The real Slumdog Millionaire

After much debate as to whether it was ethical, we visited a slum in Rio and it was a fascinating insight into otherwise invisible section of society which (according to the guide anyway) the inhabitants were keen for people to see. Therefore, we also wanted to visit Dharavi in Mumbai, known as Asia’s largest slum.

We took a tour with a local guide who met as at the main train station in Mumbai where 7 million passengers pass through each day coming into work from the outskirts of the city. In the rush hour the trains are so overcrowded that people hang out of the (permanently open) doors and an average of 10 passengers die each day from falling on the line or trespassing on the tracks.

Standing room only

Luckily, it wasn’t busy when we met him and we even managed to get a seat. Our first stop was at Dhobi Ghat where thousands of clothes are sent by houses, hotels and laundrettes to be hand-washed each day. Men and women furiously scrub the clothes against rocks (probably losing a button or two in process as Becki discovered when she got her laundry back only to discover that some tops were missing all the buttons!) before dunking them in various (supposedly) clean water buckets and hanging them from the roofs to dry.

Dhobi Ghat

We travelled a few more stops to the station nearest Dharavi. From the bridge over the tracks we got our first sight of the furious activity below. Hundreds of people were milling about the main street: some collecting plastic bottles for recycling, others transporting goods made in the slum and one man was selling cakes baked nearby.

Recycling on roof with city in background

The guide took us to the areas where different industries were based: pottery, textiles, food production and recycling. We saw young kids sewing jeans, old men re-shaping used oil tins and women laying out poppadoms to dry on baskets in the sun.

Re-using oil cans
Grinding down plastic into pellets to recycle it

In another section we peaked into tiny ten square metre one-room ‘houses’ (toilet outside) where whole families lived and we choked on the smoke of huge open kilns where pots are made.

A residential alley

It was incredibly industrious and there was activity everywhere.

Some astounding stats about Dharavi:

  • Over one million people live in less than two square kilometres
  • There is one toilet per 1,500 residents
  • Monthly rent for a ten square metre one-room house is Rs2000 (GBP30)
  • There are 5,000 business and 15,000 one-room factories
  • The minimum daily wage is Rs150 (just over GBP2)
  • Annual turnover is estimated to be US$665m
  • People of all religions live side-by-side so there are temples, mosques and churches
Hand-built housing

In some ways (hand-built tiny living spaces, a city within a city, dirty/unhygienic and so on) it was quite similar to the favelas in Rio but it seemed to differ in two main ways.

Firstly, the Brazilian slums are ruled by the drug lords and nothing goes on without their approval whereas Dharavi seemed to run like a normal section of society. The other difference was that in Rio most of the workers leave the slums to find work (as maids, waiters, cleaners, etc.) but in India a big proportion of the Dharavi population actually work within the neighbourhood in the various industries.

One Comment Add yours

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