Mumbai’s Dharavi ‘slum’ – not what you expect!


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Dharavi Slum Mumbai is surprising!

Its easy to see the things that aren’t so great about Mumbai’s 2,000 slums. And there’s definitely plenty of opportunities to improve workplace safety, sanitation and water supplies. However, these isssues are not unique to slums, they are shared by communities and countries throughout the world.

But if instead you go looking for all the good things in Dharavi, you might well be very surprised. The community shows great creativity and innovation, collaboration and co-operation, to make the most of a small space and enable many people to migrate to Mumbai from villages for work and opportunities, and to live together on land they don’t own.

And once you understand a bit more about Mumbai’s ‘slums’, it can look very different from first impressions.

Mumbai is the worlds most densely populated city. Dharavi has 1.5 million people per square kilometre. In Mumbai, the government owns more than half the land. Dwellings built on government land are legally owned, and have some services like electricity and some water, but are technically called ‘slums’ . In Mumbai, you are more likely than not be living on government land, and as such, living in a ‘slum’. That’s why people working in a wide range of jobs, including  professional people, often live in slums in Mumbai and why Mumbai has so many slums.

But houses are very small, really just one tiny room, with maybe just washing facilities for women. 1,500 people share each toilet, that is only cleaned about four times a month.

However, in Dharavi there are schools, hospitals, markets, banks , a cinema ( of sorts) and plenty of creative industry. And no begging or signs of poverty.

Clearly there are many challenges, but also many things to admire.

It reminded me of a mixture of an Australian beach camping ground with minimal shared facilities, crowded with families in January, with tents packed tightly together and everyone working in with each other to make a small space and basic facilities work for everyone. But it also reminded me of the retirement communities that are popular, where people buy a house, but don’t own the land, live in community and start up all sorts of clubs and co-operative groups in their ‘closed’ community to make life better for everyone.

The best way to see Dharavi for yourself is with Reality Tours & Travel. Not only is this their signature tour that started them off, but 80% of their profits support a Dharavi based NGO ‘Reality Gives‘.

(Photos provided by Reality Tours & Travel, as photography is not permitted on tours, for community privacy).


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