Wednesday, August 22, 2007

another quote

"I'm so glad I'm not that smart..." --Heeya

Monday, August 20, 2007

A reflection on Dharavi

I did a tour of Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, when I first got to Mumbai. I went with the expectation that it would be like Kibera (one of Africa's largest slum) which I visited when I was in Kenya three years ago but the two were less similar than I imagined they would be. Dharavi had a lot more small business enterprises than Kibera even though the general living conditions were about the same.
My guide was a male student, born and raised in Dharavi and explained that he was working as a tour guide to raise enough money to get his masters in commerce. Our tour consisted of visiting the small business enterprises that exist throughout the huge slum. It examined the local industry and livelihood of Dharavi in order to dispel the notion that its residents there are poor because they are 'lazy' or 'naturally prone to violence' and all the other stereotypes about poor people that we know exist everywhere. It also outlined the institutional problems with governmental involvement (or the lack thereof) in the slum.

Dharavi is made up of migrants from Gujurat, Tamil Nadu and different parts of Maharashtra so it was common to find people working with family members or people of the same ethnic group. The first small business enterprise I visited was the plastic recycling business. The residents of a part of Dharavi built a business where the womyn collect and clean the plastic, then the men work the machines to crush it, dry it and resell it to companies. The first obvious advantage of this business was the fact that it is so environmentally friendly and I was lucky enough to see all the machines and watch the whole process of recycling plastic. The second business enterprise that I saw, and for which Dharavi is known, is the leather industry. People were producing and using leather to make lap top bags, clothes, shoes and sold items to companies and store owners. The other two industries I looked at were the pottery and baking industries. The business were thriving to the extent that people actually had employment but the elite business class' exploitation of these businesses is common knowledge for the people of Dharavi. For example, the average person working in the leather industry would make only 18 rupees per bag while the buyers resell each bag for 118 rupees. The guide explained that there is little people can do about this because they are so desperate for any money they earn that they have little choice but to continue selling it to these buyers anyway.

The guide explained to me that some of the major challenges that Dharavi is facing apart from the exploitation of the buyers who benefit from the small business enterprises, have to do with the lack of investment on the government's part in developing the infrastructure of the slum. The government had pledged to build new buildings and homes for Dharavi residents but he explained that only the bottom floor of one or two of the new buildings were for slum dwellers and most buildings were put on the market for sale. He explained that the government's investment in the new buildings did not have Dharavi residents at heart and was really a way for the rich to make money. Also, when we went to his house, he told me that they were going to knock down his own home to build another building which he was sure would be too expensive for his family to rent anyway. He also explained that with the construction of the buildings came the destruction of a lot of the spaces for the small business enterprises to the detriment of people's livelihood and way of life.

He suggested that the government develop Dharavi by cleaning the sewage and re-organising their dumping systems. Also, while building homes for the residents is a basic necessity, any development of the infrastructure of Dharavi should compliment and sustain all local industry and business of the community.