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The Dharavi spirit

February 4, 2009

Ever since Slumdog Millionaire released there has been a lot of discussion on whether it is right to portray India’s poverty. Well, SM is not a treatise of history nor a documentation of life in a slum. It is a fictional account based on a novel and presented in a cinematic, dramatic fashion. Yes, it’s been tweaked, but that’s what commercial cinema is about. And ofcourse the film did not show the complete reality, but that’s all right because it’s just a film!

If one wants to know the whole truth, then the reality is that slum dwellers in Dharavi are a spirited and hardworking people. Dharavi is a place where human spirit and enterprise lives and triumphs against all odds. Far more so that in the luxurious apartments of the rich.

To imagine that Dharavi is a den of crime and sleaze is the huge mistake that foreigners make when they come to India, and it is possible that they equate it with the slums which used to exist (or exist) in their countries. This is what has been said about slums which used to exist in New York. Jacob Riis published a groundbreaking photo journal documenting the conditions of the New York slums and he wrote:

Every time a child dies, the nation loses a prospective citizen, but in every slum child who lives the nation has a probable consumptive and possible criminal.

And if this article is accurate, it appears that New York was synonymous with muggings not very many years ago…and certain areas were at one time associated with crime. Dharavi is not associated with crime, never was. Poverty and filth yes, but not crime.

I don’t know whether slums in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) really were “infamous favelas, with their drug gangs and ocean views” or whether the slums in Cape Town and Johannesburg were only about “illicit beer halls known as shebeens” but I do know that Mumbai’s slums are not about illicit liquor dens and drug gangs.

Deepa Krishnan has written about Dharavi’s bright side on her blog:

…several bright-eyed children going to school…many, especially the little ones, were walking with their mothers. I saw mothers carrying schoolbags and tiffin boxes and bright plastic water bottles, walking in that determined way that only mothers have, hustling their kids to school in time. After the depressing sights I had seen, the sight of these young kids was like a ray of sunshine…Still further down, I saw the Lijjat Papad van making its rounds, collecting papads and distributing fresh dough for making more….It lifted my spirits. It’s not all beyond repair, I told myself. There are good things too. Even among squalor and depressing conditions, Dharavi always manages to show a little bit of its bright side to anyone who cares to see it.

Some foreign visitors too have understood what the real Dharavi is about. Like Christopher Way who said to Smithsonian magazine:

We’re trying to dispel the myth that people there sit around doing nothing, that they’re criminals…we show it for what it is—a place where people are working hard, struggling to make a living and doing it in an honest way.

Reality Tours, which offers slum tours to “poorists,” has managed to help shed the myths of some people who came here to see the places where Slumdog was shot. Sam Cameron after a recent slum tour said to the DNA:

You could learn a lot from the people in the slums. They have a sense community that is way stronger than what we ‘civilised’ people have. Every single smile is returned. It is a positive community. The movie has highlighted only the negatives.

Another tourist, Mark Styles says:

There is nobody in the place who is sitting without work. There are makeshift schools in every corner where students are studying and helping their families simultaneously

We Indians know this ofcourse, and most of our movies highlight this aspect, and tend to push the stark poverty into the background. The foreign films tend to do just the opposite. The truth lies somewhere in between.

There may be poverty, but the human spirit is supreme here. Kalpana Sharma in a book she has written on Dharavi, (Rediscovering Dharavi) talks about a Dharavi where “citizens have defied fate and an unhelpful state to prosper through a mix of hard work, luck and ingenuity…” The truth is that Dharavi is teeming with small businesses making everything from pots and pans to purses and papads. Sure, many of these businesses are illegal, operate without a license, and the workers work too long and too hard and safety norms are flouted…but they do work. They don’t steal.

They may be poor but they have pride. Certainly more pride than the Ramalinga Rajus and Harshad Mehtas of the world.

Dharavi has its own site and for those who want to find out about the real Dharavi that’s the place to start. The place holds almost a million people in a small area of 550 acres, “and it’s about 11 times as dense as Mumbai (Mumbai is 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).”

I want to end this post what the Dharavians say about themselves:

Those who have never ventured into Dharavi may imagine it as a wasteland of tent-like temporary structures, an immense junkyard crowded with undernourished people completely disconnected from the rest of the world, surviving on charity and pulling the economy backward. Beneath the sea of corrugated tin roofs, the reality could hardly be more different. Dharavi is a highly developed urban area composed of distinct neighborhoods and bustling with economic activity that is integrated socially, economically and culturally at metropolitan, regional and global levels.

(Photos are copyrighted to me)

Related Reading: Slum Tours in Mumbai
An aerial view of Mumbai city
Indians are the one of the most hardworking people in the world
Instead of making the rich poorer lets make the poor richer
Government officials used slum development funds to fatten their perks!
Plans to rid Mumbai of slums by 2015
All posts about Mumbai

92 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 4, 2009 9:08 am


    Congratulations on an outstandingly perceptive post. I have gone through it very quickly, and will be adding my comments later, but just one immediate reaction:

    //To imagine that Dharavi is a den of crime and sleaze is the huge mistake that foreigners make when they come to India… [bold emphasis mine]//

    Much more than foreigners it is the better-off Indians who believe this, and not just about Dharavi but about all slums.

    More later.

    Hmm, I guess some in India too don’t understand life in a slum, and yeah, the elite mostly. – Nita.

  2. February 4, 2009 9:27 am

    Another movie that glimpses Dharavi is “No Smoking..” Portrayed beautifully!!

    and guess its the hub leather industry, the so called Baggits and Hidesign we proudly own, are made here..!!


    I missed that movie, but have seen many of our heroes and heroines living in a slum and then working hard, struggling and then striking it rich! 🙂 A romanticized slum ofcourse! – Nita.

  3. February 4, 2009 9:39 am

    Brilliant post !!!

    This is the first time I’m reading something on slums and Dharavi .. You have potrayed your views well and even better presented ..

    Good work Nita ..

    Thanks. What really irritated me is when people said that Boyle projected the truth! He didn’t, not the whole truth. And frankly that was okay by me, although people shouldn’t have said he projected reality. – Nita.

  4. February 4, 2009 9:40 am

    a good post…..exploratory…in other way..

    🙂 – Nita.

  5. Brand Robins permalink
    February 4, 2009 9:54 am

    The truth is the way that the western world, America specifically, fears poor areas of town and underclass neighborhoods is often a projection of American class fears.

    I’ve never lived in New York, but I have lived in Los Angeles and worked in some of the bad neighborhoods there. And yes, there were real problems there. Yes there was poverty and yes there was crime. But there were also functional communities, families raising children, and people living their lives with spirit and hope. Yes, the neighborhoods are hurt by racism and poverty, but no, that doesn’t make them into urban wasteland nightmares. They’re still places full of people living their lives.

    But American movies and books often turn these neighborhoods into wastelands, places right out of a nightmare or Dante’s Inferno (that is to say, Hell). These portrayals often have more to do with the fears of the (largely) white middle class than they do with the actual conditions in the neighborhoods.

    Even people who’ve worked or lived in those neighborhoods often fall into this trap. Its like the media only allows one type of story to be told about poverty and disenfranchised neighborhoods — and anything outside of that will not see wide distribution.

    Brand Robins, as you say it’s a lot to do with fears and perceptions and media hype, and then good individuals who choose to stay in such neighborhoods get typecast. – Nita.

  6. February 4, 2009 10:24 am

    Nita, I applaud and appreciate the effort you put into each post of yours. Very well researched again. What several Bollywood films couldn’t do at least SDM could. We are now talking about Dharavi at least I am. Deepa Krishnan’s one morning in Dharavi was a good read.

    “Every time a child dies, the nation loses a prospective citizen, but in every slum child who lives the nation has a probable consumptive and possible criminal.”

    The latter part is true for all countries developing and developed even now. As is evident most take to criminal activities to just feed too many mouths in the family. Even here it is always advised to stay away from downtown area late night due to the fear of mugging and getting killed.

    This is something I read the other day

    Thanks Solilo. But I personally do not believe that when people are starving they turn to crime. I am not talking of stealing food here, but crimes like robbery, murder and drug dealing. It all depends on an individual’s needs finally. If someone is not educated or enterprising or hardworking, but is happy with a low income then he won’t turn to crime. But I guess this is rapidly changing in India today. – Nita.

  7. February 4, 2009 10:41 am

    This certainly is a complex issue, so if my comment seems simplistic, I apologize in advance.

    Firstly, crime or not, Dharavi is bad for Bombay. When I say bad, I do not mean, cut-your-foot-to-save-your-life bad, but bad enough that it deserves the notice it gets, and requires action rather than adulatory gazes and silent praise.

    The licenses you mention do not come free. They add valuable monetary value to the coffers, which a infrastructure poor city (with large outstanding debts), busting at its seams is in dire need of. However, in a country with unbridled corruption and black money so abundant it makes Bill Gates, twice a pauper, I cannot begrudge them.

    The over-crowding in dharavi causes our drainage problem to be compounded (along with over construction, lack of a decent drainage system, over-crowding, and destruction of the ecological floodwalls and estuaries).

    That is just the ecological problems caused or aided by dharavi. There is of course its health hazards, not just because of the threats posed by stagnant water, but by the traffic hazards, and increased inhalation of carbon monoxide. I guess it is also needless to add, that it isn’t the most pleasant of experiences to be greeted a good morning by the evacuation of bowels by the sides of the railway tracks.

    Lastly, this might seem like a trivial point to some, but the lack of land resources, coupled with high peak hour commute times, means the cultural development of the city is almost non-existent. A vast majority of people spend their whole day at work and in the commute to and from, so much so that life is just a habit. Of course, this follows Maslow’s hierarchy, and hence I call it trivial.

    As for the fact that the people in dharavi being an industrious bunch, that follows from Maslow’s Hierarchy as well, as they are intuitively aware of the existence of this hierarchy, as they see the disparage between the wealthy and the impoverished, which is a great impetus for hardwork. The higher up you are on Maslow’s pyramid, the less likely you are to break your back.

    DD, ofcourse there are huge problems in Dharavi but all I was trying to say that the place has a lot of good in it and the good is in the human beings out there. – Nita.

  8. February 4, 2009 10:50 am

    Hi nita,we indians have habit of taking every thing as truth projected by west as truth.Indians are applauding over a film that denigrates Mumbai.slums are in every developing country but that is not the only sole projection of country image.People in dharavi are working hard to make their life better with limited resources.Kudos to you for putting this truth in front of us…

    thanks yayaver, not just the slums, I feel that if SM had not been made by a foreigner and not gone to the Oscars, there wouldn’t have been much of an applause in India! – Nita.

  9. Chirag permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:11 am

    This actually puts Dharavi in a correct light for those with half baked knowledge or drawing wrong conclusions. If not for these 6 lakh people mumbai won’t be mumbai!

    Thanks Nita, we should really hope that a good documenty is actually made on the Spirit of Dharavi.

    @t’s just a film
    Absolutely, and that to a masala one.

    Chirag, not 6 lakh, close to a million they say. At least half a million. They form the backbone of this city. Take them away and the city will grind to a halt. – Nita.

  10. Abhiroop permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:12 am

    Outstanding article. Thank you.

    Welcome. 🙂 – Nita.

  11. February 4, 2009 11:26 am

    Interestingly, i read a report today about this person who became a millionaire conducting his business from Dharavi!

    That was an interesting story! Thanks. – Nita.

  12. February 4, 2009 11:27 am

    Yes Nita, not only Dharavi, but India itself is often shown in poor light. Poor people are shown begging, but against the few who beg there are millions who struggle to work and earn their living in our country. In advanced countries, the poor prefer to take to crime as the first choice, yet that does not get highlighted. This fact is well documented in the book “Freakonomics”. But Nita I dont think the move SM portrayed Dharavi as such – it only told a story of the characters. But movie makers in general need to be sensitive to the portrayal too. When a foreign HNI sees the struggle and sees some genuine NGOs doing good work, they are willing to lend a helping hand. Yesterday i read a report saying that a reality show will rope in philanthropic people to help the poor in Dharavi – all inspired by SM!.

    Gopinath, I may be wrong, but I think one of the reasons why the the poor in India do not take to crime as a first choice, is because they are basically just honest hardworking people who have not got opportunities. They are poor because of the disadvantages of their birth and our government does not provide them with the basics like education which can make them lead a better life. On the other hand, in developed economies even those born in a poor families have opportunities, far more than in India, and those who take to crime perhaps choose that life. Anyway, this is just a theory I have. – Nita.

  13. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:28 am

    @ Chirag:

    There were at least two good documentaries (which I have seen) on or featuring Dharavi in the 1970s and early 80s. One was Anand Patwardhan’s “Bombay, Our City”. The other was an outstanding diploma film made by a student of FTII whose name I cannot now recall, and who unfortunately died young.

    I will try to get the details, and where a copy can be found.

  14. Naveen permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:40 am

    C.K.Prahalad, a renowned Indian born American business consultant, who did research on Dharavi told this on American TV- “We should not look at this grit and chaos with pity, but with respect and fear because this is the training ground for the next wave of global titans.” And he adds, “Every kid that is out here is being trained to be an entrepreneur, hustle, and to get a little bit more than he or she has”.

    Very interesting clip:

    Naveen, that was a nice quote. Entrepreunership thrives in Dharavi! – Nita.

  15. ruSh.Me permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:50 am

    A LOOK & A VIEW on Dharavi….

  16. vivekmittal permalink
    February 4, 2009 12:05 pm


    Few days back i read an interesting article in TOI by Chris way, who is a foeigner and arranges tours to dharavi. Here he argues whether it’s ethical or not, and obviously justifies his profession.

    Here’s the link

    personally i hate the idea of arranging the tour to showcase the poverty in indian slums and was shocked when heard about it for the first time.

    The idea seems a little nauseating doesn’t it. But my take is this: If Dharavians don’t mind, so be it. I believe they are okay with the idea as some of the money is put back into development of Dharavi. Also they have laid down some rules like no cameras, small groups of 6 etc, and they enforce those rules on the tour operators. – Nita.

  17. February 4, 2009 12:12 pm

    True, what you have written. I just completed reading Shantaram, where he describes live of slum in detail. And yeah a slum dweller in NY might end up as a drug peddler or a a robber, but the ones in Mumbai will marry and have families who they’ll be responsible for. Go India!

    Shantaram is a lovely book. He describes the feeling of community in the slum really well. – Nita

  18. February 4, 2009 12:43 pm

    i watched about dharvi on a show on discovery. despite being the slum of mumbai the portrayal quite impressed me …besides they also told that some plans were being made to shift people of dharavi to apartments???

    Yeah, you will find the details on the site. But I am not sure that Dharavians will be happy to live in those anonymous apartments! – Nita.

  19. February 4, 2009 1:59 pm


    Good read again.

    I do however disagree with you on one fundamental point – that somehow the western perception of Dharavi or the slums in India is warped and that they think of it as abject poverty. The truth is that most westerners really do not understand slums in developing countries at all. Yes there are homeless people here and poor people but slums are nowhere to be seen. (You mention Brazil and Rio’s slums – if not already seen, I would strongly recommend a film Cidade de Deus which is located in Rio’s slums and is a real life portrayal; many of the ‘actors’ were real people and some expectedly died in street warfare later.) They are amazed by the contrasts and they are astounded by how a well-off public and a government can ignore such sub-human living conditions. So above all they are curious to find what makes these slums function and continue to exist.

    Some of the most well-researched pieces on Indian slums that I have read and discussed with authors (in a few cases) have come from westerners who go into slums with curiosity-without-prejudice. That is a rare quality amongst researchers, nearly all of whose work is a mirror to their prejudices to a great extent. Most recently I am reading Daniel Lak’s book ‘India Express’. I also met him in Delhi as well on my way to the airport. He has lived in SE Asia for a very long time. His case-studies or stories are different from all those told so far and the book is a lucid, easy read. I would highly recommend his chapters on the slum life in Bangalore.

    Some very thought-provoking documentaries are aired from time to time on the BBC which address the curiosity element too. They ask questions, not pre-judge anything. And what is so wrong with asking questions?

    I realise that I may be reflecting something that Vivek Khadpekar and The Depressed Doormat have said in more articulate terms but I have seen both sides – and one of the delegates with me actually went on a tour of Dharavi but whose views I am yet to hear about – and I think we need to stop being so sensitive about curious investigations into the slums. If we are going to be sensitive about the discussions and the portrayal of these slums, then let’s channel that sensitivity and emotional energy into working to influence the policy agenda so that these hard-working people can live a life where water and sewage do not have to co-exist and where living beings have more breathing space than an average corpse being buried.

    On another note, someone mentioned slum dwellers being moved into flats. I saw one such scheme on the way from Borivali to the airport in Bombay. My b-i-l told me that although these 1BK/ 2BHK homes were more spacious than their previous ‘homes’, many occupants were unhappy because they had been removed away from where their jobs were. If Dharavi’s residents are relocated, no prizes for guessing that they will hardly be put into flats on this prime piece of land. The reason why so many are interested in Dharavi is because of where it is. If it weren’t a slum, land would sell at prices that compete with Mayfair prices! Any social engg that moves these people en masse to flats will probably move them away from their employment and will likely be regressive in that it hurts them more than it benefits the rich and nouveau-riches of Bombay.

    Another long comment. I think by now you are used to forgiving the space-hogging… 🙂 Thanks.

    Shefaly, there is nothing in your comment to disagree with! 🙂 – Nita.

  20. Nimmy permalink
    February 4, 2009 2:10 pm

    Hey Nita,thanks for this post..As a non-mumbaikar,this was really informative and enlightening..

    The remark “but in every slum child who lives the nation has a probable consumptive and possible criminal.” is too racist and sad..Be in a riot or an earthquake,you and me will see ourselves living in more flithy situation than a slum…

    Thanks Nimmy. I thought that those words were mean and racist too but racist more interms of racist towards poor people. – Nita.

  21. February 4, 2009 2:16 pm


    It may interest you to know that the sentence you see as racist was written by Jacob Riis, a Danish photographer, when documenting New York’s slums. Race was not an element in this observation although he was known to have had his prejudices. But then who does not?

  22. Nimmy permalink
    February 4, 2009 2:28 pm

    How did you take the first photo?Helicopter??

    Was returning from Egypt. 🙂 – Nita

  23. Nimmy permalink
    February 4, 2009 2:33 pm

    @Shefaly..Yeah,i agree,i feel odd reading my comment. Maybe the word racist didn’t fit there to express my thought.I mean,to think that all of slum dwellers are potential crminals,isn’t that overboard generalizing? Isn’t every spoilt kid from a wealthy family,a potential criminal-a times pass for them?

  24. February 4, 2009 2:37 pm

    A very well written well researched and balanced post Nita!
    @for all those who think this is an invasion of privacy..
    People,(read the middle clases and above) have a warped view of slums…either one dislikes them with a vengeance or starts admiring/(or being patronising)of their hard work,of the ‘smiles’ amidst the squalor and hardships..’

    The truth is ,we dont move a finger to help them in any tangible way.
    I am all for ANY Action that Anyone takes whether ‘foreign’ or Indian to try and do something for them.
    I ,like so many other Indians, just do lip service.

    All the infrastructure paani/bijli problems are not because of Dharavi.
    Dharavi IS a slum because of US,the other Indians.How we turn and pretend to ignore them.
    How many of us dont know where our maids /drivers/peons/cooks/ come from?We have so many slums in Delhi too.All that the middle class here talks about is ”how can we get the slum to move from here?It is such an eyesore”

    And what do we do?To assuage our gulity conscience?
    THIS ”A humane middle-class householder gives gifts to her cleaner; a little local organisation seeks to teach and feed the labourers’ children. But these are token gestures against the essential injustice of things. Without drainage, water, electricity, decent housing and access to medical treatment, many will live in misery.”

    ”Ten years after the buzz caused by the nuclear tests, the middle classes take India’s new status for granted; they simply assume it is India’s due to be treated as the “equal” of the US and the rest, and move on to talk of economic opportunities. This commitment to their own idea of India and their central role in its economic rise makes the middle classes sure of themselves. But at the same time, their sense of citizenship is weak: they do not, on the whole, extend a sense of solidarity to the poor; they often do not acknowledge the role of the state in their own rise or its capacity to solve any of the country’s problems; and they are, in general, politically apathetic.”

    These lines are from this article here…
    which is courtesy Vikram at Academic view of India.

    Christopher Way is not a millionaire .He has started a company promising that ,”once the company starts making a profit, it will donate 80 percent of its slum-tour earnings to a charitable group that works in Dharavi. “I didn’t want to make money from the slum tours,” he says. “It wouldn’t have felt right.”
    The company does not advertise the slum excursions.
    The company has a no-photography policy, to keep the tours from becoming too intrusive. (For the same reason, each group is limited to five people.)

    Will he do it?Only time will tell.But,believe me, if people in the slums were that offended at their’invasion of pivacy’, Christopher would have been thrown out long back,tours and all.

    Apparently for all our moral outrage on their behalf,it turns out that they are just fine with all of it,thank you very much.ANd for all our sensitivity to ‘their’ privacy being invaded,curious how our sensitivity does not compell us enough to do something about it, isnt it?

    Thanks Indeah. The very fact that you writing this means that one day you will do something for these people. Don’t feel it as a burden because all of us cannot do it the same way. One thing all of us can do is pay them a living wage. Even today I see the rich exploiting their maids and drivers, making it impossible for them to live a decent life. Why just individuals. Companies too. And I hope Way does what he has promised. – Nita.

  25. February 4, 2009 2:41 pm


    As I mentioned Jacob Riis was known to have many prejudices against women, people from other social classes etc so the broad generalisation from him is not unexpected.

    But as Vivek Khadpekar notes early on, these prejudices are ingrained in the Indian urban elite and the general non-slum urban populace as well. On my last trip, I was going from Worli to Andheri in a car. At a traffic light, a beggar woman asked me for the bottle of water she could see in the car’s armrest. When I gave it to her, she went away thanking me. The driver had warned me not to open the window at all. I wasn’t using the water. What was his problem? He said they could take my ring. Really? On a good day, _I_ cannot remove my own rings! Such are our prejudices.. 😦

    Shefaly I am shocked by this experience of yours. This driver was taking you for a ride, he was lying! These street people will not do what he says. The worst thing they would do is try and touch you so you feel pity for them or pay them to go away. That driver was a big big liar! He was doing to show you that he was “warning” you or “protecting” you in some way, to get a tip later I am sure! – Nita.

  26. February 4, 2009 2:42 pm

    Before I actually saw the place,from the flight(when I went to Mumbai) ,I had this thought,how could it be any different from other slums…and well I was amazed by sheer size of it..

    And well we do usually take slums to be made up of people from lower income group and maybe a few dons..

    The dons my friend live in apartments and bungalows. Are you sure your neighbor is not a don? 🙂 – Nita.

  27. February 4, 2009 3:01 pm

    Excellent article Nita, you spoke my mind! I agree totally to everything written by you on this subject and I also feel that poor people being always unhappy is a myth. Like how rich people are assumed to be always happy! The film selectively showed the negativities of a slum life alone, and the director was quite precise about it!!

    Destination Infinity

    DI, thanks. Nowadays though I am finding another myth going around, that rich people are usually unhappy! 🙂 This too is a myth I think! – Nita.

  28. February 4, 2009 3:26 pm

    An enlightening post. Thank you, Nita.

    You are welcome! 🙂 – Nita.

  29. February 4, 2009 4:29 pm

    What for those people pay when they “tour” Dharavi, exactly what they want to see?
    Answer is, they get amazed by seeing that people can live like that, it’s like an entertainment for them to see the misery of those people.

    Many may argue that it’s all about reality and we shouldn’t hide reality.
    I would say, showing reality is all right but it also matters that for what purpose one is showing reality. Surveying the slums for information/ academic / administrative purpose is all right but operating tours to slums for the entertainment of the “tourists” is like making a mockery of the misery of the people living there and isn’t acceptable.

    I’m not sure in whose mind this very idea originated. The authorities issuing licenses to those “tour” operating companies are the culprits for sure.

  30. February 4, 2009 5:32 pm

    Nita, I enjoy reading all your posts, you put so much effort in them.
    Very well written. I don’t known about Dharavi but there are lots of slum dwellers in Delhi. They face so many problems in their day to day life but they seem to be happier than people living in bungalows. There was a documentary on BBC a few years back highlighting misery and poverty in India, the last sentence of the anchor was- I haven’t seen so much misery and happiness anywhere in the world.

    Thanks Prerna. Unfortunately people tend to measure happiness only in terms of comfort and if it comes to that slumdwellers are indeed miserable! But they have strong friendships, strong family ties and a strong community. – Nita.

  31. February 4, 2009 6:53 pm

    lol,I am sure 😛

  32. wishtobeanon permalink
    February 4, 2009 8:14 pm

    It’s amazing to hear about the hardwork and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Dharavi – it certainly is unique. It’s amazing that they thrive inspite of neglect by the government.

  33. vasudev permalink
    February 4, 2009 8:19 pm

    the dharavi and cuffe parade slum tours started after gregory david roberts wrote about his fugitive life in those indian slums.

  34. wishtobeanon permalink
    February 4, 2009 8:33 pm

    Nita, I watched a video on one of the websites’ links you provided: – looks like they(city planners) have plans to raze the slums and provide high-rise housing to these people; will that eliminate the slum dwellers’ source of earnings? Instead of razing the slums, why don’t they provide covered sewers and drinking water(pipes), garbage collection services and educate them about using toilets?

    Yeah, those pics of futuristic apartments are scary aren’t they! 🙂 Like Vivek, I too agree with your suggestion but it will never happen as people want to profit from this. – Nita.

  35. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 4, 2009 8:52 pm


    You’ve hit the nail on the head!

  36. February 4, 2009 9:10 pm

    Never heard of it. Are they part of any organization who want to help people in slums?

    It’s a pun on the word “tourist” 🙂 – Nita

  37. February 4, 2009 9:27 pm


    6 lakhs is a little over half a million. So I don’t quite see your point.


    For all that money that dharavi supposedly makes, and for all the political clout that its citizens have, their living standards have hardly improved since the mid 90’s. I can’t understand this contradiction, or at minimum, this disconnect. Care to shed some light?

    Finally, I have something to say about our reverence for these squatters. Sure they are hard working, but they are still squatters. I don’t see why they deserve to get housing in what is probably one of the most expensive tracts of land. By building them houses, which they get for throw-away prices (if at all they have to pay for it), in the very areas that they live in, you are rewarding them for their complete disregard for the law. This neglect and disregard for the law is on par, as an offense, as not paying your taxes (business or personal). There are loads of hard working people, in Bombay and elsewhere in India, that strive to make ends meet that don’t get handed freebies for their illegal activities.

    And it is a breeding ground for crime. Your world views may not be able to accept that poverty is an impetus for crime (and petty crimes don’t take long to escalate into drug trafficking, and other facets of organized crime), and the shroud of anonymity that Dharavi lends, is a perfect breeding ground for crime. It is tougher to be the big don at Malabar Hill, than to be a big goon in Dharavi.

    Sorry about the million confusion. I still get confused about million and lakh at times! – Nita.

  38. February 4, 2009 9:46 pm

    I am in America, and in the city I live crime is rampant. Rochester, NY is known for the second highest crime rate- and if New York City was not part of New York state, guess we’d be in the #1 spot. The office I used to work in downtown was double paned with protective glass to deflect bullets! Luckily the window protection was not needed when I worked there…but there are shootings in that area frequently. Earlier this week a 14 year old shot a cop! Yes the area is populated by a majority of lower income and many racial minorities, but the media is a funny thing because we get crimes in our suburbs too- middle class white people- who shoot each other in bars, who deal drugs in their homes and to high school kids, who sexually abuse each other and all the other unspeakable crimes. But they are not put on tv- these people who are mostly in the middle and upper middle class working cushy jobs and not collecting government handouts (in most cases). It’s blatent racism to think that only inner city racial minorities commit crimes (in USA) as it is in India to assume only overcrowded, undereducated, and lower income slum residents are the only ones committing crimes. Bollywood movies of the underworld and the ‘don culture’ have to have grains of truth. Crime among all segements of society in all cultures happens, media likes to focus on the so-called likely targets increasing the ‘average Joe’s’ perception of where crime is happening, to whom and by whom. What do you think?

    Far as the slum tours. I think this is lunacy. Some are against zoos for this reason- a zoo cages animals in nice, pretty displays with a sign board- and what are these slum tours doing but dehumanizing these hardworking and simple people. If they themselves are endorsing this- maybe it’s simply for the money? If not this- then why not do tours like this of middle class and rich neighborhoods? Is it because these people have a higher self esteem? Is it because these people don’t want strangers prancing around in their neighborhood? Is it because these people don’t want to be put on display? Why is it the financially poor will put themselves on display like this? And why do they allow this of themselves?

    • February 4, 2009 10:44 pm

      Jennifer, thank you for your comment. I agree with you whole heartedly. I too believe that crime happens in all sections of society and like Nimmy said, to think that only poor people commit crimes is a form of racism. For example in offices so many people steal stationery but they are not branded as thieves! People misuse transport, they do not vacate their alloted accomodation, hoteliers build on pavements and so on! But it is the poor which is hated for all this far more! Also I agree with you about slum tours. It is like treating these people as if they are in a zoo! You are absolutely right! I think a lot of slum people do not like it, but some are allowing it for the money. Others may be indifferent or may not quite understand that they are on display because for them it is all normal. I don’t think they even realise the life they lead is so starkly different! But awareness is growing. A decade ago you could walk into Dharavi with a camera and no one said anything. Today they won’t like it. So you see, the change is coming.

  39. February 4, 2009 10:06 pm


    No one wants to see the middle class or upper middle classes in their boring lives. Middle classes all over the world are pretty much the same, and boring. Abject poverty is more interesting to the first world, hence more takers.

    Also, Dharavi is not a zoo. These people are living their lives. It is a public place; I can go there alone, or in a group. So there isn’t much legal respite for the citizens of Dharavi. It is easier to embrace this as an education of what Dharavi really is, rather than to allow myths of extremes to be perpetuated. And if money can be made in the process, isn’t that the very entrepreneurial natures of the “dharavians” that everyone is so enamored about?

  40. February 4, 2009 10:15 pm

    @The Depressed Doormat
    Yes, point well taken that middle class lifestyles can be ‘boring’ but then again that show ‘Desperate Housewives” was a hit world wide…

    True, Dharavi is not a zoo- it is the concept of zoo I am referring to. But let’s take away zoo and use a comparison of a museum instead. Nice to take a tour and walk around, yes I agree it can be an educational experience, and an eye opening experience for many- I think one must be very careful in how they market this experience so as not to rip the dignity and integrity away from the people….

  41. February 4, 2009 10:18 pm


    I retract my previous statement. I think I know what you were getting at, and might have misunderstood it while I typed it out.

  42. Naveen permalink
    February 4, 2009 10:49 pm

    Regarding tours, I think that tourism should not just be about sightseeing. It should be more about understanding the country’s culture and lifestyle. I notice from many of my friends that American family is often perceived from the impressions they get from hollywood, talkshows and sitcoms, that make comedy out of disorganized families. I think there should be more opportunities like this to look at things closer, that will help clear out misconceptions. I think some Indian states have tourism programs that allow foreigners stay with middle-class Indian families as guests and experience India first-hand. I don’t see a difference between the two.

    Naveen, thats a good point you have. I think actually interacting with these people and living with them is a far better idea that to just gawk at them. – Nita.

  43. Brand Robins permalink
    February 4, 2009 11:41 pm


    When I was in Rio I took a tour of the Favelas. It was lead by a local man, and was me and one Japanese lady with him. We went through the town, we ate at a local restaurant, we stopped and talked with the locals and even had a couple people invite us in.

    I didn’t take any pictures, because it felt like doing so would have turned it into some kind of show — into a zoo tour, just like you said.

    As it was, it didn’t feel anything like a zoo or a museum. It felt like an opening into a world I hadn’t known much about, a world that my western middle-class background had taught me to fear. It opened my eyes and changed the way I saw the world.

    I have been on tours that felt like museum or zoo shows: In Chicago, in London, in Agra. They do exist, and they are… noxious. They’re classical imperialistic garbage, and make me feel kind of ill when I’ve been on them.

    There are good ways and bad ways to do tours, and we need to be responsible for which we chose. Done wrong they are zoo tours, done right they can be openings for cultural exchange and understanding.

    (Also, I’m in Toronto, I’ll wave at you across the lake.)

  44. February 4, 2009 11:45 pm

    I’ll confess that I have known only the stereotyped Dharavi! So this post is a welcome surprise to me.

    My opinion was built from movies and hearsay. So I am thankful to Nita.

    P.S.: A great movie on NY crimes is the Martin Scorsese directed ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002) set in the mid-19th century “loosely inspired by a non fiction book.” Caution: the film is not for the squeamish!

    Thanks Vikas. The movie Gangs of NY” was a very good one and I think it was nominated for several awards too. – Nita.

  45. February 4, 2009 11:53 pm

    Nita, here is a sample of what people of Dharavi think of the place themselves, let me give you some quotes,

    “I am constantly concerned for the safety of my children and I practically lock them in the house after 6pm. Not only is it unsafe to play near the tracks but also the possibility of them being kidnapped or assaulted petrifies me.”

    “I have land in my village but one earns very little money there. What I would get after a day of back-breaking work in the field is what I make here after working an hour’s overtime.”

    “I like it here because people are friendly and look out for me. If my husband is working late and does the night shift I don’t feel scared because I think this is the safest place for us.”

    “I am in a hurry to leave Dharavi. I’ve lived here since 1979 and I am tired of the hurdles I face every time I go for a job or a bank loan due to my slum address.”

    I think that nothing can reflect more badly on us middle class Indians that such perceptive and meaningful journalism about our country has to come from a British news outlet.

    A slum in an Indian city means very different things to very different people, but we must not forget that what it means to the slum-dwellers is much more important than what it means to others, Indian or Western.

    Thanks for the quotes Vikram and ofcourse, at the end of it all they are all people, and each will have an unique experience. It’s important not to stereotype. – nita

  46. February 5, 2009 12:21 am

    “A slum in an Indian city means very different things to very different people, but we must not forget that what it means to the slum-dwellers is much more important than what it means to others, Indian or Western.”

    Why are the “feelings” of the slum-dwellers more important than the other citizens on Bombay? You cannot illegally occupy an area and expect to be treated as a citizen. The only reason people are “for” the slum-dwellers, is because of prior inaction by the government and the citizens of Bombay. But the failure of its citizens to perform their civic duties is not reason to reward squatting.

    Also, about the assumption that the rich are unhappy; since when is ambition equal to unhappiness? And sure, there are a lot of rich people that are unhappy because they don’t enjoy what they are doing. But that stems from the luxury that they CAN do that. The poor man has no time wondering whether he WANTS to do his particular job. He either does it, or starves to death. Do not equate “settling for” with contentment either. I am extremely curious to see what benchmark people use to gauge when a “rich” person is unhappy.

  47. February 5, 2009 1:10 am

    @ Depressed Doormat. Thanks for explaining your point of view…It’s helpful to me…

    I also agree with your comment about the ‘poor’ having to work regardless of liking their job or they will starve…I think this is one reason though the slum dwelling is illegal, it continues. These people are doing the jobs that the rest of the ‘educated masses’ do not want. If the slum dwellers were forced out of Mumbai – firstly where would they go? and Secondly- how would this affect the economy of Mumbai? Thirdly- How would this affect the everyday citizen of Mumbai who relies on services of slum dwellers (like autorickshawvalla, tea valla, dhobi, maid services, etc.)? Who would step up to do these jobs if they weren’t there? How would this affect the cost of services rendered? How would this affect how people treat those in service professions if the cost of their labor went up?

    Also, regarding the rich being unhappy…this goes to prove money does not equal happiness. I believe that people who chase money for sake of money and material prosperity are surely rich economically and materially, but if not done with the right life purpose, values and goals, can leave that same person feeling and experiencing social, family, spiritual, and other forms of unseen poverty…..

  48. Naveen permalink
    February 5, 2009 1:19 am


    I think what makes people happy is a ‘genuine’ purpose of living, however big or small. A poor man in a slum has a purpose- to make a living and support his family. I do think there are many Billionaires who are happy, struggling to keep a company afloat. I don’t think, being happy has anything to do with money, contentment etc.

    In a documentary, ‘Born Rich’, many youngsters, all heirs for big brand names, confessed that the happy part of their lives was during the short summer jobs they did for fun, because the rest of the adult lifes- all they did was party. Obviously life gets monotonous and depressing. So people with not much to do are always vulnerable to be unhappy.

  49. February 5, 2009 1:36 am


    Thanks for elaborating on the poverty of the rich. In my opinion, and I don’t intend to offend, that is a load of “spiritual hallmarkism”. A rich man has the choice to pursue the various interests that he has at his disposal. He can be an adventure seeker like Branson of Virgin Grp., or a philanthropist like the Gates. But some people derive satisfaction from pushing themselves to the limits. These people have chosen to pursue their professional heights and it is the middle class that need to assume their poverty to make ourselves feel better (equal to them in a sense, or at least no less).

    There is an assumption that one needs to have a “spiritual” facet in their lives to be completely happy, and as someone from the other side of the fence (you won’t find too many people that are less spiritual than me), I can confirm that this is just hogwash.

    Now if I could just have a little more money… 😛

  50. February 5, 2009 2:03 am

    Nita, I think SM did exactly that: highlight the spirit to live, the life, the ambitions and the discipline that exists in many of the slums, without “sanitising” the surroundings. (The entire film was not shot in Dharavi, though).
    But at no point did I feel that Dharavi-kars (if I can call them that) were sitting around doing nothing. They were all economically and socially productive. The kids were shown to be attending school. In fact, I watched a Dev Patel interview in the U.S. and he said exactly that.
    In an SM post I did for BlogHer, I mentioned a series about slum kids (one lives on the streets of Mumbai but attends school) and their ambitions. I also saw this phenomenon as a function of Mumbai’s tough real estate market.
    I’d like to know what a Mumbaikar like you thinks about this.

    Fabulous and well-researched post Nita, thanks!

    SS also blogs as IC

    SS, yes some parts of it were shot in the Juhu slum which is smaller but what applies there too is that there isn’t just lowlife there! – Nita.

  51. February 5, 2009 3:38 am


    I totally agree with you … actually it is the mindset of the person. Obviously the more money one has the more choices has in life. There is no doubt about that. Then it is the mindset of the person.. what he or she wants out of life…

    And the beliefs they hold about life. If they believe that working hard and having money is it…. then they will resign to that. Obviously some want and do have much more fulfilling lives than going to work and coming home with a fat paycheck. To them, I give kudos for living a true heart felt life!

  52. February 5, 2009 4:03 am

    Dev patel was on john stewart show last night and talked of dharavi. john stewart audience is young 20-40 year old people. patel said everything positive about dharavi … how there’s a strong sense of cummunity … how people work hard to put food on the table for their kids … how people are not upset but very happy with living within their means. it was good to hear on national tv.

    Roop, it’s good to know that Dev Patel knows the reality of the slums. That’s good to hear. – Nita.

  53. February 5, 2009 8:36 am

    I think I’m going to stop saying “Wonderful article; very well presented” from now on. Just take it as a given, since that’s applicable to practically all your posts 🙂

    I love the way you present the positive side of Dharavi. I’m no authority on the subject, so I cannot say with conviction whether it does or does not make potential criminals, or hard working individuals. But my common sense does imagine it to be somewhat grey, a little of both. One should be willing to give the benefit of doubt that these are mostly hard-working, innocent people. At the same time, there must be a percentage that, out of indigence and despair, has resorted to suboptimal means of making quick money. Mostly as scapegoats, fallen prey to some illusional carrot dangled in front of them. One way of looking at it is they’re striving for hard-earned money for the family too – if anything, more sincere than golf-players with BMWs who launder money or avoid taxes knowingly.

    But honest or otherwise, I see all of them as victims of the system here. The indifferent elite and upper middle class often overlook their existence, if not write them off as compulsive criminals. Then there are others like politicians, corporators, havaldars and builders, to name a few, who wait for an opportunity to exploit them for their own benefit, making unrealistic promises and not abiding by them.

    Is there any institution that genuinely works for the welfare of these guys?

    On another note, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance does give a glance of slum life, and the disposition of slum-dwellers. It’s a work of fiction, but well researched fiction, if you ask me.


    There are a lot of NGO’s working in the slums of mumbai, and they do different things, from womens and kids welfare, to vocational programmes to communal harmony. As you said, the slum people are like any other people when it comes to their character. – Nita

  54. Chirag permalink
    February 5, 2009 11:19 am

    @Nita: A Million !!! I didn’t know that, that is a ocean of people.

    @Vivek: Thanks, I will try and get them.

  55. February 5, 2009 6:50 pm

    Hi Nita,
    A brilliant post! And very balanced. It throws some very interesting lights on Dharavi. I fail to understand why there is so much hype about only slums in India esp. Dharavi? Aren’t there slums in other countries too? Why do people esp. foreigners fail to notice the other side of Dharavi? Do they really fail to notice or is it our fault that we show it generally to foreigners as one of the largest slums with some of the most famous criminal stories? I think your this post should be circulated to as many people as possible and maybe it will help to change the perception about Dharavi & slums in India. Once again, a brilliant post and I will circulate this link to some people whom I know have the negative perception about Dharavi.

    Thanks Kanupriya. I think the reason why foreigners misunderstand our slums is because they either see it through what their own slums are like or like Vivek said they are ignorant. It’s like how we also misunderstand their society. – Nita.

  56. vasudev permalink
    February 5, 2009 8:23 pm

    someone sitting in 10F broke a cardinal rule. no snapping while the plane is on a touch down mode.

  57. February 5, 2009 8:25 pm

    Excellent post, Nita. Must appreciate your efforts.

  58. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 5, 2009 9:29 pm


    Maybe frequent fliers on Jet Airways are entitled to some latitude 😉

  59. February 5, 2009 10:08 pm

    This is a very insightful article on Dharavi and what it really means to the people there. Loved it!

  60. vasudev permalink
    February 5, 2009 10:51 pm

    lol@vivek…the culprit obviously is nita (…copyrights) and she ain’t commenting…

    • February 6, 2009 8:03 am

      You may not believe this but I didn’t know there was such a rule and this was several years ago, 2005 I think. This was also a foreign airline, Egypt Air, and they saw me and said nothing! I must taken out scores and scores of photos! 🙂 However I tried the same on Jet some time later but the airhostess said it was not allowed. I tried to tell her that the equipment was not electronic so as to interfere with the navigation system but she didn’t seem to understand, anyway a rule was a rule I guess although I did not read it anywhere. Even while flying on Emirates I have taken photos, no one said anything!

      And to all those who commented, thanks a lot for making this post such a delightful read with your comments. If I have not replied to some individually, sorry about that but you see we are in the middle of shifting residence and the packing at home has already started. I will be taking a blog break too. – Nita.

      • Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
        February 23, 2009 6:34 am


        Last week, after a gap of something like two years, I took a direct flight from Ahmedabad to Pune. Among the announcements made as we approached our destination was one to the effect that because Pune was a military airport, photography (from the aircraft) was prohibited. There was no announcement on the topic during my return flight to Ahmedabad.

        To me this implied that photography at civilian airport is OK. It is, however, very different from the general understanding I have acquired over the years, that photography at all Indian airports (and bridges and dams, to name just a few more of several categories).

        And while on the subject of in-flight announcements, there is this curious one that I have started hearing only within the last five years or so, about keeping the window screens raised during take-off and landing, “for security reasons.” I have not been able to figure out the logic of this. Wonder if anyone here can shed light.

        • February 23, 2009 11:21 am

          You know, I think our security people/police/aircraft crew take the no-photo thing to absurd extremes! Recently there was a person who was prevented from taking pictures of Marine Drive! He complained and found out that there is no such prohibition. Permission only needs to be taken for commercial photography but stupid security people have no idea what or what not to allow. Same with the aircraft. There is no earlthy reason why photography from the aircraft should not be allowed. I have always gone ahead and done it, quite openly. At times I have been told not to and at times no one said anything.
          About the windows, I don’t know but I had asked the same question and someone answered it but I have forgotten the answer! 🙂

        • vasudev permalink
          February 23, 2009 9:47 pm

          interesting question!

          i will be able to answer that since i was also a photo culprit like nita (but i was caught and told not to repeat)

          an aircraft is most vulnerable to crash while take-off and landing (so pray that one does not go sit on the bandra flyover after taking off from s’cruz).

          when you are 30000 ft above the sea and cruising the only thing that can bring you down is perhaps an occassional hijacker.

          now why the shades are to be kept open while take-off?
          the main reason is for the air crew to easily see if any fire is licking your favourite plane. if so, the pilots can be alerted to abort the take-off.
          why electronic equipment are not allowed while take off and landing?
          nothing to do with interference even though that might be a possibility. all electronic equipments work on battery and batteries may cause spark and if majority of the passengers are on the most favoured guests list of yamaraja for that time, the entire plane and plane loads of guests might as well take a free trip to yamaloka and decide to stay back there. this might cause anguish and inconvnience to lots of insurance agencies. hence all those extended precautions.
          it is also not advisable to talk on a mobile while you are filling petrol. it is always better to keep your mobs in the switch off mode when you drive in for a fill at the gas station.

          • vasudev permalink
            February 23, 2009 9:51 pm

            correction: not air crew but passengers. passengers can see and alert the strapped-up air crew.

  61. February 5, 2009 10:55 pm


    It is possible that people in India only pay attention to what westerners say about Indian slums, isn’t it? Because plenty is written about Brazilian slums, for instance, and about low quality, unstructured/ social housing in developed countries too. Rightfully they are not discussed in India because we have our own to worry about plenty. 🙂

    If the attention paid to India’s slums is truly greater, well that is what comes with increased attention – increased scrutiny. If we want to play with the big boys, which we legitimately should, we will have to stand this close examination however unnerving it may appear.

    Vasudev/ Vivek Khadpekar:

    As the wise say: It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission 😉

  62. February 5, 2009 11:19 pm

    Like Soham I too am thankful about this enlightening post on Dharavi. I just knew it by name and reputation. Now I know better.

  63. February 5, 2009 11:28 pm

    @ Depressed Doormat : I was talking about understanding slums in a social and economic context, not in a legal one. And not all slums are ‘illegal’, many are recognized by Maharashtra state law.

    The major reasons for the existence of urban slums is agrarian distress and social stratification in India’s villages, particularly those of the heartland. So living in a slum is no ‘reward’, it is a compulsion driven by a lack of alternatives.

  64. February 6, 2009 12:26 am

    @ Nita : What are those hills in the first picture? I did not realise Bombay has some hills 🙂

    Interesting picture. So I suppose then this ‘slum’ is the first thing that visitors to Bombay see when they fly in?

  65. February 6, 2009 12:55 am


    I am talking only about Dharavi. Dharavi, from the last I know of, is mostly illegal. The houses, the businesses…

    The only reason the MH govt. is bothering at all is because of pressure from the UNDP. The govt. has agreed to grant all the “citizens” on the electoral roll as of 1995 (don’t ask me the significance of that year) housing rights. The UNDP wants these to be extended to “all current residents”. This is rewarding illegality. Not that we should be surprised in India.

    As for your reasons, they are immaterial. Poor living conditions in other states are not the MH govt. or BMC’s problem. And I have already addressed this in one of my earlier comments.

  66. February 6, 2009 2:52 am

    @ DD, whether you like it or not, the democratically elected government of the state of Maharashtra has passed a law. If you perceive it as illegality, fight it in court.

    I dont want to get into the state vs state debate. I was merely pointing out that living in a slum is no reward for the slum-dwellers, it is a compulsion.

    Just to add (and this is just speculation), I want you to think about the poor in Burma, who cannot move to Thailand or Malaysia for better economic opportunities. Same applies to Middle East. Even though the people of Mumbai have suffered inconvenience from this migration, they have also benefited economically.

    It is quite possible that the states of UP and Bihar, go through a substantial economic expansion (the kind that Punjab went through earlier), and many people from Maharashtra might move to UP to make money there. Somehow the ability to migrate easily has kept the Union alive, and in the coming decades we might all benefit from the economic growth in central India.

    On the other hand, the whole thing might collapse. 😦

  67. February 6, 2009 5:14 am

    “Interesting picture. So I suppose then this ’slum’ is the first thing that visitors to Bombay see when they fly in?”

    Odzer, only those who are awake and sitting by the window, and on one side of the plane. 😉

  68. Padmini permalink
    February 6, 2009 5:20 am

    Nita, this was an eye-opener for me since I too had the same stereo-typical view that you have debunked. I will have to look at this with a new pair of eyes – thanks for posting this:)

  69. February 6, 2009 6:16 am

    It appears as though you have missed out on what I was saying. I am not against migration, which is an even more complex issue and certainly not worth debating here. The rewards I am talking about are not by virtue of living in a slum. Read my comment once more (I don’t recall which one) and you might see what I was saying.

    Bombay’s beggars (half the estimated population of dharavi), generate a “revenue” of 180 crores. I am not sure how turnover and “revenue” co-relate, but I will am curious to see someone put these figures in perspective.

    The law you are talking about, was passed in the mid-70’s, long before I was born and could do anything about it. The law was an arrangement between the Govt and the dharavians (there is a term for such government action, and it evades me); Rent of 100, for allowing them to stay on there, plus free water, sewerage etc. The rent has stayed the same, costs have gone up. The “hardworking” citizens of Bombay share the remainder of the burden. And this is in addition to the other problems the remaining 10+ million citizens of bombay face everyday by virtue of the existence of dharavi as as. It can be argued how much dharavi’s financial prowess is really of benefit, since you have not set a benchmark as to the success of the venture, nor a yardstick to compare it (industry wise) with other localities. So that is certainly not a benefit a bombay citizen cares about. The only reason our hands are tied, is to ensure we do not make criminals out of the relatively hardworking and honest people that live there, just for the sake of stamping our moral authority.

    Even though my fundamental questions remain unanswered, I must grudgingly accept your position as valid. We pay for the mistakes we make, more dearly sometimes. The failures of my parents and their generation will be faced by me and my peers. And that is how it should be. I am not being sarcastic at all, but I must now extend this new logic to other areas that are more relevant to the entire of India.

    The Kashmir conflict and terrorism are modern India’s inheritance for a failed foreign policy. The religious violence in our country is owed to the non-secular practices of our government, and by extension, its people. Violence against women (and men) for “moral corruption” is warranted for a failed policy of swadeshi and communism, all thanks to Nehru.

    In the end, I grudgingly concede.

  70. February 6, 2009 6:20 am


    And this is in addition to the other problems the remaining 10+ million citizens of bombay face everyday by virtue of the existence of dharavi as is.

  71. February 6, 2009 6:20 am


    That should have been erratum, not errata 😛

  72. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 6, 2009 7:07 am

    @Shefaly/ Vasudev:

    At olympian heights, neither is needed.

  73. Vivek S. Khadpekar permalink
    February 6, 2009 8:39 am

    @ Nita:

    Rules, as you say, are rules, even though they may be absolutely asinine. Over the years, I remember having had to junk a sealed battery-inclusive toy with security at port of embarkation, which they promptly chucked into the garbage bin right in the presence of my then 5-years-old son, who set up a howl that lasted the entire length of time from emplaning at Delhi to deplaning at Ahmedabad. Years later, at Ahmedabad international departures, I voluntarily pointed out to security that my watch, laptop, iPod all had batteries in them, and without batting an eyelid they said it was all right.

  74. February 6, 2009 10:49 pm


    //Since when is ambition equal to unhappiness?//

    In the statement that you have made above, you have implied (please correct me if I am wrong), ambition is all about getting rich. And rich people are full of ambition! And hence poor people lack ambition. Profound assumptions!

    Destination Infinity

  75. February 7, 2009 3:17 am


    I have not said poor people have no ambition. I said that the rich people that do have ambition, that want to become the CEO’s of their companies, or make fat bonuses (which is a testament to their ability) are looked at as unhappy because they are caught in the “rat race”. I was just stating I disagree with that way of looking at things. One man’s meat…

  76. February 7, 2009 7:51 am


    //Fat bonuses are a testament to their ability//

    This is what Obama had to say while introducing the cap on the salaries of the top management empolyees from firms that are seeking Government assistance to bail them out: “We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset and rightfully so, are executives being rewarded for failure” So, there you go – Fat bonuses may not always be the testament to their ability!! And Obama also had this to say on the same topic – “Such pay is exactly the kind of disregard for the costs and consequences for their actions that brought about this crisis – a culture of narrow self interest and short term gain at the expense of everything else” I think he is spot on. What’s your opinion?

    Destination Infinity

  77. February 7, 2009 9:22 am

    Bonus: sum of money granted or given to an employee, a returned soldier, etc., in addition to regular pay, usually in appreciation for work done, length of service, accumulated favors, etc.

    I am not here to debate the economic crisis. Most honest and hard-working people look at bonuses like the above definition. Most people are not CEO’s deciding their own bonuses. I think I am done derailing this post. It was about dharavi, and I only mentioned the rich because the tone seemed to deliver a notion that rich people cannot be rich unless they have “other worldly” pursuits at heart.

    The extents of human indoctrination have obviously been too ingrained for me to make a point. Point is, I would rather be rich and “sad” than poor and “happy”. “Sad” and “happy” are the way they have been defined already in preceding comments of course.

  78. February 8, 2009 4:22 pm

    A very brilliant post and a very interesting debate! One has to well understand why in a place like Dharavi there is no clear association with crime, while the exact contrary happens in the South American and African slums or it used to happen in NY and European slums (or in today’s Italian city Naples, with slums among the most violent and crime oriented).

    It could be a stereotype or a simplistic statement, but is there a tendency to be peaceful in the people of the subcontinent?

  79. February 8, 2009 7:49 pm

    @DD: Of course, I am also guilty of de-railing from the topic (Thanks to Nita’s absence and her house shifting 🙂 ). But this topic of rich and poor is right at the heart of why people adore a movie like slumdog millionare – but the concepts of rich, poor, happy and unhappy are so complex and relative to each other that we cannot explain them or even understand them in abstract terms.

    I got your point of view on being rich. You advocate developing a sense of pride because of the accumulated wealth. That is fine. But there are so many people who are not proud because they are rich but they are proud because the majority of people are poor. There is a huge difference between the two, and SDM shows just the stuff that these people want – how much more worse could be the situation in some other part of the world and hence they should feel happy of being rich in …… (where ever). Even though they may not be happy (Or they may be, depending on the person).

    BTW bonuses are not always paid to the deserving people. Most of them are paid to the people who say ‘yes boss’. And such bosses were paid enormous amounts in the form of performance bonuses (from the companies which are requesting for federal bail out) because they already had some sort of a cap on the maximum salaries that can be given to them which needs to be approved by the share holders.

  80. February 8, 2009 7:52 pm

    I knew you were going to point out to the poor performers and try to make your point. For every corrupt CEO there are 1000’s of hardworking employees that bust their balls so they can take home a little extra to their families. This gross generalization is an insult to such people.

  81. February 8, 2009 10:56 pm

    Somehow I had no idea that Dharavi is not related to any sort of crime. This seems to be a little difficult to digest. 🙂

  82. February 9, 2009 2:41 pm


    Well, I think Nita on the whole meant Dharavi is not comparable for example to the slums of Brasil, where, once you are there, chances of getting out are scarce. She meant it is not THE den of crime many people think, not that no crime ever happens there 🙂

  83. February 9, 2009 5:42 pm

    I am very new to blogging and this is the first time I have visited your site,
    I must say it is very well and balanced view I have read on Dharavi.I have personal expereince as I have been to Dharavi when I went to Bombay for the first time trying to find my footing( I did) long back.
    It may sound funny,I won’t call it a slum.It is a residential cum commercial hub.
    Perhaps, every political party has played politics of Slums on Dharavi.
    My best compliments for such a balanced write-up

  84. February 10, 2009 10:38 pm


    Walking those lanes, you will seldom see whats there in movie. You rightly said, commercial cinema was meant to project it a way it would be sold and appreciated.

    Of the title i personally hated was usage of word, slum “DOG”, in fact its exactly reverse. Its God that resides in Slum.

    And blessed slums like Dharavi, where there are many businesses that run. Take a footing and go out to be in international market. In a way they are millionaire, as their shacks are more hospital than a Penthouse on Yari road.

  85. February 13, 2009 6:54 pm

    Fantastic Article 🙂 I am a fan, will come back for more!

  86. Milind Kher permalink
    March 11, 2009 7:27 pm

    Dharavi is a place where you see enterprise at its very best. Rags to riches is not a flash in the pan here, it is an enduring theme.

    If Slumdog Millionaire has promoted what Dharavi stands for, it has rightly done so.

    India must take pride in its achievers, no matter which strata of society they come from.

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