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Slumbai – Dharavi & Dhobi Ghat

Slumdog millionaire is the film that made the Dharavi slum famous. Situated in the middle of Mumbai, India’s financial epicentre, Dharavi is home to more than 1 million people. After the film was released there were mixed reactions about the way their community had been portrayed and I wanted to see for myself what this slum was really like. I faced a moral dilemma though: is it ok to go somewhere and look at people less fortunate than yourself? I don’t think it is. But I then discovered a tour company called Reality Tours where 80% of the profits go back into Dharavi and a large number of the tour guides themselves grew up there or in similar neighbouring slums. I researched the work of Reality Tours and they are leading amazing projects within Dharavi including a fantastically run community centre. This settled my doubts so we decided to go and explore India’s largest slum.

Our guide was raised in Dharavi and spoke about it with so much pride, it was really moving. Photography is strictly forbidden inside the slum so we only managed to take a few shots from outside.

Two facts that I discovered that really stuck with me were that Dharavi is the same size as 500 football pitches and 50% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums.

The entrepreneurial spirit within Dharavi is completely inspiring. 80% of Mumbai’s recycling ends up there and is sorted into hundreds of subcategories to be sold to large recycling plants. We visited aluminium workshops where men work and live in tiny, sweltering rooms. They find it too hot to wear protective gear so have a life expectancy of around 55 years. The leather work shops were fascinating too. The skins are either goat or sheep which are actually quite nice when left natural or tanned. However they often stamp them with huge heated presses and apply acrylic paint to replica more exotic animals like snakes. This made them look fake. I found this a strange concept as in the UK real leather is so desirable and we only use PU as a cheap alternative but here they were making real leather look fake. There are 15,000 hutment factories, Dharavi as a whole producing around US $665 million annually. This is shocking when you consider the daily wages are between RS 150 – 250 (approx £1.50 – £2.50). I am now reading a book called Behind the beautiful forevers which is about a slum we passed just outside the international terminal of Mumbai airport.

The other must see for us was Dhobi Ghat, the worlds largest outdoor laundry. If you’ve had your clothes washed in Mumbai, they were probably sent here!

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