The slums of Mumbai are a wellspring of innovation — and injustice

In Mumbai, India, the cost of land in the Dharavi slums has went overboard – for now its inhabitants live in poverty.

Developers and authorities want to relocate the poorest residents to new homes, but many locals refuse: relocating to a high-rise apartment means losing touch with a wide network of slums; they will also lose their livelihoods as they live in the same buildings as their shops and factories.

Some people leave on their own terms, although their departure is bitter.

“My father sold this house in 1988 for 50,000 rupees ($ 630) to buy an apartment in the suburbs of Mumbai,” Fahim says as we walk near his birthplace, a 210-square-foot home in his textile area. old district. “Today, this house costs more than 3 million rupees ($ 40,000).”

Back in 1988, Fahim’s family grew. And my father had a small embroidery factory on the ground floor of the house. But crime was rampant and authorities were pressuring locals restricting residential access to water. By moving to another location, Fahim’s growing family will gain more space, privacy and security.

However, it was a difficult decision to move. Leaving Dharavi means leaving your part in the complex supply chain that connects Mumbai, other cities and regions of India as well as the global luxury market.

Today, Fahim’s father still has to return to Dharavi regularly to find buyers for his goods and pass on larger orders.

In the area

Dharavi is twice the size of Central Park, with about a million inhabitants – the highest population density on earth.

Top view of the Dharavi slum, once on the outskirts of Mumbai in the 19th century, is now a first-class property that many would like to receive. Credit: DNA of India

About 60% of Mumbai residents live in slums, and for most of them the congress means a loss of livelihood and insurmountable living expenses.

However, despite cramped facilities, poor sanitation and hazardous working conditions, Dharavi represents the only chance for its residents, many of the poor rural environments, to make a better life for themselves and their children.

Today, Dharavi is best known for his portrayal in a hit movie, A millionaire from the slumswhich, some argue, romanticizes the disgusting existence of slum dwellers who often have access to water once a day and at great distances from their homes.

It was Dharavi who remembers Fahim waiting in line for water at 4:00 am when the tap was opened.

Fahim’s neighborhood now seems to be thriving; there is much less crime and in some areas there is even a common water tap, however the housing remains fundamentally unfit for human habitation.

With about 10,000 skilled craftsmen from different walks of life and more than 15,000 factoriesDharavi became something like Fr. self-organized special economic zone, with its own parallel economy. It operates outside the control of the state, meaning that no one pays taxes, copyright is not enforced, and very little is regulated.

The butcher prepares fresh sliced ​​poultry.  Author: Jeffrey Andreoni;  slums
The butcher prepares fresh sliced ​​poultry. Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni

This is what Keller Easterling, author Non-state skill defined as “zone”“Cocktail of temptations and legal exceptions”, which may include “holidays from income tax or sales, special utilities such as electricity or broadband, deregulation of labor law, prohibition of trade unions and strikes, deregulation of environmental legislation, and other housing for business.

Dharavi does not have superyachts and five-star hotels, but the economy could accommodate them with annual gross sales of $ 600 million to $ 1 billion. It is a collaborative and innovative economy that in the local language could be called south – a way to make everything happen with limited resources and an impressive level of collective intelligence.

Prosperity and pollution

To see this in action, you just need to cross the elevated track above the railway lines and walk through the narrow alleys of Dharavi.

Waste recycling is a major industry in the Dhavari slums.  Here you can see how women sort the ground plastic from which they will produce export pellets.  Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni
Waste recycling is a major industry in the Dharavi slums. Here you can see how women sort the ground plastic from which they will produce export pellets. Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni

One of the largest industries in slums is waste recycling: waste is either collected by individuals or delivered by truck. People sort items and disassemble for recycling. Transparent plastic, the most valuable plastic, is crushed and then sent to kilns to make pellets that are sold to external plastics manufacturers.

This last step is very toxic and the furnace is sometimes closed by Dharavi police.

Meanwhile, the grinders they use to make plastic mulch are made in another area where there is a smithy. Metal waste goes there for remelting and casting into new products.

slums;  The finished grinder pictured here is one of many pieces of industrial equipment manufactured on site.  Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni
The finished grinder pictured here is one of many pieces of industrial equipment manufactured on site. Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni

In the garment district, talented artisans are fulfilling an order for 300 counterfeit backpacks to be sold to malls or branded by distributors further online. Sometimes there are orders for 1,500 units that they can deliver in just three days, reconfiguring the factory on the go and pooling resources with other manufacturers with excess capacity for sharing.

Nearby there is a tannery where the skins of animals used in bags and purses are duplicated and dyed, some of which are rumored to be found in Gucci salons.

slums;  All for the working day.  Workers in the Dharavi sewing area pose for a photo while making fake clothes and accessories.  Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni
All for the working day. Workers in the Dharavi sewing area pose for a photo while making fake clothes and accessories. Credit: Jeffrey Andreoni

All these factories are located under the houses where families live, in the yards where people eat and sleep.

Some slum dwellers are thriving. But those residents who remain in the area are forced to fight environmental pollution, shared toilets (no private bathrooms), diseases from poor sanitation and air quality. Zion Hospital on the outskirts of the slums treats 3,000 related cases a day.

“People who come to Dharavi – their priority is not health, but salary.” says Dr. Palawi Shelke, who works there.

Struggle for a better life

Dharavi actually has the highest literacy rate in India – 69% and a politically engaged population that has successfully campaigned for regular access to wateran art schoolacting and theater schooldirect access to the market for artisans to exclude intermediariesand even a hip hop school.

Local activists also opposed an unfair resettlement program that would relocate the poorer residents to unattractive towers that occupied 20% of the land and 80% reserved for luxury apartments – all of which are first-class real estate in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So far, the program has stopped for 18 years.

Residents of the Zone are trying to use their political power to create a fairer alternative to developer plans known as community reserves that have already been found in the United States

Групы актывістаў па ўсім свеце пачынаюць выступаць за альтэрнатыўныя мадэлі кіравання зямлёй (напрыклад, грамадскія зямельныя трэсты) для нефармальных паселішчаў.  <a href=, базуецца ў Рыа"">Catalytic Communities</a>are supporters of similar actions in the favela communities of Brazil.  Credit: Journey Wonders “width =” 649 “height =” 430 “src =” 1.51.43-PM.png “/><noscript><img class=Activist groups around the world are beginning to advocate for alternative land management models (e.g., public land trusts) for informal settlements. Rio-based Catholic communities are proponents of similar actions in Brazil’s favela communities. Credit: Journey Wonders

The idea has not yet been seriously considered in India.

The United Nations estimates that 1 billion people in the world (about 33% of the world’s urban population) currently live in slums. Some estimate that by 2050 there will be more than two billion people in urban slums.

In Mumbai, everyone who serves you, picks you up, sweeps you away or delivers food, is most often a resident of these slums. The city is working on their services and workforce, but these people live in cottages measuring 6 x 10 feet, averaging 7 people per room.

Imagine if all the slums were relocated overnight: India’s richest city would stop like California in the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican ».

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