The Dharavi slum which is out towards the airport in Mumbai shot to fame a number of years ago with the release of Danny Boyle’s Film, Slumdog Millionaire, or Slumdog Crorepati as it was released as in India. The film took the world by storm but it also brought the situation in India’s slums to a wider audience, there were certain stereotypes used but maybe they have some validity anyway.
The growth of slum tourism is also a polarizing factor, not just in India but in the slum areas of countries like Brazil as well, companies like Reality Tours will take you into the slums for a price and much of that money goes back into community projects to help the slum dwellers. Photography is not allowed, I couldn’t accept that so I got my fixer and my camera and off I went.
What fascinated me when I went into the slum was how the slum keeps the city of Mumbai ticking over and working but actually makes it slightly greener as well. Everyday armies of slum dwellers head into town and collect much of the rubbish left around Mumbai every day. There are boys who collect just plastic, others just paper and others just empty aluminum containers.
All this is carried back to the slum like army ants carrying leaves and recycled and reworked. Either simply recycles and sold back to big companies to reuse or up-cycled into something which can be sold to turn a profit. Many times around Mumbai you will see sellers selling samosa or Kulfi (ice cream) from aluminum containers reworked and given new life in the slum factories of Dharavi.
The plastic recyclers sweating away amidst fumes and heat turning at least a part of India’s massive plastic waste problem into new plastic products. This in turn all injects money into the cottage industries of the slum, this builds houses and feeds children. This also relieves some of the pressure on the city of Mumbai.
The slum is therefore vital to the city in yet another way, don’t forget that some estimates say that over 55 percent of the inhabitants of Mumbai live in some kind of slum, there are white collar workers heading into the city from slums every day. The slums are full of all kinds of industry which are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in turnover every year.
If you decide to visit the slums, on a tour or on your own, they may not be quite what you expected.