In Bombay, India, the value of land in the Dharavi slum has skyrockets – again its inhabitants live in poverty.
Developers and authorities want to move its poorer residents into new housing, but many residents refuse: relocating to an apartment in a high-rise building means losing their connection to the sprawling network of slums; they would also lose their livelihood, since they live in the same buildings that house their shops and factories.
Some people come out on their own terms, even if their start is bittersweet.
“My father sold this house in 1988 for 50,000 rupees ($630) to buy an apartment in the suburbs of Mumbai,” Fahim recounts as we pass by his birthplace, a 210 square foot house in the textile district of his old neighborhood. “Today, this house is worth more than 3 million rupees (40,000 USD). »
In 1988, Fahim’s family grew. And her father had a little embroidery factory downstairs in his house. But crime was rampant and authorities pressured residents into limit residential access to water. By moving elsewhere, Fahim’s growing family would gain more space, privacy and security.
Still, it was a difficult decision to move. Leaving Dharavi means leaving your place in a complex supply chain that connects to Mumbai, other cities and regions in India, and the global luxury goods market.
Today, Fahim’s father still has to return regularly to Dharavi to find buyers for his wares and to sub-contract larger orders.
In the zone
Dharavi is half the size of Central Park, with around one million people crammed in, the highest population density in the world.
Around 60% of Mumbai’s residents live in slums, and for most of them leaving means losing their livelihoods and facing insurmountable living expenses.
Yet despite cramped quarters, poor sanitation and dangerous working conditions, Dharavi represents the only chance for its residents, many of whom come from poor rural backgrounds, to improve their lives and those of their children.
Today, Dharavi is best known for his portrayal in the hit film, Slumdog Millionairewhich some say idealizes the abject existence of slum dwellers who often have access to water once a day and a great distance from their homes.
It was the Dharavi that Fahim remembers, queuing for water at 4 a.m. when the tap was turned on.
Fahim’s neighborhood seems to be thriving now; there is much less crime and some areas even have a communal water tap, but housing remains fundamentally unsuitable for human habitation.
With approximately 10,000 skilled craftsmen from diverse backgrounds and more than 15,000 factoriesDharavi has become a kind of self-organized special economic zone, with its own parallel economy. It operates outside of state control, which means no one pays taxes, copyrights aren’t enforced, and very little is regulated.
This is what Keller Easterling, author of extrastatecraft defines as “the area” — a “cocktail of incentives and legal exemptions” which could include “holidays from income or sales taxes, dedicated public services such as electricity or broadband, deregulation of labor law, the banning unions and strikes, deregulating environmental laws, streamlining customs,” and other pro-corporate accommodations.
Dharavi doesn’t have superyachts or five-star hotels, but the economy could eventually accommodate them with annual gross sales of between $600 million and $1 billion. It is a collaborative and innovative economy which, in the local language, would be called jugaad — a way to make things happen with limited means and an impressive collective intelligence.
Prosperity and Pollution
To see it in action, all you have to do is cross the elevated walkway above the train tracks and wander through the narrow lanes of Dharavi.
One of the largest industries in the slum is recycling: waste is either collected by individuals or delivered by truck. People sort items and take them apart for processing. Transparent plastics, the most valuable plastic, are crushed and then sent to the ovens to be transformed into pellets which are sold to external plastic manufacturers.
This last step is highly toxic and the oven is sometimes shut down by the Dharavi police.
The grinders they use to make the plastic mulch, meanwhile, are made in another neighborhood that has a forge. Metal waste is melted down and transformed into new products.
In the tailoring district, talented artisans fill an order for 300 counterfeit backpacks that will be sold in malls or branded by distributors further down the chain. Sometimes there are orders for 1,500 units, which they are able to deliver in just three days by reconfiguring the plant on the fly and pooling resources with other producers with excess capacity to share.
Not far away is a tannery where animal skins are tanned and dyed for use in bags and wallets, some of which are rumored to end up in Gucci showrooms.
All of these factories are located under houses where families live, a few meters from where people eat and sleep.
Some slum dwellers are prospering. But residents who stay in the area have to deal with pollution, shared toilets (there are no private bathrooms), and illnesses from poor sanitation and poor air quality. The Sion hospital, on the outskirts of the slum, treats 3,000 related cases a day.
“People who come to Dharavi – their priority is not health, it is to earn a living.” says Dr. Pallavi Shelke, who works there.
The battle for a better life
Dharavi in fact has the highest literacy rate in India at 69%, and a politically engaged population that has successfully campaigned for regular access to watera art schoolacting and theater schooldirect access to the market for artisans eliminate intermediariesand even a hip hop school.
Local militant communities have also resisted an inequitable resettlement scheme that would move poorer residents into unattractive tower blocks occupying 20% of the land while reserving 80% for luxury apartments – because these are prime real estate. first rate in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The program has so far been suspended for 18 years.
The inhabitants of the Zone attempt to use their political power to create a fairer alternative to developer plans called community land reserves, which are already in the USA