On our second day in Mumbai, we met up with the American students for a visit to Dharavi which is one of the largest slums in the world, renowned for its prominence in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  Situated on just over 500 acres of land, it is a multi-ethnic settlement that is home to upwards of a million people (2000 per acre) most of whom are rural poor from all over India who have migrated to the city to find work. We made our way through incredibly small passageways, some too low to even stand up in, past the tiny, stacked homes of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist and Christians who work and raise their families together in this slum.

dharavi4As this area, which is located on a tract of land that runs between two suburban railway lines, has been in existence since the late 1800s, it is considered a “legal slum” so the government provides electricity and a source of water. However with an inadequate supply of clean drinking water and only one toilet for every 700 people, a creek which runs through the district is widely used by local residents for toilet functions, leading to the spread of contagious diseases. There is a very active market place, community organizations and numerous mosques, temples and churches to serve people of the community. Inside the houses appear very clean, and some families try to make their, often single room homes, pleasant with curtains and flowers and plants.



The amazing thing about Dharavi is that it has an active informal economy of household businesses that employ many of the local residents that is estimated to have an annual turnover of more than $650 million US dollars and exports goods around the world. The district has an estimated 5000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories. We saw many people hard at work in industries recycling plastics and aluminum, creating leather products, textiles, baking and pottery but could not begin to figure out how they managed to organize it all. Somehow through these crowded rabbit warrens masses of raw materials are brought in, processed, packaged and carried back out to markets and someone keeps track of all of this. The income for workers here ranges from $200 to $500 US per year.


We saw the finished projects and these hides leave the slums as beautiful purses, briefcases and belts ready for the name brand companies to add their special logo.

Mumbai is a city where house prices and rents are among the highest in the world and Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those who move to Mumbai to earn their living. We were told that the poor in Mumbai are not those who can afford to live in the slums but the “pavement dwellers” living under a tarp or cardboard on the sidewalks. The message clearly was that Dharavi provides a safe, affordable home, an income and a sense of community for the residents and is not the filthy, dangerous place that it appears to outsiders.

I am afraid that I was not convinced. It may provide all of those things for people but ultimately I do not believe that anyone who bears the image of the Creator ever deserves to work that hard just to survive nor should they be subjected to the indignity of living in these circumstances. It is a shame on those of us who have plenty and the wherewithal to meet needs and transform lives.