Dharavi has all that a typical slum has – unending stretch of narrow, dirty lanes… open sewers, no access to direct water supply, cramped huts and all kinds of garbage strewn all over… Its difficult to fathom considering the fact that until the late 19th century, this area of Mumbai was mangrove swamp inhabited by Koli fishermen.
Not many know, that Dharavi has large number of small scale industries that produce embroidered garments, export quality leather goods, pottery and plastic. Most of these products are made in tiny manufacturing units spread across the slum and are sold in domestic as well as international markets. The annual turnover of business here is estimated to be more than $650m (£350m) a year – Now thats quite something… But, the deplorable conditions in which the people there live, is, to say the least, inhuman!
The biggest issue is health related problems caused due to improper sanitation. The reason is the scarcity of toilet facilities, compounded by the flooding during the monsoon season. 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 disease.
The state govt wants to redevelop Dharavi and provide these people with pakka houses and a society complete with schools, hospitals, shopping places, and so forth.
The idea is very noble and sounds like it may end the misery of people residing in Dharavi. Unfortunately, reality has a different story to tell. Most people staying in Dharavi have gotten used to this kind of life, and the kind of jobs they do, ensure that they earn bare minimum to manage square meals. A lot of them are second generation people, who grew up in Dharavi and have lived there all their lives!
This is what they have to say
My husband’s salary is not enough. Because of the high cost of living in Mumbai it is very difficult for us to survive. It’s the main reason why I don’t want to leave Dharavi, because if I go outside everything will be so expensive that there is no way I would be able to afford anything. Moreover, I like it here because people are friendly and look out for me. If my husband is working late and does the night shift I don’t feel scared because I think this is the safest place for us. – Esakkiamal, 40
I like Dharavi very much because this is home for me. I want to finish my graduation and become a teacher. I plan on getting married and wouldn’t mind staying in Dharavi. – Arockia Zeno, 18
I would have left a long time ago, but Mumbai is an expensive city and affordable housing is most difficult to find here. If I like a room nearby, the security deposit and rent is too high. If I go to a place that fits my budget then the distance I must travel for work almost doubles. Other than the fact that Dharavi is a slum, I have no complaints about living here. It is centrally located in Mumbai and travelling from here to any place in the city is very easy. – Selvaraj, 46
The verdict is loud and clear… Just providing these people with pakka houses, is not going to end their misery… In fact, it may put them into the vicious circle of never-ending debts! More than anything, these people need more such small-scale industries set-up, where they can work and earn a good living. If that happens, Dharavi will not remain a slum anymore!
Its time we fight the cause and not the consequence!