies have been done on the Koli community, Worli Koliwada has not been considered for an intervention

      • This research serves as a background study for anyone who wants to conduct a research or take up an intervention in the area.

      • Site has immense potential for a context-based intervention which will replenish and rejuvenate the area.


      • Due to the availability of limited information and data for the study, the paper looks at the concerns of the Koli community in general and has looked at Worli Koliwada in detail.

      • Site visits were not possible because of the current COVID-19 situation.

        Due to this the actual essence of the area could not be understood completely. The study has been conducted through various secondary sources.

        Figure 03 – Pie chart showing Purpose of Fishing Business among community members

        Figure 02 – Existing land use map 2016 (1st); Proposed land use map (2nd) [Source- –,]

        most densely populated cities in the country. Due to the high land price, residents are often seen living in cramped and small houses, located very far from their workplaces. The percentage of people living in the slums is estimated to be around 41.3% in the Greater Mumbai region. [10][11]

        From the existing land use map and the proposed land use map, it can be understood that there are plans to make the area occupied by the Kolis fall under the region that has been proposed to be a potential organizable area.

        Due to the increase in population, there has been a significant increase in the number of built spaces, like apartment complexes, villas etc.., to meet the demand of the growing population. This is where land reclamation happens, and the most affected by these are the fishing villages and slums who will be displaced from their native grounds. From Figure 6 it can be noted that there have been no major changes, as of now, in the Worli Koliwada. However, recent developments proposed are posing a severe threat to the livelihoods of these fishermen


        The fishing industry in India has been an important part of its economy. It has been noted that India is the Worlds 2nd largest fish producer in the world. Nearly half of the inland fish production is from culture fisheries. The sector has shown a consistent growth in the total gross value included and records for 5.23 per cent of agricultural GDP. The fishing industry has also provided employment to about 14.5 million people in the country.

        There are several fishing villages in the state of Maharashtra and Kolis have been in Mumbai ever since it was seven islands. Fishing has been their livelihood for over 500 years now and they are popularly called the Kings of the Sea. This was since most of the fishing in the city was done by Kolis. Since fishing has been their traditional business, the Kolis are not well versed with any other mode of work. From a survey conducted, it was understood that there were more than one reasons as to why the people took up this occupation. [22] [Source-, Interpreted by Author from research paper. [22]

        From Figure 03, it can be observed that a large group of the community went into the fishing business because they have been doing this traditionally. This was followed by a group of people who went into the family business due to unemployment. There was a very small group of Kolis who did fishing because of their interest.

        The Kolis have an intricate relationship with the sea. They can be called the caretakers of the various coasts that they have settled along. They have respected the sea and because of this they have been able to thrive for this long. However, the community has received a massive hit due to various external factors. [22]

        A major issue that the fishermen are facing is the amount they receive after the sale of the catch. The long and overdue supply chain has not been of much help to the fishermen because they are not involved in the direct sale of the fish and therefore the money they receive after various links in the chain is considerably low. The more the number of links in the chain, the lesser is the amount the fishermen receive. The current chain looks like this.

        Fisherman Auctioneer Supplier Agent

        Exporter/Wholesaler Fish Market Consumer

        Mumbai, being the city of dreams, has received migrants from all over the country and even parts of the world, who come looking for jobs, and various other factors. Due to the increasing number of people in the city, the population has increased and has increased the demand for fish in the city. This has led to an increase in the number of people doing fishing. These new firms have technologically advanced machines and motorboats. The Kolis are finding it difficult to keep up with this trend using their traditional fishing nets and boats. The competition in the sea has caused a decline in their business and they are now looking at other livelihoods. [22]

        There are other sources of income for the community other than fishing. Due to the high rental rates in the city, migrants find it difficult to find accommodation at affordable prices. In this case, they are suggested to find accommodation in the slums or fishing villages. However, du to the condition of the slums, people usually prefer to stay in fishing villages.

        In the Koliwadas, Kolis who own double storey pucca houses, rent out the first floor. This assures the Kolis a monthly amount of Rs 4000-5000. But these contribute very little to the whole economy of the community. Many families are in debt because they have taken loans from various sources in the community itself and are now finding it difficult to repay the amount because of insufficient catch and sale of fish. [22]


        The Kolis have been living along the western coast of India for years now. Many of the people in the community live in either double storey or single-storey houses which were built by their forefathers. A survey conducted to study the condition and typology of houses that the people lived in showed that most of the population lived in either pucca or semi-pucca houses. Almost all the houses in the community, even though they have a different pattern, have an oti (verandah), a chool (kitchen), vathan (rooms), and devgarh (room of worship) [30]. There are 3 main types of houses found here: Pucca houses, Semi – pucca houses and Kutcha houses.

        Figure 04, 05 – Images of housing typologies in Worli Koliwada [Source- India: Worli Koliwada and Worli Fort, a fishing village obscured by the citys only highway", Minor Sights,25 May, Year unavailable.]


        Toilets – The Kolis have been living in very poor conditions for some time now. Pucca and semi pucca houses has toilets whereas kutcha houses did not. A survey conducted in June 2003 showed that majority of the population had latrine facilities. Then there was a group who used toilets provided by local authorities. However, these are poorly maintained and therefore, not preferred by residents. Due to this reason, open defecation becomes their last choice. [21]

        Water supply – Drinking water is supplied by various organizations in the city. The fishermen village mainly gets the water supplied from the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. There is a shortage of water supply and due to this reason, many households receive water on an hourly basis

        The people use water for household purposes, drinking, cleaning fish etc. [21]

        Electricity – The main supply into the fishing villages is by Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company Limited (BEST). The main activities for which electricity is required are household activities and other necessities like tube light, fan, bulb, television, mixer grinder etc. electricity is also required to run the cold storage and ice crushing machines. In most fishing villages, the electricity supply is in good condition. [21]

        Waste management – Waste is usually collected by members of the SMPA (Swachh Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan) from the collecting units. The waste is either collected from houses or is dumped in the open shores along the western and eastern coast. There is an existing solid waste management system in Worli Koliwada. However, canals, water bodies and open grounds can be seen with waste. [21]

        Figure 06 – Image of Existing Solid Waste Management at Worli Koliwada [Source Katare, Anjali. "An Urban village in Mumbai Worli Koliwada." Architectural thesis, CEPT University Summer School 2016]

        Figure 07 – Images of waste dumping in Worli Koliwada [Source- Photographs taken by Isha Chaudhari during site visit (Student at VITs PVP COA, Pune]


        The Koliwada is located along the Worli peninsula. The village is connected through narrow lanes and streets. Vehicular access into the area is restricted as it causes congestion and traffic. The houses are not very well organized and because of this reason, street layout is also not a convenient one. Internal roads connect the area, but these are not in very good condition. Kutcha roads can also be seen in areas leading to the beach side.

        Figure 08, 09 – Lanes and streets in the Koliwada [Source- Photographs taken by Isha Chaudhari during site visit (Student at VITs PVP COA, Pune)]


        An ongoing 8 lane, 29.2 km long freeway, the Mumbai Coastal Road Development Project connects marine lines in the south to Kandivali in the north. The foundation stone for the project was laid in 2018 after 3 years of planning. Around 415 acres of land was reclaimed from the sea for this project. The project aims to reduce the travel time between South Bombay and Western suburbs from 2 hours to 40 minutes. However, this project has stirred up several problems and the most affected by this project are the Kolis.

        Urban planning experts claim that the reclamation will push the boundary of the existing coastline by at least 100m towards the sea. This could lead to a variety of problems such as change in tidal patterns, erosion of beaches and blockage of the citys natural drainage systems along the western coast. These problems increase the risk of flooding the city. The fishermen have filed petitions in the Bombay High Court to stop the construction works, written several letters to the Chief Minister, however, no action has been taken in the communitys favor as of now.[14][15][16][17][18][19]

        Figure 10 – before CRP, after CRP


        The Worli peninsula is an ecologically sensitive stretch of land, surrounded by water on all three sides. The fishermen find it easy to catch fish in this part of the sea because there is a variety of fish available when we move into the deeper parts. However, ever since the construction of the Bandra- Worli Sea Link, there has been a severe shortage of fish because of the impact these concrete structures have on the creatures of the sea. The Koli fishermen say that during the time of construction, fishermen are banned from casting their nets in the area. The waste accumulated in the sea, during the construction of the Sea link was not cleared out, the water current has been altered, the locals were getting very little catch, breeding of the fish has been interrupted etc. are few of their main concerns. The impact of climate change can be seen in the marine ecosystem as well. It causes ocean warming, rise in sea levels, change in the chemical makeup of the aquatic environment etc. [17][27]


From the study conducted, several reasons for the rapid decline of community were identified. The following are the inferences and findings.

    • Historical significance Kolis have been an important part of Mumbai citys identity. They maintain cultural and ecological balance of the region.

    • Socio Cultural The community is actively involved in fishing and are one of the most welcoming groups. The Kolis have started educating their children as they do not want the same fate as theirs for their children. This has increased the literacy rate in the community. There are government health facilities providing treatment at affordable rates.

    • Location Being located towards the end of the Worli peninsula, the Koliwada is difficult to accessed through narrow lanes and streets. It is an ecologically sensitive region that needs to be preserved to maintain the ecological balance.

      • Land use and Growth – Migration into the city has led to an increase in demand for land and housing. Due to unaffordable rates in the city, migrants settle down in fishing villages. Densely crowded because of this reason.

      • Economy – Increasing demand in the city for fish has brought in more firms involved in fishing now. These firms have technologically advanced machines and motorboats and the Kolis are not able

        to keep up with this trend with their traditional fishing nets and boats. Reduction in catch because of competition in the sea. The Kolis have started looking at other options to make a living.

      • Infrastructure

  • Housing there are 3 types of houses pucca, semi pucca and kutcha houses. Most of the Koliwada has houses with two storeys where the family stays on the ground floor and the 1st floor is leased out. This is another source of income for the Kolis

  • Sanitation Pucca and semi-pucca houses have attached toilets. Public toilets are not in a very good condition. Most houses have electricity and water supply. There is a Solid Waste management system already existing in the area. Open dumping of waste can be seen in areas near the beach, in small open areas within the community also.

  • Transport The Koliwada is connected through several narrow streets making vehicular movement difficult in the area.

  • Environment – Due to various construction activities happening, the sea has been affected. Water current has been altered, locals were banned from fishing there, breeding of fish was interrupted. Climate change has also affected the aquatic environment causing ocean warming, rise in sea levels, change in chemical makeup of aquatic environment etc.

From the study, it can be concluded that the community is facing several problems, as mentioned in 5.1. It has also been noted that these problems have not been addressed and this has led to a severe decline of the community. Although several studies have been conducted about the Koli community, there has been no development or intervention that has been proposed in the area. There is a need to understand why actions have not been taken or if they have been taken, why is there no progress. The Government needs to work with the people and understand their problems in a more streamlined way. It is not necessary that the same solution will be the solution to all problems. Therefore, it is important to have a lot of interaction with the people and understand what they want.

The area is a potential site where a context driven intervention may be proposed. It is important to consider the traditional, cultural and heritage values of the site while proposing an intervention. Establishing a connection between the Worli fort and the Koliwada will bring in tourism into the area. The tourists can explore the community and end their visit at the fort. This will bring the necessary development in the area.

Another important reason why there is a need to preserve this community is because of its historical significance. As mentioned in the section 3.1., the Kolis have been a n important part in the identity and character of Mumbai city. These people have grown with the city, and they are the native people of the western coats. Displacing them will create an imbalance as they have been living in harmony with the sea for years now. Disturbing the natural balance of the environment will cause catastrophic reactions and this will not be good for anyone. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to maintain this balance for the good of the environment and people.


  1. Koli People. Wikipedia. Last modified on 5th June 2021.

  2. The Kolis, one of the oldest fishing communities of Mumbai, face an uncertain future." Firstpost. Last modified date unavailable, Year Unavailable. reads/the-kolis-one-of-the-oldest-fishing-communities-of- mumbai-face-an-uncertain-future-6500251.html

  3. The Kolis of Bombay, the original residents of the city." Culture Trip. 13 October 2016. bombay-the-original-residents-of-the-city/

  4. India: Worli Koliwada and Worli Fort, a fishing village obscured by the citys only highway", Minor Sights,25 May, Year unavailable. worli-fort-in-bombay.html

  5. Koli, the native fisherfolk of Mumbai, Kolis, 29 June,2011, of-mumbai.html

  6. Worli History, Worli Koliwada, Last modified date unavailable, Year Unavailable,

  7. Maharashtra housing and area development authority,, Last modified date unavailable, Year Unavailable, loan/mhada.html

  8. 6 urban development schemes you should know about, Proptiger, Last modified 11 May, 2016, schemes-you-should-know-about

  9. What the Coastal Road Project means for Mumbai." Firstpost. Last modified 4 April, 2019, means-for-mumbai-2-6388361.html

  10. Mumbai population." World Population Review. Last modified 2021, cities/mumbai-population

  11. Uncovering the myth of urban development in Mumbai." Urban age. Last modified 2021, urban-development-in-mumbai


  12. Johari, Aarefa. Why residents of a Mumbai fishing village want development, but not slum rehabilitation, , 19 November 2005, of-a-mumbai-fishing-village-want-development-but-not-slum- rehabilitation

  13. Kakodkar, Priyanka, Government bid to declare centuries old Worli seafront village a slum to allow towers, The Times of India, Day Month, Year published Unavailable. Updated on November 14, 2015. bid-to-declare-centuries-old-Worli-seafront-village-a-slum-to- allow-towers/articleshow/49751515.cms

  14. Joseph, Vinu, Why are fishermen in Mumbai worried about their Future?, The Times of India, Day Month, Year published

    Unavailable. Updated on August 10, 2018. fishermen-worried-about-future

  15. Kohli, Diya. Kandukari, Divya. Will Mumbais new coastal road destroy an entire village. Live mint, Day Month, Year published Unavailable. Updated on March 24, 2019. s-new-coastal-road-destroy-an-entire-village- 1553332665335.html

  16. Author unavailable. Coastal road to ease traffic flow; pay-out for project hit fishermen: MCGM tells Bombay HC. Money Control. Published on June 3, 2019. Updated on June 3, 2019. ease-traffic-flow-payout-for-project-hit-fishermen-mcgm-tells- bombay-hc-4060681.html

  17. Satheesh, Shone.. What the coastal road project means for Mumbai, , 4 April, 2019., means-for-mumbai-2-6388361.html

  18. Singh, Laxman. Worli Koliwada fishermen urge Aaditya to stop reclamation at Worli sea face. Indian Express, Day Month, Year published Unavailable. Updated on February 21,2020. worli-koliwada-fishermen-urge-aaditya-to-stop-reclamation-at- worli-seaface-6278692/

  19. Author unavailable. Stop the reclamation work at Worli sea face: Fishermen community of Worli. Mumbai Live., Day Month, Year published Unavailable. Date updated unavailable. reclamation-work-at-worli-seaface-fishermen-community-of- worli-to-aaditya-thackeray-and-uddhav-thackeray-45690

  20. Marpakwar, Chaitanya. After Covid, Worli Koliwada residents grapple with cyclone. Mumbai Mirror, Day Month, Year published Unavailable. Updated on June 4, 2020. covid-worli-koliwada-residents-grapple-with- cyclone/articleshow/76184658.cms?utm_source=Articleshow &utm_medium=Organic&utm_campaign=Related_Stories


  21. Author(s) Last name, First name. Social conditions of Koli community. Chapter III 68 Pages. Accessed Month Day unavailable, 2003. 8%20social%20conditions%20of%20the%20koli%20communi ty%20in%20mumbai%20city.pdf

  22. Author(s) Last name, First name. Economic conditions of Koli community. Chapter IV: 115 Pages. Accessed Month Day unavailable, 2003. 9%20economic%20conditions%20of%20the%20koli%20com munity%20in%20mumbai%20city.pdf


  23. Katare, Anjali. "An Urban village in Mumbai Worli Koliwada." Architectural thesis, CEPT University Summer School 2016.

  24. Kanekar, Sahil. "Re-interpreting the resource Case applied Sassoon Dock, Mumbai." Architectural thesis, Academy of Architecture. 2013-2014.

  25. Parmar Jeetendra Singh, Dulari. "Eco Tourist fishing village." Architectural thesis, Dr DY Patil College of Architecture. 2019.

  26. Ramirez, Jayson. "Mumbai fishing villages An attempt to save Urban Villages from Urban Explosion." Architectural thesis, Politecnico Di Milano. 2019.


  27. How Infrastructure is affecting the fishermen in Mumbai. YouTube Video. doqs/mumbai-fishermen-worried-about-future.,

Leave a Reply