It was November of 2011, I was on my monthly trip to Mumbai meeting entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and other stakeholders working in the social impact sector. When my colleague suggested that I should get a real dose of “REALITY”!!! What do you mean by getting a real dose of “REALITY”, so before I knew it she booked me on a very memorable tour which I will remember for a long long time – a tour of “Asia’s largest slum,” Dharavi organized by Reality Tours & Travel!
So what makes Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum so unique and special? Well to begin with lets look at some stats:-
Spanning an area of about 223 hectares (550 acres), Dharavi is bordered by the Sion, Mahim and Matunga railway stations and two major roads (Sion and Mahim Link Roads) that connect the eastern and western parts of the city.
Dharavi is home to between half a million and one million people (no recent and reliable population statistics are available). A 1986 survey by the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) counted 530,225 people (106,045 households) living in 80,518 structures; the numbers have surely grown since then.
As is evident in the popular aerial images of the slum’s contiguous rooftops, Dharavi is an extremely dense environment. A recent survey by the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA) established that a central area of Dharavi (Chamra Bazaar) contained densities of up to 336,643 people per square kilometer! Assuming a population of 700,000, the population density in Dharavi would be around 314,887 per square kilometer. This is 11 times as dense as Mumbai as a whole (the most densely populated city in the world with 29,500 people per square kilometer) and more than 6 times as dense as daytime Manhattan (about 50,000 people per square kilometer).
The key fact to Dharavi is that it is not only a residential space, but also a major economic hub representing the city’s vast informal sector. In fact, in many parts, it seems as if residential spaces have been carved out from the tiny surplus left over from economic activities such as recycling industries, leather tanneries, heavy metal work, woodwork, and manufactured goods like garments, shoes, luggage, jewelry. Industries generally serve all of Mumbai, and many products are even distributed in global markets. One conservative estimate places the annual value of goods produced in Dharavi at USD 500 million (“Inside the Slums,” The Economist, 27/1/05).
The tour left a lasting impression on me and my other friends who had undertaken the 3 hour journey. At every step they were obstacles literally – the streets were narrow (see picture), it was dirty, it was crowded, polluted, unhygienic etc. But what stood out in Dharavi was clearly the “SPIRIT”, the spirit to not only survive but to actually live!!! Despite the surmountable odds faced by the residents there is the never dying spirit to look beyond their problems and strive for a better life and most importantly be happy where they are!!
While there has been enough written and published about Dharavi and you can read more here the impression for me was simply the spirit of the place! I actually saw more smiling faces there then I usually do in an upmarket mall in Delhi, where folks like us have all the comforts of the world The other thing the tour made me realize is how much we take for granted for example just having your personal toilet, access to clean drinking water, a secure house and good quality food.
So next time you are in Mumbai and you want to get a real dose of REALITY take the tour, you can easily go there on your own, however if you want to take a guided tour I would recommend signing up with Reality Tours!
In the end folks experiences like these remind me that we are indeed fortunate and in a place to make a real difference – anyone listening?
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