The most surprising thing to me was the size and diversity of the industries in the slum. About $650M of GDP is produced annually across the plastic recycling, aluminum, leather, textile and bakery industries. But there is also a very dark side. Thousands of men work in small rooms melting down aluminum cans and re-shaping them into containers or machine parts. These men wear no protection from the noxious fumes or gloves to protect from the flames. Our guide said it was because this protective gear would slow down the productivity, but that’s hard to believe if they were provided with high quality gear. The truth is that people seem to focus on making money to support their families today and this week, and not think about the impact over the next 10 years.
The children have few educational opportunities outside of low-quality government schools and the handful of NGOs that serve less than 1% of potential students who want to learn English or computer skills. And yet, these children were smiling and waving at us as we walked through their neighborhood. Dharavi’s location near the railroad tracks and downtown Mumbai meant that children could venture into the city to get a taste of the opportunities and optimism in the city. The problem is that this very economic development has begun to push these people out of their homes and communities into larger housing projects – or ghettos – in the outskirts of Mumbai, much like what happened in New York City. Such relocation hasn’t happened yet to the residents of Dharavi because they have significant voting power with 1 million people living there. But the government has displaced people in other slums and moved them to the outskirts of the city and dislocated them from their communities. In New York, such separation has led to gang, violence and drug abuse. I just hope that the people of Dharavi will continue to be organized enough to rally for their rights.
-By Regina Lee ’13