The city of Mumbai is renowned for possessing a number of landmarks.  One such popular landmark in the city is actually a slum known as Dharavi. Now, this slum is considered to be the second largest in Asia and third largest in the world. Apparently, it possesses a population (currently) of 700,000 and a density of about 277,136/km2 Developed during the British Raj in 1882 this slum over the years has become a landmark of the “City that never sleeps”. There are a few reasons for this, and they are as follows:

a. The colonial history of Dharavi:

“Village of Koliwadas” was how Dharavi was referred to during the late 19th century. Furthermore, it was in 1887 that the first “tannery” (a place where animal hides are tanned) was set up in this slum. It was the setting up of the tanning industry in this slum that led to influx of large number of people belonging to the Hindu (mainly low caste), Muslim etc over here. In addition, a large section of people belonging to the “Kumbars” (the Gujarati community of potters) also migrated to Dharavi during this period. It was in 1895, that the colonial British government granted a 99-year land lease to this slum, which resulted in more job opportunities for people in a field like embroidery designing. It is this sudden spike in jobs that caused tremendous crowding in Dharavi. In fact, living quarters and small scale industries grew exponentially without any proper facilities for sanitation, clean drinking water, roads etc being provided by the colonial government. It was eventually the slow and gradual growth of the population on account of job opportunities created that made this slum “the largest” in India post independence.

b. The Economy of “industries” located in Dharavi:

It is a well known fact that the economy of the whole slum is dependent upon the small scale industries that has existed over here since the British Raj. Furthermore, it is the leather product industry that has proven to be an extremely lucrative business in Dharavi. In fact, many of these products are exported from this slum. Other products manufactured over here famous around the world include jewelry. There are also a number of shops in the United States of America that sell products manufactured at Dharavi. In terms of business, a total of about $650 million to $1 billion per year is generated at this slum annually. As for the per capita income of the people living in this slum, the figure ranges in between $ 500 to $ 2000 per year.  This slum is also renowned for a huge “recycling industry” that recycles waste materials gathered from all parts of the Mumbai city.

c. The “Bollywood” connection and Dharavi:

Since “Bollywood” is an important entity of Mumbai city it is not surprising that many films have been shot in this slum. In fact, a Sudhir Mishra directed film titled “Dharavi” starring Om Puri and Shabana Azmi is based on the life in the slum. Furthermore, a few great movies such as Salaam Bombay, Satya, Black Friday, and Parinda have also been shot at this slum.

d. The “Sanitation and Epidemic” issues faced by Dharavi:

With a population (currently) of 700,000 cramped in an area of 2.1 km Dharavi has grappled with serious sanitation issues for years now. There are two major reasons for it. They are as follows:

  1. The water to this slum has been supplied through standpipes available. Hence, water supply available to residents over here is limited.
  2. Most importantly the lack of toilets in the slum as resulted in severe sanitation and hygiene crisis.

It is due to severe sanitation issues that have eventually over the years resulted in serious epidemics in the slum. So be it cholera, typhoid, leprosy, amoebiasis, or polio it has experienced it all. For example, in an epidemic of cholera that affected the city in 1986 a majority of the casualties were residents of this slum.

A few tourist operators these days have also begun providing tour service in the slum, proving that “Dharavi” has certainly become a “landmark” in Mumbai city that one cannot ignore.

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