The Dharavi Slum

An anonymous tipster posted a fascinating story on the SM News Tab about the underground economy in the Dharavi slums outside Mumbai.

Poor but far from Idle

Dharavi, considered Asia’s biggest shantytown, two square km (0.8 square miles) [consists] of open sewers, muddy lanes and ramshackle tenements that is home to almost a million people.

But strip away its squalid veneer and Dharavi bares a unique entrepreneurial spirit, and multi-million dollar micro-businesses, that breaks all the stereotypes of a slum.

…Arguably the most prosperous among the world’s biggest shantytowns, Dharavi has about 5,000 single-room factories and hundreds of cottage industries that together have a turnover of around $1 billion.

Practically every home here produces something to sell – incense sticks, poppadoms, pickles, soft toys and candles among the many crafts.

Much like the startling statistics about the face of poverty in the US, a similar spate of data about Dharavi lifestyles showcases accoutrements which would have been decidedly middle and perhaps even upper class just a few decades ago –

…In recent years, prosperity has been trickling down to Dharavi’s residents. There is 24-hour electricity and running water, and 2006 research shows 85 percent of households have a television, 56 percent a gas stove and 21 percent own a telephone.

So if they’re so productive and have such amazing turnover, the obvious question is why is the place a slum?

I’ll toss up a few theories based on some current thinking in developmental economics and encourage mutineers to offer up their own –

  • We’re in the midst of transition — Dharavi wasn’t always this productive and has only recently achieved the growth described in the article and thus, just needs to be given some time. One can readily imagine that much of the small scale production in Dharavi was driven even deeper underground during the license-raj era and economic openness just takes time to “trickle down”.
  • Public Service Ethic — A key ingredient for economic growth – particularly at the small scale is an efficient public sector imbused with a “public service ethic” – something somewhat famously lacking in the desi bureacracy. Arnold Kling illustrates by way of example here:
    A public service ethic is something that we take for granted in the United States. If you want to open a restaurant, you may find the paperwork and regulations irritating. However, at least you can count on the public officials to process your application in a reasonable time without requiring a large bribe. In many other countries, the conduct of state employees ranges from routine petty corruption to organized extortion.
    As hard as it is for suburban the middle class to navigate this milieu one can only imagine the utter impregnability it must present lower class slum dwellers. The article other others note that part of the solution for public infrastructure in Dharavi is partial privitization of these services via some of the most massive, private-sector managed urban building projects in Asia.
  • Hidden Capital & Property Rights — Hernando De Soto’s Mystery of Capital was, for many, the single best explanation of the phenomena of Hidden Capital. According to this argument, the key thing that prevents the 5,000 single-room factories from combining forces, achieving scale, and thus far greater wealth is the lack of firm property rights for existing operations and thus collateral for investment capital to expand. Without contractual enforcement predicated on clear, legally-enforced ownership of your factory, you can’t get the institutional assistance necessary to succeed.
  • Social Capital & Trust — Paralleling the financial capital argument put forward by DeSoto, Francis Fukuyama puts forward a social capital based argument for interpersonal trust. In addition to governmental infra necessary to scale up a business operation, this theory recognizes significant issues at the entrepreneur & employee level as well. The normal ebb and flow of doing business requires that biz partners & employees trust each other in a deep way to carry out their duties with the best interest of the firm in mind. In lieu of such trust, it’s rare for the firm to scale beyond the size of a single family unit — e.g. the “mom and pop” shop.

Complicating matters is how many of these factors exist simultaneously and feed on each other. There’s a type of “trust” between the individual and the state necessary for an efficient public sector. One of the biggest drivers for “hidden capital” is mistrust of both the state’s corrupt tax man and neighboring, potential business partners. And the solutions are often intertwined as well – the trust necessary for spontaneous formation of desi IT firms, for ex., is no doubt motivated by the highly visible rewards that come from teamwork and GNP growth. Either way, it’s heartening to see Dharavi appearing to make progress on all fronts.

88 thoughts on “The Dharavi Slum

  1. I understand where you are coming from but solutions are being devised although eviction is not really going to happen. If you went to Dharavi five years back and now there is a sea of change. The roads are wider (that area is notorious for bad traffic at peak hours) and much better and there is a big Indian Oil complex. It is changing slowly but surely.

  2. Apologies in advance if I’m repeating; I had to stop reading in depth because my eyes started to hurt. I think the myth of the slum-worker who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and the premise behind the “entreprenuerial poor” really romanticize poverty in sick ways. I’m not denying that communities are complex and that there are folks who are doing (relatively) well and others doing (relatively) not as well, but let’s not get confused and think slum life is all hee hee ha ha.

    many inner city projects are hardly squalor, check ‘em out yourself.

    Manju, what projects are you talking about!? I have NEVER seen or been in a project that wasn’t full of squalor. Granted, my geographic frame of reference is limited, but for real!?

  3. I just want to qualify my statement #1 because it makes me cringe :( Unlike for other slums in India, there are quite a few accounts of people with disproportionate wealth in Dharavi. Is it a. that Dharavi is richer than the average slum, but the wealth is still not sufficient to move out of Dharavi, or b. many of these businesses rely on some sort of social network that makes it preferable for these people to stay in Dharavi, or c. that there is only a small number of people with this kind of wealth, but they attract attention due to the cognitive dissonance?

    Also, given this statement: “There is 24-hour electricity and running water, and 2006 research shows 85 percent of households have a television, 56 percent a gas stove and 21 percent own a telephone.”, what makes it a slum? Sad as it, open sewers and muddy lanes are a feature of many areas of India not considered slums. Is it the high population density?

  4. 52 Camille ” think the myth of the slum-worker who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and the premise behind the “entreprenuerial poor” really romanticize poverty in sick ways.”

    Agreed. Enterprise becomes a necessity in a society lacking food stamps, social security and Medicaid. The streets of India are teeming with little children trying to make a living fetching tea and lunch for every shopkeeper in the bazaar or running into heavy traffic to clean windshields for a rupee, and emaciated men and women hauling, cutting, repairing, selling all kinds of wares just to survive. I have heard nice white folks label Indians here as very intelligent, not realizing that most Indian immigrants have to be educated professionals in order to just make it to the US. Similarly, the poor slum dwellers have to be enterprising due to their circumstances.

    I am an unapologetic free market thinker, but there has to be social welfare programs commensurate with the rising GDP of India. It is not only the human thing to do but actually good for capitalism.

  5. Floridian, you are right on. The market is great, but it is focused on near term gains. The government has to make the investment in human capital development (i.e. education, health broadly defined to include basic infra) where the return won’t be seen for 20 years.

  6. Wow. Nothing beats hearing I-bankers and venture capitalists talking about the poor. It’s topsy-turvey day for sure.

    Also, just want to point out the the startling statistics about poverty in America come from a writer for the Heritage Foundation and he’s quoting factoids he heard on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Pardon my skepticism regarding the accuracy of said statistics.

  7. Wow. Nothing beats hearing I-bankers and venture capitalists talking about the poor. It’s topsy-turvey day for sure.

    Most of the people I know who have gone back to India to do constructive work are us much maligned business folk, former I-bankers/execs. Not to paint with too broad a brush, but many of the left leaning anthropologists & sociologists who get involved are good for very little besides writing position papers and manifestos.

  8. Sad as it, open sewers and muddy lanes are a feature of many areas of India not considered slums. Is it the high population density?

    rahul,

    i think the general definition of a slum, less so in countries where building codes are a fancy and not a reality, is any community that isn’t planned in any way.

    I think, in terms of Dharavi, none of the residents took area-wide surveys to decide what areas should be zoned as light commercial or residential. Homes and businesses pretty much sprouted where they could–sewage, power and water were more like afterthoughts.

  9. Most of the people I know who have gone back to India to do constructive work are us much maligned business folk, former I-bankers/execs.

    i hope you’re not equating your anecdotal information with the empirical variety. Is there any kind of survey/study done on what demographics tend to ‘go back and help’ the most?

  10. muralimannered, that doesn’t seem like a particularly useful definition for India, no? The government infrastructure is poor enough in many places, that local residents fend for themselves even in communities that are not impoverished.

  11. Muralimannered, I’ll get right on it. Maybe I’ll hire a recent Pomona grad to do a study on NRI returnees who run NGOs and publish the results. Arts grads are useful for these kinds of activities, street theatre, papier mache effigy mfg etc

  12. louiecypher: you’re the classic conservative–quick with anecdote and a liberal smattering of snark but slow with that pesky foundation of western civilization: empirical data collection.

    I too can make sweeping statements regarding phenomena with which I feel as if I’ve acquainted myself, i.e All using the handle of ‘Louie’ on message boards are dreadful bores, impressed by superstition and a lurid rumor or two.

    If all the ‘arts grads’ were really out splashing feces on sidewalks and burning paper-mache models of noted humanitarians like Dubya, instead of seeking gainful employment as most (I count myself among them)do, the US would look much more like Europe. See any coffeeshops that sell Super Skunk in Boise?

    Rahul: you are the brown Sherlock to whom shit was a great discovery. Now put on your sleuthing hat and come up with a succinct definition of a slum in the sub-continent.

  13. muralimannered, I was asking a genuine question, but you seem to have all the non-answers.

  14. but many of the left leaning anthropologists & sociologists who get involved are good for very little besides writing position papers and manifestos.

    As a left leaning political economist (who focused on development studies), I find this comment completely without merit. Have you worked with other development folks abroad? It’s true that there are a good number of ibanker types, especially in the ABDs in India development circle, but I really don’t think you can argue that they are the majority or that their work is more useful or effective than the work of other (non-finance) aid and service providers. If you’re going to measure the involvement of people who write memos, etc., then you need to compare i-banking academics to anthro/soc academics, which is significantly different from comparing practitioners to other practitioners.

    Thanks, Floridian. I feel you on the role of the state re: social welfare; what kind of enterprise is it when people still have an awful quality of life? Personally, I think we need to think more broadly about wealth and investments.

  15. Manju, what projects are you talking about!? I have NEVER seen or been in a project that wasn’t full of squalor. Granted, my geographic frame of reference is limited, but for real!?

    south bronx, w. harlem. no way anyone could describe them as squalor, although 20yrs ago it was quite a different story, even around yankee stadium. the hispanic neighborhoods, corona and portchester–full of illegals–are even better. lots of families stuffed into one house but perfectly clean and incredibly economically vibrant. and lots of nice cars and cool cheap bars.

    i was inside one of the projects over the winter (an old lady was stuck in her electric wheelchair on 3rd ave in the snow so i dragged her back to her apartment). i thought the place was ugly, messy, and lacked character; but i would not say it was squalor.

    and i wouldn’t say these neighborhoods are re-gentrified. everyone is black or brown with only a splatering of whites and asians.

  16. so you don’t know it all?

    If you checked your poisonous attitude, and the seeming gargantuan chip on your shoulder at the door, you might actually contribute something to the discussion, instead of the mockery and lashing out that are a feature of many of your comments on this and other threads. Unlike several of the other commenters on this thread, you have said nothing at all of any substance (right or wrong), and this is certainly not a new pattern. I come to this community as much to learn about issues from the obvious specialists in different fields, as to have fun.

    My questions are about Dharavi. This slum specifically seems to confound many people as an anomaly (given the number of articles I’ve seen about it over the years), as one, which according to the best statistics I can find in the linked article, has 57000 families and a turnover of $1 billion. This comes to roughly $20,000 per family. Even an income level of $2,000 (10x less than this number) makes for a reasonable life in India. This is why I ask whether it is a definitional issue, reporting issue, or whatever.

    So, if you’ve something useful to say, say it.

  17. This slum specifically seems to confound many people as an anomaly (given the number of articles I’ve seen about it over the years), as one, which according to the best statistics I can find in the linked article, has 57000 families and a turnover of $1 billion. This comes to roughly $20,000 per family. Even an income level of $2,000 (10x less than this number) makes for a reasonable life in India.

    You are as clueless as the nut who claimed that 350 million indians live as well as americans. To calculate per capita income from turnover is absurd. Secondly, to even consider $20,000 per family as the possible income of slum dwellers in India is idiotic.

  18. Prema, I never said that $20,000 is the income per family, I asked if $2,000 (assuming that only 10% of the turnover is profit) is a reasonable number to assume, given that this turnover is from single room factories and cottage industries, which employ and are run by people from the slum.

    I see articles about Dharavi, but not about the amazing productivity or wealth of the slums of Buenos Aires or Johannesburg. Is it purely a reporting push driven by the fact of the turnover, and ignoring the large number of people packed there?

  19. If you checked your poisonous attitude, and the seeming gargantuan chip on your shoulder at the door, you might actually contribute something to the discussion, instead of the mockery and lashing out that are a feature of many of your comments on this and other threads. Unlike several of the other commenters on this thread, you have said nothing at all of any substance (right or wrong), and this is certainly not a new pattern. I come to this community as much to learn about issues from the obvious specialists in different fields, as to have fun.

    If you are offended by my tone, i have no apologies prepared. This is not a kind nor gentle world–misconceptions, however minor, have no place in an enlightened discussion. I will always start out civilly, but if I see that my partner in dialogue is not addressing the points that I make (or refuting them with a better argument) then of course, my words will be a bit sharper. That’s only to be expected.

    I could say quite the same things (re: no substance, all snark and should-chips) about the bullshit you spewed on the Ethnic Cleansing thread–without a shred of the ‘expertise’ you say you want to gain from reading this blog. If everyone who was not an expert in that particular field decided to suddenly censor themselves and not comment, this blog would MUCH smaller.

    If you have a problem with me, i’ll gladly give you my email and we can continue this discussion off-line. However I don’t see where you engaged with any of the points that I make–you’re content to, a la the Limbaugh school of debate, throw up hearsay or generally accepted facts as a counterpoint. In fact, you openly acknowledge that your aim in a certain thread was just to piss me off. What do you gain by angering someone with a personal stake in that particular goings-on. Does it make you feel more like a man? What new and fresh information have YOU brought to this or any thread on SM?

    This is what I said:

    less so in countries where building codes are a fancy and not a reality

    You reply: “The government infrastructure is poor enough in many places, that local residents fend for themselves even in communities that are not impoverished.”

    you know, if you read what I wrote, you’d realize that I allowed for locations where planning just doesn’t exist and hoped that someone, perhaps you, could EXPAND on that definition. Finding problems within a definition is one thing, but not contributing at all to a better one is a pointless exercise.

  20. “Sad as it, open sewers and muddy lanes are a feature of many areas of India not considered slums. Is it the high population density?”

    A locality with a fairly large number of brick houses or brick apartment complexes is usually not called a slum. A locality where the majority of buildings are easily dismantable huts—I have the Tamil word gudisai in mind—is a slum.

    Perhaps another yardstick is whether people have restrooms inside the house or have to go to a field.

  21. Ok. I have seen empty deserts in India and empty land and it is actually clean. It seems like India is dirty wherever the people are so it seems like once they move in there will be garbage and sewage that follows.

    Also, I did not realize that pickles were made in the slums, I am never eating store bought pickles again.

  22. 71 · P.G. Wodehouse

    this is a sterling example of advancing the discussion by improving upon the definition of a ‘slum’ in India. Many thanks.

  23. you’re content to, a la the Limbaugh school of debate, throw up hearsay or generally accepted facts as a counterpoint.
    Does it make you feel more like a man?

    Sputtering still supersedes substance, I see. But maybe civility is too much to be expected from somebody who is capable of this display (which then railroaded the thread) just two months ago on an otherwise light-hearted post. Oh, by the way, say hello to your (imaginary?) leetle friend “Smart@ssMadras” who, having lurked for 2 years, made fortuitous appearances on April 4 and 5 alone, right around the time you made an appearance. You see, you are not the only person who can cross-reference threads.

    Also, facts do not become wrong immediately because they are “generally accepted”. Shocking as it is, sometimes, facts become generally accepted because they are true. Hey, maybe I too can score a cheap rhetorical point while I’m at it – anybody who dignifies Limbaugh’s lunacy as a school of debate, surely knows the technique of argument.

    In fact, you openly acknowledge that your aim in a certain thread was just to piss me off

    At least, I haven’t been disingenous and did not wilfully misrepresent your statements like you do (should I have dignified your overblown “o almighty bestower of the SL tamil right” with a humble “I am sorry, I concede that right to you” instead of my obviously sarcastic response?). Also, as part of my moral agency as a Tamil, it bothers me that Tamils in India supported actors like Vaiko and the DMK who were obvious LTTE supporters, opposition to the SL government’s policies does not mean support of the LTTE’s tactics or behavior. And, if you genuinely believe that the LTTE’s tactics are legitimate or even smart as part of a way to get equal rights for Tamils, I’d love to have seen an argument that did not involve bizarre insinuations about my parents, which I did not see fit to dignify with a response. I don’t want to derail this thread on that topic though.

    you’d realize that I allowed for locations where planning just doesn’t exist

    My question was for such a location and so your “definition” of a slum being a slum, except where it isn’t, was completely useless.

    Maybe my mistake was engaging somebody with this level of credibility in the first place.

  24. rahul,

    i’ll forgive you for your repeated non-engagements with my points. but let’s get smart-ass madrass out of the way first. Why don’t you email ANNA and ask her about that whole situation? SM Intern was incredibly and unjustifiably suspicious as was shown by Smartass Madras and myself showing up at a Meetup (the one before the last in DC). Hmm, a troll that splits itself, quite magically, into two discrete people. I’m sure you’ll find a way, however, to spin this as a “non-credibe ad-hominem attack.” In this matter you have ZERO credibility–you were not there.

    As to moral agency, I have no problem with you commenting on that situation with the history of political support for the LTTE in India in mind. I simply don’t see what criticizing the LTTE does to advance the debate as they do not seek money or moral support from people like you. They extort it from people like me and make dire threats when the money is not forthcoming. They utilize front organizations to play upon my sympathies for the people back in SL who look and live so much like my own relatives. Do you have any relatives in Jaffna or Trinco? If you do, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Tigers are simply not affected by our discussion. The government, however, is nominally beholden to the international community and the ruckus that we create will give them pause when considering the next pogrom against the Tamil people.

    The US has already suspended some aid to SL over human-rights concerns. India refuses to sell the government any offensive weaponry–partly because of realpolitik and also because they know that the weapons will eventually be used against civilians. The tigers are only affected by strikes against their sources of funding which is slowly being taken care of by the post-9/11 political environment.

    as to the dharavi question, i’m terribly sorry for wasting your time. in the future i’ll remember that self-censorship is the best way to please others.

  25. the [personal attack] vs. [substantive comments] ratio here is getting rather skewed. As one of my blog hero’s, Tyler Cowen, suggests, you shouldn’t have to say something stronger about another commentor than “I don’t agree with you John” and from there go on to the argument…

  26. if it makes anyone feel any better, while harlem and the bronx are lovely, newark and detroit are pieces of crap. squalor inddeed.

  27. I never said that $20,000 is the income per family, I asked if $2,000 (assuming that only 10% of the turnover is profit) is a reasonable number to assume, given that this turnover is from single room factories and cottage industries, which employ and are run by people from the slum.

    What you wrote sure gave that impression. Make yourself clear if you are going to do calculations.

    So you are not a complete idiot; but your reasoning is still deeply flawed. The article estimates the population of Dharavi at around 1 million. Thats a heck of a lot more than the 57000 families that you used to make your calculation of per capita income. You also ignorantly assumed that every family has an equal share of the turnover. And ignored the likelihood that many residents of that slum must have outside jobs as well. Stick to what you are good at: making jokes about rape, child slave labor, untouchability….

  28. Perhaps another yardstick is whether people have restrooms inside the house or have to go to a field.

    By that yardstick most of India is a slum. Which is what many horrified visitors to India actually do conclude.

    http://www.indiatogether.org/2004/nov/chi-hazards.htm

    The impacts of a dysfunctional state of public sanitation in India are widely known, though change has not come. Nearly 70% of the Indian population does not have access to toilets. Nearly 70,000 tonnes of human waste lies in the open every day. It is the biggest contaminant of water. 600,000 die of diarrhea in India every year, most of them are children. Toilets cannot be built without political will.”

    http://swopnet.com/engr/sanitation/India_sewers.html

    “Fewer than 30 percent of India’s 950 million people have bathrooms in their homes or easy access to public toilets. The rest routinely relieve themselves in the open — along roadsides, on farmland or in municipal parks.

    No more than 250 of the country’s 4,000 cities and towns have sewer systems, and many of those systems do not have treatment plants. The bulk of municipal sewage — even from such major cities as Bombay and Calcutta — flows untreated into rivers, lakes or the sea.”

    “In rural areas, where more than 70 percent of Indians live, fewer than 10 percent of homes have toilets. Government officials and aid workers say they have experienced difficulty persuading uneducated villagers to abandon ancient customs and use an enclosed bathroom.”

    “Besides overpopulation, religious beliefs of Hindus, who account for 80 percent of the population, have compounded India’s sanitation problems. The cities of an early civilization in the Indus River valley had sophisticated sewer systems and among the oldest known toilets — brick models that date back 4,500 years. But the development of Hinduism and its caste system in later centuries changed attitudes and practices concerning the disposal of human waste.

    Bindeshwar Pathak, whose private organization, Sulabh International, has built 700,000 toilets in 25 years, said an ancient Hindu text gave “firm religious sanction” to unsanitary behavior by forbidding defecation near dwellings. “It’s very difficult to bring it into the homes,” Pathak said. “It’s a cultural problem in India.”

    “Traditionally, efforts to improve sanitation in India have not had public health as their main motivation. Instead, it has been liberation of low-caste workers formerly called “untouchables” from the degrading occupation of cleaning waterless toilets and carrying away woven baskets of human waste on their heads. Hinduism teaches that contact with human feces defiles members of the upper castes.

    These religious beliefs frustrated a crusade launched a century ago by Mohandas K. Gandhi, who led India to independence in 1947. Gandhi defied tradition by cleaning his own toilet and urging other members of upper castes to do the same. He also criticized Indians for casually relieving themselves in the open.

    “It filled me with agony to see people performing natural functions on the thoroughfares and river banks, when they could easily have gone a little farther away from public haunts,” Gandhi wrote in his autobiography of a 1915 visit to the Ganges River.

    Little has changed in the intervening decades.”

  29. Coincidentally, there is an article in a recent Economist on slums. It has a little bit of the Economist’s “look on the bright side” attitude, but actually gives some detailed information:

    It has quite a comprehensive and depressing account of what it means to be in a slum: The density (shacks packed so tightly that many are accessible only on foot); the dust (in the dry seasons) and the mud (when it rains); the squalor (you often have to pick your way through streams of black ooze); the hazards (low eaves of jagged corrugated iron); and the litter, especially the plastic (Kibera’s women, lacking sanitation and fearing robbery or rape if they risk the unlit pathways to the latrines, resort at night to the “flying toilet�, a polythene bag to be cast from their doorway, much as chamber pots were emptied into the street below in pre-plumbing Edinburgh). Most striking of all, to those inured to the sight of such places through photography, is the smell. With piles of human faeces littering the ground and sewage running freely, the stench is ever-present.

    It seems like the absence of sewage and restrooms really defines life in a slum – Thanks for pointing it out, PG. I should have seen it.

    The article I linked to has some pretty useful and damning statistics. 600,000 people. Let’s say 10% of 1 billion is the income, that’s 100 million (I have no idea whether this is a reasonable number, it might be too low if the cost of their “raw materials” is close to zero, due to recycling, but I don’t see any hints as to guess this fraction either). That’s roughly $166 per person as a back of the envelope, which is far below poverty line, so I assume an actual significant fraction of these people don’t have any choices, even despite some of the examples in the National Geographic article (linked to by Asha’s dad #6).

    I now completely don’t see the meaning of these articles talking about “$1 billion turnover” and so on when there is such a high volume of people. I would assume that other slums across the world (some even larger than Dharavi) are forced to do similar things to survive, and I have to say I am confounded by all these articles over the years that specifically talk about the enterprise of Dharavi.

    The closest I can see to an “explanation” is this excerpt from the Natl Geographic article: Yet Dharavi remains unique among slums. A neighborhood smack in the heart of Mumbai, it retains the emotional and historical pull of a subcontinental Harlem�a square-mile (three square kilometers) center of all things, geographically, psychologically, spiritually. That, and the real estate value. Well, then!

    Prema, the economist article has some catnip for you too.

    Also in the Natl Geographic article on Page 4, is this description:

    Much of his critique is familiar. The government’s failure to create housing for middle-income people was responsible for the existence of the slums, Mobin contends. Many people in Dharavi make enough money to live elsewhere, “a house like you see on TV.” But since no such housing exists, they are doomed to the slum. Mobin doubts Mukesh Mehta’s private developers will help. All over Dharavi are reminders of developmental disasters. Near Dharavi Cross Road, members of the L.P.T. Housing Society, their houses torn down in preparation for their promised apartments, have spent the past eight years living in a half-finished building without steady electricity or water, at the mercy of the goons and the malarial Mumbai heat.

    But when it comes down to it, Mobin says, Dharavi’s dilemma is at once much simpler and infinitely more complex: “This is our home.” This is what people such as Chief Minister Deshmukh and Mukesh Mehta will never understand, Mobin says. “Mukesh Mehta says I am his hero, but what does he know of my life? He is engaged in shaikhchilli, which is dreaming, dreaming in the day. Does it occur to him that we do not wish to be part of his dream?”

    Are there examples of successful slum relocation projects in other countries?

  30. 79 — PREMA – please cut out the useless personal attacks…. more like that and you will face the fury of SM intern.

  31. P.G.W., A locality with a fairly large number of brick houses or brick apartment complexes is usually not called a slum. A locality where the majority of buildings are easily dismantable huts—I have the Tamil word gudisai in mind—is a slum. Actually, slums are more or less permanent housing. I think the characterization of slums is more in economic terms.

    Rahul, I see articles about Dharavi, but not about the amazing productivity or wealth of the slums of Buenos Aires or Johannesburg. Is it purely a reporting push Some interesting questions. Dharavi has potential as real estate. Not sure about the other places.

    Notwithstanding Francis “It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power” Fukuyama’s arguments, there is a need in this case for government to set the rules of the game to try and ensure that this turns out to be a win-win outcome. I suspect that in Dharavi, we might not be able to use the trusty Fukuyama Trust-O-meter (“very high-trust”, “low-trust”, “not very high-trust at all”).

  32. Rahul, Look for Buenos Aires and Johannesburg on the list of the world’s most expensive office markets. Neither of them is in the top 50. In the list of the world’s most expensive office markets, Mumbai is at #5 and Delhi is at #7 (ranked by occupation in US$/square foot/annum).

    The solution to “Dharavi’s dilemma” is not nescessarily complex. The important thing is to ensure a level playing field.

  33. I was raised in the middle of a slum. Walked around and over defecating kids to go to school. Even today no squalor can faze me coz I have seen much worse. Many of my neighbours were petty thieves/ small time arrack dealers / porters. Even after we upgraded to a real house, a year after high school, I lived in a “nagar” that was surrounded by slums.

    Many slum dwellers detest know-it-all do-gooders. Wonder why ? It is not the politics of envy. It is the attitude. And this includes not just Ibankers but also development activists. Both are equally obnoxious.

    To the commenters who have a good idea on how to improve slums but have never lived in one, try it for a few months. Will be a real eye opener.

    For those who know Chennai – I am talking about Basin Bridge / Vyasarpadi.

    Incidentally Tamil Nadu had a Slum Clearance Board. They built muti storey apartments that often crashed in a few years. Is it any wonder that the slum dweller preferred to squat on vacant land. Also one had to carry water up 3 floors because water was delivered by tanker.

  34. For those who know Chennai – I am talking about Basin Bridge / Vyasarpadi. I know what you talkin’ about.

    Incidentally Tamil Nadu had a Slum Clearance Board. They built muti storey apartments that often crashed in a few years. Is it any wonder that the slum dweller preferred to squat on vacant land. Also one had to carry water up 3 floors because water was delivered by tanker. This is exactly the type of response we, or at least I, was looking for. There was one that they built near Mylapore, and the folks who worked at …..’s house got an apartment allotment. I thought they were pretty happy with the deal overall.

  35. It seems like the absence of sewage and restrooms really defines life in a slum – Thanks for pointing it out, PG. I should have seen it.

    While I personally think this may be an oversimplification of how to define a slum (and I do think slums vary based on the region, context, etc.) there’s a great article by Arjun Appadurai in which he discusses Mumbai and the “politics of shit.”

    Manju, we clearly grew up around different projects. I guess it makes me wonder about how we think about “projects” and poverty. I know the term means any and all public housing, but I guess the connotation is different for me.

  36. Dharavi considered Asia’s biggest shantytown, 18,000 people are croweded into a single acre (0.4 hectares). Dhavai consists of open sewers, muddy lanes and ramshckle tenements that is home to over a million people.