Per se, the definition of “exotism” is something that has the quality of being foreign, even unusual sometimes depending on the context. Throughout the week we have expressed the various aspects of exotism, might it be through the rich cultures foreign places have to offer, their products, or their aesthetics. Today, we will focus on another side of the “unusual”, meaning the social injustice of slums and how they come about.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The case of Dharavi.
For the majority of us, the image of modern India verges from the one of the poorest economies in the world to a booming industrial power, with world’s biggest population in just 6 years. As shown in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, this highly diversified country embraces massive inequalities and a sad injustice, although with a little light in the tunnel, even in one of its infamous slums.
The subject of this article-the Dharavi slum, is one of the biggest in the country, with estimated number of inhabitants between 300,000 to one million people-a prediction melancholic in its own. The area-located just next to Mumbai’s glass-and-steel airport, is broken by the river Mahim Creek, used as one of the mere sources of water and a defecation field at the same. No wonder that Dharavi experienced various cases of plagues and diseases since it was first formed, in the late 19th century. The case of drinking water supply only adds to its problems. It may sound not surprising that the Indian government developed a one-billion-dollars plan to erase it. Only families occupying the area before the year 2000 are appointed for resettlement.
A different image of Dharavi appears when one looks at it in a demanding, positive perspective. Its sector of informal economy brings $650 million a year and is referred to as an “informal economic powerhouse”. Its businesses range from pottery, textile, leather goods and plastic to recycling industry, processing waste from other parts of |Mumbai. The number of such businesses is estimated to be 5000 in 15,000 factories and the objects produced are sold in various parts of India.
With the rapid urbanization, Dharavi is the first, and sometimes the only stop for those willing to enter a city life. Rents are only $4 per month and the location of the slum-between two main suburban rail lines, makes it a handy choice for the commuters. Interestingly, it welcomes a differentiated religious community, as 33% of its population is Muslim, 6% Christian, the rest being Hindu and Buddhist. Somehow there is a place for everyone in there, as the inhabitants developed special and sometimes peculiar forms of self-help, that let them survive day by day.
With better living conditions and sanitation, Dharavis many problems would disappear and let the area become a notice-worthy city inside a city. It encourages to look at the problem of slums and their context in Asia in a different perspective, as simply nothing is black and white.
*The title of the article stems from Katherine Boo’s best-seller “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity”, describing the life in Annawadi slum.