By Anshul Tewari:
Situated between Mumbai’s two main suburb lines – the Western and Central Railways, Dharavi stands as one of India’s largest slums. Often called “Asia’s largest slum”, Dharavi is now competing with four other slums in Mumbai itself for that distinction.Â With an economy of $1 billion per year, DharaviÂ spreads across 200 hectares, and houses a population of anything between 300,000 people to a million (the estimates vary widely).
While there have been many a discussion on the redevelopment of Dharavi, theÂ latest urbanÂ redevelopmentÂ plan proposed for the Dharavi area is managed by American-trainedÂ architectÂ Mukesh Mehta. But beyond the vast discussions around redevlopment, being one of India’s largest slum, and the thriving economy are the lives of the people who live in this area.
Dharavi has a long history of epidemics and disasters.Â ItÂ has severe problems with public health, due to the scarcity of toilet facilities, due in turn to the fact that most housing and 90% of the commercial units in Dharavi are illegal. As of November 2006 there was only one toilet per 1,440 residents in Dharavi. Mahim Creek, a local river, is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation, leading to the spread of contagious diseases. The area also suffers from problems with inadequate drinking water supply.
As photographer lecercle puts it, “Ramshackle corrugated tin, plywood, plastic, pukkah bricks, sheets of asbestos, sweat, toil, people and garbage make Dharavi, just like piles of earth, sand, clay and other materials make ant hills. Dharavi and many other slums like it are nothing but human ant colonies built by legions of our urban poor. They are places which are at same time sombre, moving, joyful and interesting .Push and pull factors, bring people from our villages here everyday in search for something better. They settle here much to the neglect of our apathetic eyes. But under the squalor is great spirit and ingenuity. I went looking for this spirit in this place most people refer to as ‘Asia’s largest slum’ but I would prefer to call the ‘Heart of Mumbai’.”
Problems for Dharavi are not limited to health and sanitation. Water scarcity remains on top of the troubles of the people in the slum. As discussed by Joanna Lobo & Vishakha Avachat in this report, “In Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, water scarcity has been the rule rather than the exception that tests it. Fifty-year-old, Laxmi Shinde’s daily routine revolves around water. She wakes up every morning at 6am. She then waits half-an-hour at a common tap, shared by six families.”
In May 2009, the group of students of the MSc programmes Urban Design and planning in Development at the DPU visit the so-called Asia’s largest slum ‘Dharavi’ in the heart of Mumbai. You can read and download the report produced here.
In addition to the traditional pottery and textile industries in Dharavi, there is an increasingly large recycling industry, processing recyclable waste from other parts of Mumbai. The district has an estimated 5000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories.
As per a report in the National Geographic, “Many kids start school in Dharavi; few of them finish. One of the community’s greatest challenges is education. Though employment of children under age 14 in factories and at other hazardous work is illegal in India, child labor persists. Girls are frequently classified as helpers or domestic workers to get around the law. Children’s labor and income can be crucial to a family’s survival. Some factory owners convince parents that youth will gain skills and have better lives if they work away from home. But by the time the children finish their long commitments to these employers, they’ve fallen too far behind to resume school.”
Photo credits: Meena Kadri, Lecercle, Ishan Khosla, MM, Tobias Leeger, Martin Selva and Thomas Leuthard via Flickr. Find more such photographs here.
To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter.