There are five largest slums in the world: Dharavi (Mumbai, India), Khayelitsha (Cape Town, South Africa), Kibera (Nairobi, Kenya), Neza (Mexico), and Orangi Town (Karachi, Pakistan). A ‘slum’ is a thickly populated shabby part of an urban city, a cramped spaces inhabited by poor people who usually been disgust by the upper community but the fact is, they are the biggest contributor to boost our country economy. There are basically the back bone of the country. Dharavi is considered one of the largest slums in Asia and it has an area of just over 2.1 square kilometres and a population of about 700,000 plus living in 100,000 around makeshift homes and appx there are at least 400-450 people per acre. The largest slum in the world, however, is located in Mexico city (Neza) with four times more people than Dharavi. Mumbai is known for its Bollywood film industry, some call Mumbai as city of dreams while some come to Mumbai to bag the job they work their ass of for many many years. But Dharavi Slum came into international limelight when Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) won an Oscar award. A British drama film that is a loose adaptation of the novel “Q & A” (2005) by Indian author Vikas Swarup.
However, being the biggest slum in the Asia aren’t the reasons why Dharavi is famous for. I tell ya this, if you remove Dharavi from the city, most likely Mumbai would collapse within a day or two. Dharavi is the ‘oxygen‘ of Mumbai like how the local trains are the ‘heart beats‘. With their small business, slum dwellers generate an annual turnover of about over USD 650 million, making it one of the most productive slums in the world. Yes! You read this right.
If you have been to Mumbai by train you probably have seen many slums area which are located exactly behind the railway track, that’s Dharavi area. The low-rise building style, narrow street structure which is just wide enough for two people to pass, dirty streets, filthy gutter lanes, tangled power lines, dark alleys because of the high rise buildings block the sun rays. Every 20 steps there would be a doorway leading into a house, a singular 4×4 meter room which has the kitchen, living room, and a bedroom for an entire family. People would be laying on the floor watching TV and smiling always.
However, the people who lives here in cramped and confined spaces are the most (hyper) active people in the entire Mumbai. They are the ones who works as a labor, domestic help, laundry person, tiffin service (the dabbawalas), cook and waiters in many many restaurants of the city as well there are even one of the highly qualified doctors and lawyers living here, no kidding!!.
In the 18th century Dharavi was an island with predominantly mangrove swamp. It was a sparsely populated village before the late 19th century, inhabited by Koli fishermen. Dharavi was then referred to as the village of Koliwada. The slum was founded in 1883 during the British colonial era, and grew in part because of an expulsion of factories and residents from the peninsular city centre by the colonial government, and from the migration of poor rural Indians into urban Mumbai (then called Bombay). For this reason, Dharavi is currently a highly multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and diverse settlement.
‘DHARAVI’, CITY OF ITS OWN WITHIN MUMBAI
With a literacy rate of 69%, Dharavi is the most literate slum in India. To the west of Dharavi are Mahim and Bandra, and to the north lies the Mithi River. The Mithi River empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim Creek. The area of Antop Hill lies to the east while the locality called Matunga is located in the south. Due to its location and poor sewage and drainage systems, Dharavi particularly becomes vulnerable to floods during the wet season. Some 60% to 70% of Dharavi’s families have lived in the slum for more than 60 years.
Electricity is sporadic and safe drinking water – in fact any water – is scarce. Yet despite these hugely challenging conditions, lack of proper toilets and close proximity of homes allow diseases to spread quickly. Yet in Dharavi are numerous manufacturing units, and activities from machining to sewing are all done here. Products made in Dharavi are sourced and sold globally (NY, Europe, SE Asia etc). There are about 7000 industries, 300 bakeries and 15,000 single room factories who manufacture goods right from pottery to metals to leather to shoes.
Whether it’s diyas on Diwali, Ganash on Ganapati or kheer pots for Eid sweets, the products are made in Dharavi’s pottery area KUMBHARWADA – an intregral part of many of Mumbai’s religious festivals. And the people here are belong to ‘kumbhar‘ community. A month or two before Diwali the whole area covered by smoke emitted by pottery kilns.
Leather is the important industry with a large profit making with the highest share of turnover among all industries in Dharavi. Most of these units make use of animal skin (mainly Sheep, Goat, and Buffalo) collected from slaughterhouses for processing into leather. They make shoes, purses, belts, wallets, seat covers and much more out of these leathers. You really need to see the process when they clean the animal skin. They do it without that highly process machine.
This industry uses mixed metal waste as their raw material. I saw the process how they melt the metal waste. He was not even wearing his slippers or eye mask while doing the process. It was scary. Small room and high fire. But this is how they do it every day. Later the molten aluminium is molded in the form of solid 5KG bricks which they sell around INR 1500 to 2500 in the market (depends upon the industry who buys it).
THE RECYCLE ZONE:
According to residents of Dharavi, 60% of Mumbai’s segregated waste (practically the most complex system in India) comes to Dharavi for processing. Dharavi is home to some 30,000 plus rag pickers you see on the road who are scavengers which find and sort recyclable scraps from the city’s garbage dumps every single day whether it’s 40 degrees scorching heat or the day after flood hits the city. Each waste-picker sorts through appx 8.5 tonnes of rubbish each day (whoa!!) without wearing a proper mask, protective gloves and having basic tools (the government are still working on it).
Dharavi plays the vital role of waste recycling and processing units which means it literally maintaining and managing Mumbai’s solid waste management landscape and they are making money out of it and generating employment as well.
The interesting and most important part is: Without the segregation and processing of waste in Dharavi, Mumbai could itself become a large dumping ground.
There are other small industries too who makes travel bags, t-shirt printing, jackets, cloth dye, batik print, zip lock pouches used for storing clothes, stationery and much much more.
In the other news, Dharavi may finally get a makeover soon. READ HERE.
DHARAVI IS A HUB OF CREATIVITY
Dharavi is also a hub of creativity, which was highlighted in recent mobile museum, the “Design Museum Dharavi”, conceived by two Amsterdam-based artists. In addition there is the Dharavi Biennale, “Alley Galli Biennale”, which showcases installation and performance art.
dharavimarket.com has been established as an e-commerce market place for leather product manufacturers, potters, shoe makers, jewelers and various accessory makers who want to sell their wares on domestic and international markets.
They live in a dump, but they are the IMPORTANT PART OF MUMBAI. Because of them you can call MUMBAI AS A FINANCIAL CAPITAL OF INDIA. Mumbai is one of the world’s most expensive city to live in. Mumbai is the biggest contributor in the country’s economy and it is possible because of DHARAVI people. Each one of them is a hero – without capes. Men, women and children work from morning to night, sorting, assembling, breaking up and reassembling these elements of municipal waste in an endless, informal supply chain.
Ah! I still remember that DHARAVI SLUM TOUR I did 3 years back. The kids smiling faces. That 1 kg of papad I got from there. I always watch them working, playing while traveling in local train from Churchgate to Andheri. It is painful to see them but I bet they are the most happiest person right now 🙂
Well, that’s it for today. I shall catch up with you guys super soon!! I hope you all are enjoying reading my travel experiences. You can follow me on instagram.