In a space 1/2 the size of Central Park over one million people live in the Dharavi slum. A few years ago an enterprising group decided to launch Reality Tours & Travel to show people the truth behind the slum and dispel misconceptions. Our young, energetic guide Javed grew up in Dharavi and still lives there. It was eye-opening and more than a little disturbing to see how all these people live in these cramped conditions, but they seemed content. Men were working, women shopping, kids running around just doing what kids do. Of note, everyone has a cell phone. They have Wi-Fi with a password and satellite dishes are mounted on the upper floors of many of the buildings. There are banks, a large shopping district with a farmer’s market, lots of motorbikes, and even their own police force. There are public and private schools, and since 1995, electricity and plumbing – I didn’t expect that.
Primarily Muslim and Hindi they live together as friends.
I also didn’t expect to learn that they are producing $665 million in official annual revenue (and who knows how much of unofficial). They are recycling plastic, tanning leather, pottery, dying fabric and making clothes worthy of being sold in Neiman’s. The labor is cheap and dangerous, there are no safety standards. There is a high incidence of cancer and a short life span for many. It does smell – in big part because the open sewage of Bombay is running in nearby canals. There is a fair amount of debris around, but nowhere as much as I expected.
A slum is defined as an area of government-owned land, on which people build and own their own homes and businesses, illegally. In Bombay, 65% of the people live in one of 2,000 slums. It’s such an intertwined relationship for dealing with street people (who collect the recyclables and bring them to the slum) and the business community (all those companies reselling the goods) it’s hard to imagine how the city could survive without slums.
One fact, they never label their products with their exact location, they simply state “Made in India.”
They ask that you don’t take pictures, we did get permission to take just one.
And, yes, this is where they filmed Slumdog Millionaire.