Kadama 50: Walking through Dharavi
Trip Start Jul 12, 2012
71Trip End Dec 01, 2012
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The media has created this image that Dharavi is a dirty, disgusting area and all who live there hate it. The point of the tour is to change this image because honestly, I have never seen such a busy, happy, locale where all worked together in sweet harmony.
I have learned a lot about Dharavi while visiting and I would like to share some of my findings with you. First off, it is important to see how Dharavi is seen in the eyes of many after the media expressed it in such a negative manner. This slum is seen as being an awful place to live because of the high poverty levels, unsanitary living conditions, and strong government control over wage and working conditions. People think that Dharavi is the last place for people to go to find work promising a small wage to survive off of when in reality, people from all over India travel to Dharavi as their first choice for work.
You see, Dharavi has a commercial area and a residential area. Migrant workers from all over India travel to this slum for work because it is easy to find, the government pays a decent wage of 100 rupees (approximately $2 USD) for a days work (same wage for men and women) as well as free housing in the residential area. People will work for a few months in Dharavi, save money and then travel back to their villages to provide for their wives and families. Now to an American, the very low wage for a hard days work seems ridiculous, however, India's economy is not the same as the United States and for a migrant worker, this is a very good wage with housing also included.
Before I take you on my route through Dharavi, here are a few facts about this town:
1. Dharavi is the Heart of Mumbai - not only is it in the center of Mumbai but the view from the sky, this slum is shaped in a heart like figure
2. Dharavi's exports are worth 650.0 million USD annually...
3. There is one public bathroom per 1,400 residents
4. Water is provided 4 hours per day
5. Electricity is rationed yet residents will use most of it powering their TV - Indians believe that entertainment comes before anything and everything
6. A home in Dharavi (180 sq. ft.) is shared by about 8 members. There is no kitchen or refrigerator. To rent a home, it would cost 1,500 INR or $30 USD
one day tour of Dharavi that CNN created.
First we visited the recycling area in the commercial district. Plastic scraps from all over the world come right here to this port for separating of colors and textures which is all done by hand for 10 hours per day, everyday. The plastic is then washed and put out on the roof for the sun to dry it. I had the opportunity to walk up the steep metal staircase and stand on the metal roof overlooking the plastic drying area. Men were walking on this plastic to spread it out for faster drying. While looking out into the distance, there were piles of broken lawn chairs and gallons upon gallons of empty oil and detergent bottles.
Following the "13th Compound", we passed through the paper recycling area where piles upon piles of cardboard and papers were stacked nicely for purchase by these large companies once again. Our next stop was the oil can recylcing area. This was really interesting because any type of tin was washed, labels peeeled off and stored for crushing. This was taking place in a large warehouse-type area. The washing section was a large tub with boiling water, and two men without gloves were dunking the tubs in the water, swooshing them out and then passing them on for label removal.
While standing outside of one of the commercial shacks, I pulled my hair up which showed my tattoo on the back of my neck which is in the Arabic language. I have had this tattoo for about one and a half years so at times I forget that it is even there. Dharavi consists of 1/3 Hindu, 1/3 Tamil Nadu and 1/3 Muslims. About five minutes after standing there, a boy around 16 years old began to smile at me while he was emptying the tin cans. He pointed to my neck and then flipped over his necklace to show me the Arabic writings on it. The front of the circular pendant said number 753, his migrant working number. After I smiled back he said to me "Salam Aleikum" which means "Peace on you". At this moment, I put my Arabic language classes from last summer to the test, returned a large grin, and replied "Wa alaikum Salam" (God Bless you!) He was so shocked to see that a white, blonde female knew his language. Not only did this make his day, but it also made my life! As I sit here and type this moment to you, I cannot help but close my eyes, remember his thrilled face, and relieve this moment sketched into my mind for the rest of my life.
There is also a large leather factory area in this slum where camel and cow skins are cleaned, cured and turned into purses, belts, etc. You may be wondering how a cow skin is allowed to be made into a product being that it is still India and Hindu's live right next door but yet again it is the acceptance of each religion and the need for production to survive.
Passing through the narrow "hallways" we came to the exact location of where the iconic scene in Slumdog Millionaire was filmed when the young boy is running through the slum. Following the concrete blocks, we ended up at the landfill area where garbage was tossed and occasionally cleaned up by the government.
Women who live in Dharavi are paid the same wage for making Popadoms which are sold by street vendors all throughout Mumbai. A small dough ball is rolled out with a metal pin and then placed on a straw basket for sun-drying. This area of town smelled so delicious! I also learned that the people of Dharavi do not just live and work there. A large number of men live in Dharavi but travel daily to the south of Mumbai where they are taxi and rickshaw drivers. The women are also maid and cleaning ladies for middle class households in Mumbai.
You may not believe it but the homes in Dharavi are cleaner than any house I have been in. The white tiled floors are sparkling and the bright colored shrines and clothes inside make for an inviting area.
Our second to last stop in Dharavi was our tour groups NGO. Reality Tours takes 80% of the profit from giving tours and gives it to their school located in the slum. They teach students English and the basic computer skills needed to succeed. Additionally, they have an art and photography program in which crafted pieces are sold to visitors. The profits made go back into the art programs where cameras and supplies are bought for the students use. I purchased an adorable Ganesha painted on a canvas. I will cherish it all my life.
Kumbharwada was our exiting point of Dharavi. This community is based around pottery. Terracotta pots of all shapes and sizes are displayed out on the roofs for drying. Furthermore, fire and cotton kilns are spread throughout the small community where the pots are baked.
To conclude my somewhat lengthy blog about Dharavi, I want to share with you my thoughts and feelings throughout the tour. To be honest, I forgot that I was in the largest slum in Asia. I went into this tour with the mindset that everyone would be begging, sad, and miserable. Turns out, the people and atmosphere was completely opposite. Smiles graced the faces of many, there were absolutely no beggars, and the living conditions are similar to those that I have seen in the town next to my university in Hyderabad.
Please visit Reality Tours Website to learn more about this wonderful cause and how you can donate towards empowering those of Dharavi.