Mumbai: A complex microcosm of India

The contrasting faces of India’s richest city


March 5, 2017

/ By / New Delhi


The richest Indian city is also home to what is possibly Asia’s largest slum. While data from a recent report shows the wealth of the Indian financial capital, Mumbai has another side to it, which continues to thrive.

The recent New World Wealth report charts the western Indian city, Mumbai to be India’s richest. It states that the city is home to 46,000 millionaires and 28 billionaires, with a total wealth of USD 820 billion. The financial capital of India, Mumbai is, in fact, ahead of the Indian capital, New Delhi and India’s IT hub, Bengaluru.

But, Mumbai isn’t just leading the line of the richest. Not too far from the plush neighbourhood of the millionaires and billionaires of the city, is the locality which is home to probably the poorest of the its residents.

It is Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, projecting stark economic and lifestyle differences from the rest of the city and the city’s dwellers.

Cluttered lanes, rickety structures, the smallest of homes, shanties for shops, an open and makeshift drainage system, minimal waste management, poor public amenities – Dharavi is a world in itself, but a rather abysmal one.

Right in the heart of Mumbai, it is equally bustling as the rest of the city, with various mini-economies functioning within it, making this huge and ill-structured slum a very diverse one. There are potters, tailors, craftsmen, cooks, drivers, laundrymen, rickshaw pullers, rag pickers, all living alongside and sharing the microcosm and complexities of this urban hinterland.

Indian and international media have reported a rather shaking image of Dharavi. Terrible toilets with poor sanitation, stinky streets, water shortage, congested rooms running small businesses, sheds for homes, suffocating houses, Dharavi is a living contradiction to the status of the ‘richest Indian city’ bestowed upon Mumbai. With horrible hygienic conditions, diarrhea, malaria and tuberculosis in the air, the situation here is anything but ‘livable’.


Sewage lines run above the ground and there is no waste management system

The dark, deep, nasty thoroughfares of Dharavi house more people than the rest of Mumbai. The slum spans 500 acres and has anywhere between 300,000 and a million people, with 750,000 being the most common estimate.

By running various informal economies, the residents are eating, drinking and barely surviving with and for the bare minimum, often fighting the various odds just to make a living.

It has been reported that the Sion Hospital in the neighbourhood treats 3,000 patients every day, many from Dharavi, often children who are malnourished and have asthma or diarrhea.

Diseases and common ailments spread quickly in the bylanes of Dharavi; the mosquitoes breeding in the open sewage being the primary reason.

The already narrow lanes of Dharavi become clogged when traffic sets out. If one may visit here, as many tourists, researchers, documentarians, journalists do, walking is the only probable option. To say the least, even bicycles can get stuck here.

Interestingly and rather shockingly, there are the odds of coming across rich residents of Dharavi. But, they too live in the middle of misery and filth. The businesses here do well for many and are in fact the ‘powerhouse’ of this slum, but, with the make-shift infrastructure and the make-shift lives, Dharavi is nothing but a stamp of inequality on the face of an urban, glamorous and cosmopolitan Mumbai.

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