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What is Dharavi like? A virtual tour of Mumbai’s informal sector

by Sofia Mareque

Dharavi is a locality within Mumbai and is one of Asia’s largest slums. Considered a city within a city, it is home to over a million people, mainly workers. Many of them live in cramped apartments with several people sharing a room. According to Reuters, hundreds of people can sometimes share a bathroom, while access to clean water isn’t guaranteed and soap has become a luxury hard to come by. Migrant worker Namchad Mandal reports that he lives with nine people in a room, all of whom could be in danger. The population density of Dharavi, 270 000 people per km2, makes the spread of covid lethal. Many residents report the difficulties of confinement when living in such a densely populated slum, both in maintaining social distancing and in finding ways to keep their families afloat. Some risk being punished by the authorities simply to be able to open their shops and make a few rupees that morning.

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Many people in Dharavi are looking to dispel the idea that it is only a place of hardship, and despite the conditions, it is a place worth investing in. Locals in Dharavi organize tours to showcase the thriving community and change people’s negative perceptions of the slum. Reality Tours and Travel provide walking tours of Dharavi, and 80% of their tax profits go to the NGO Reality Gives, which uses the revenue to run educational programmes for Dharavi’s residents. Their tours bring people to a rooftop with impressive views, the recycling area, a community center, and to a potters colony. Other tours allow visitors to explore back alleys and main streets

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to see in action the small business, factories and workshops. Many visitors enjoy buying textiles and leather goods from Dharavi manufacturers. These tours are a great way to demystify Dharavi as it was portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire, a portrayal which didn’t sit well with many Indians for its depiction of poverty. Sharell Cook recalls a tour guide saying to her ‘It's important for everyone to come to Dharavi and see how it functions, see the industry going on here. This is not a place where poor people are depressed. Look around. Do you see any beggars?’

Dharavi can also be praised for its progressive education. It is estimated that around 80% of children attend school and are learning English. Dharavi boasts sixty municipality schools, four secondary schools and thirteen private schools. The community is tightly-knit, with 28 temples, 11 mosques, six churches, and 24 Islamic education centers for people to congregate in. Locals credit the sense of community for making Dharavi a cheerful place. The people living in Dharavi know how to make the most of what they have, and enjoy a supportive and thriving community life.

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