The historiography on colonial petitioning has primarily construed it as an authorized ritual of supplication designed to affirm and reproduce established power relations. This article restores to the analysis of the petition its status as a potential ‘event’ that could exceed its documentary confines and generate new communities of action. Focusing specifically on colonial Bombay, circa 1889–1914, it highlights three ways in which petitioning marked a rupture in the relations between rulers and ruled, and heralded significant shifts in the local constructions of state and society. First, the article shows how Bombay's Indian residents deployed the petitioning process to contest the unprecedented degree of state intervention in their quotidian lives following an extraordinary civic crisis that engulfed the city in the last decade of the Victorian era. Secondly, the article contends that the petitions that ordinary Indians in Bombay submitted to the different agencies of urban government point to a more complex set of orientations to the colonial state than has been acknowledged by scholars. Thirdly, the article argues that by the end of the nineteenth century, collective petitioning in colonial Bombay had become embedded in forms of political action with which it is conventionally regarded as being incompatible.