Slums of Mumbai

 

“This is at once a city of paradise and of hell. But Mumbai's paradox is that it is often the dwellers of paradise who feel themselves in hell and the dwellers of hell who feel themselves in paradise.”  (Giridharadas, NYTimes)

Mumbai is a fascinating city to study in many contexts, but studying the slums of Mumbai is extraordinary.  There are so many unique slums in this city; the Greater Bombay Slum Consensus in 1991 listed 1068 different slums in the city, many of which have more than one unregistered adjacent satellite slums.  Mumbai is referred to by many as the global slum capital.  Mumbai was home to 19.1 million residents in 2004, and well over half of them lived in slums (between 10 and 12 million), according to Mike Davis.  And while this percentage is absurd, another scholarly article describes the living conditions of about 80% of the population of the city as “substandard,” defining substandard as anything from the traditional slum construction (called a jopad-pattis) to outright homelessness.  The population density in Mumbai’s slums is very high – over half of the city’s population lives on only 12% of the land.  56% of Mumbai residences are three people or more living in a single room.

Source:http://quebecblogue.com/images/dharavi-2.jpg
Source:http://quebecblogue.com/images/dharavi-2.jpg

 

 

This is Dharavi, the biggest slum in Mumbai.  Dharavi is home to between 1 million and 1.5 million people and is only about 1 square mile in size.  There are currently plans to raze and redevelop Dharavi, a project that not all residents of the slum are in support of. 

 

India, in general, has been vastly transformed by neoliberal economic policies.  Since the economy was restructured in 1991, 1 million new millionaires have emerged in India.  During this same time period, 56 million new slum dwellers have emerged.  Urbanization has been trending severely upwards in India, with a fifty-fold increase in India’s urban populations in the 20th Century.  This increase is contrasted with a total population growth in India of only five-fold over the same period.  Mass urbanization has been difficult for cities like Mumbai to absorb, especially given the economic shift towards neoliberalism, which is an economic theory that promotes governmental cuts to social spending.  As a result, an estimated 57 million Indian children under the age of 5 are malnourished.  While Mumbai has managed to build its five tallest skyscrapers in the last ten years, five million Mumbai residents do not have access to toilets.

Source: www.pbase.com/ duckyork/image/31249233
Source: www.pbase.com/ duckyork/image/31249233

 

 

The view here is a canal running along a Mumbai slum.  Many slums do not have basic infrastructure, such as running water or toilets, which leads to heavy pollution of Mumbai's waterways.

The ecological impact of Mumbai’s neoliberal shift is immense.  Breathing the air in Mumbai is analogous to smoking two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes per day.  50,000 hectares of cropland is lost every year in India to urbanization.  In Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum, there is only one toilet for every 1440 people.  This results in floods of human excrement during monsoon season.  Much of the water becomes contaminated because of this, and death rates tend to be about 50% higher in Mumbai’s slums than in upper and middle class areas.  Despite the dreadful environmental conditions, recycling is a virtue in slums like Dharavi, where slum dwellers may be the reason that Mumbai is not "choking on its own waste."  Read the full article in The Guardian (UK)

 

Slum dwellers in Mumbai pay as much as $10,000 USD for a plot of land in a slum, even though they don’t get a title for the land.  Prices for space in general in Mumbai have increased dramatically in the last decade, and Mumbai is now among the most expensive cities on the planet.  Prices for office space in urban Mumbai are now about $12 USD per square foot, which is among the world’s highest rents.  Demand, which is driving prices up, is also creating a spatial compression.  Therefore, slums are in the crosshairs of developers to be razed and redeveloped.  The most fascinating story comes from Dharavi, which is widely regarded as Asia’s biggest slum, although there is evidence now that Orangi Township in Pakistan has surpassed Dharavi in size. 

Dharavi: 1 million people living on 1 square mile of land

Satellite view of Dharavi from Google Earth
Satellite view of Dharavi from Google Earth

Dharavi, the slum featured in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, is interesting for a variety of reasons.  Dharavi is home for upwards of 1.5 million people on a plot of land that is about 1 square mile right between Mumbai’s eastern and western corridors.  There are plans to redevelop Dharavi, as Mumbai is working on a facelift in order to become a world city; city government envisions Mumbai being mentioned in the same sentence as cities like New York, Tokyo, and Shanghai.  This redevelopment, which is being designed by a U.S.-trained architect named Mukesh Mehta, would cost $2.3 billion USD and essentially transform the slum into a series of high rise housing facilities in which each of Dharavi’s 57,000 registered families would get 225 square feet of living space apiece.  The deal with the government says that if developers can fit Dharavi into a total of 30 million square feet, including housing, schools, and parks, the developers will be awarded the remaining 40 million square feet to develop as they wish.

 

Below is a YouTube video depicting the struggle over the redevelopment. 

 

Many Dharavi residents are unhappy about this plan, as many do not want to give up their current lifestyle.  Dharavi challenges the assumptions that many have of slums.  It is a place where there are many small businesses; jewelry, recycling, and pottery are predominant trades in Dharavi.  Most residents of the slum are alright with squatting near Mahim Creek as opposed to having their own flush toilets.  Most are making a living and working.  Many have lived their entire lives in Dharavi, and do not want to trade their culture for the redeveloped life. 

A photo of the redevelopment of Ganesh Nagar D slum in Mumbai.  Source: Nijman, Jan. "Against the Odds: Slum Rehabilitation in Neoliberal Mumbai." Cities 25.2 (2008): 73-85.
A photo of the redevelopment of Ganesh Nagar D slum in Mumbai. Source: Nijman, Jan. "Against the Odds: Slum Rehabilitation in Neoliberal Mumbai." Cities 25.2 (2008): 73-85.
A demographic map of Mumbai's slums
A demographic map of Mumbai's slums
A floor plan of the redevelopment scheme for Dharavi.  Photo credit: Nijman, Jan. "Against the Odds: Slum Rehabilitation in Neoliberal Mumbai." Cities 25.2 (2008): 73-85.
A floor plan of the redevelopment scheme for Dharavi. Photo credit: Nijman, Jan. "Against the Odds: Slum Rehabilitation in Neoliberal Mumbai." Cities 25.2 (2008): 73-85.

by Stephen Marotta