Dharavi Slums: Hope In Despair

Posted on November 13, 2010 in Society

This article is part 2 of our coverage of the Dharavi slums in Mumbai. Read part 1 here.

By Harleen Kaur:

“Poor and content is rich, and rich enough”. This quote, by William Shakespear, most certainly applies to people living in Dharavi. As you pass through the streets of Dharavi (with its open drainage system and some real stinky unidentifiable stuff scattered almost everywhere) you come face to face with two things: (a) people living and working in almost inhuman conditions & (b) the warm and contented smile of these very people. This scene is enough to make you think: How could someone possibly spend their lives in such mess, stench, poverty, dirtiness and with happiness? The answer to that is simply that one does not need to be rich in order to enjoy the minute pleasures of life.

The people living in Dharavi are known to have migrated from various regions of India and belong to different religions. The leather tanners in this area are the local Maharashtrians and from Tamil Nadu (including Tamil Muslims), the potters from Gujarat, the embroiders from north India etc. About 70% of the population is Hindu and the rest Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. However these people have achieved what we as a people and country can only hope for – unity, cooperativeness and happiness. Here in the depths of poverty, people celebrate Diwali, Eid and Christmas with equal vigor and cheerfulness.

A common sight on these lanes is of children playing. Though, dressed in rags and no toys to call their own, they are always laughing and amusing themselves (and their audience) while playing gully cricket. It goes without saying that though poverty has marred their carefree childhood it has been unable to totally rob them of it. However, if you ever decide to visit these slums you will be in for a treat! These little devils can easily charm you into buying their fresh fruits and candies with their antics (which include reciting nursery poems, singing raunchy bollywood songs and what not). Many national and international NGOs have been trying to help these children by setting up education programs and luring them with promises of a guaranteed meal. Though successful to a point it has not been able to retain students for the long haul.

Poverty is the mother of crimes and as such there is enough darkness in these streets under the cover of night which is not seen (read: ignored) in daylight. Yet, it has not stopped many people from making an honest living.

Food for thought: We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.

Image courtesy: By Wen-Yan King [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons