Dharavi, one of the slums of Mumbai, ranks alongside the world’s biggest slums. It is home to around 1 million people. The area is overcrowded, unhygienic and a generally difficult place to live. Concerns over living conditions, however, seem not to bother the residents. This area also happens to be home to several innovative individuals. From trade and business, just as complex as the real world, to cricket leagues and entertainment, the Mumbai slums are an intriguing place once there are no stereotypes. Here is a story of the slums of Mumbai: a world inside a world.
Trade and Business
Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum settlement, has a remarkably diverse and active business sector. Hundreds of thousands of people engage in this thriving world of trade from innovative producers to keen buyers. There are around 5,000 businesses that generate over $1 billion in total revenue. The successes of these businesses ensure a stable, healthy and happy lifestyle not just for slum residents, but for the poorer Indian community as a whole.
The innovative trade of recycling, specifically talented craftsmen turning recycled goods into all manner of things, plays a significant role in the slums thriving business sector. Dharavi recycles around 60% of Mumbai’s plastic waste and this business employs up to 12,000 people. From the manufacturing process to product making, the recycling business in Dharavi provides jobs and opportunities for people of all skill sets.
Other industries such as leather and textiles enable further trade both externally and within the borders of the slums. From goat and sheep skin, talented textile artists are able to make various leather products that find use locally and all the way up to high-end fashion, with global brands like Giorgio Armani utilizing the leather goods!
There are around 300 bakeries in Dharavi that mainly specialize in papadom making. This provides both stable incomes for the bakers (women can earn up to 100 rupees) and food for local residents. The benefit of providing food is particularly important as food can be scarce in the Mumbai slums, as reported by Global Citizen.
Art acts as an important contributor to the cultural influence the slums have. Amazing street art is littered all around the slums of Mumbai that depict the realities of slum living. Sassoon Docks, for example, is a thriving street art center known for the artists’ collaboration with local fishermen, their environmental activism and their embodiment of Mumbai’s fishing traditions. Artwork like this has attracted tourists, writers and photographers from all over the world, enriching the slum’s cultural impact.
The Mumbai slums are also a musically gifted place. A Hip-Hop culture that has now been present for more than a decade has dominated the music scene in the slums of Mumbai. Hip-Hop artists such as Dopeadelicz and SlumGods have all had success in India’s rap scene. Artists like these have helped Indian Hip-Hop grow and expand the cultural influence of the Mumbai slum music scene.
Slum golf is a recent phenomenon that has taken hold in the slums of Mumbai. As the name suggests, it is golf that people play within the narrow alleys and pathways of the Mumbai slums. Golf would usually be an inaccessible, “rich” sport in the eyes of slum residents but with just clubs and a ball, golf enthusiasts are able to play the game they love.
Cricket, as with most of India, is an integral part of the day-to-day life of slum residents. And their love for the sport has created a vibrant culture of cricket. Many leagues within the slums have been set up, and this has given access to people with varying abilities to play. Street cricket (with improvised rules) is also massive in the slums. For instance, hitting out of the playing area means you are out as you have lost the ball!
Despite the challenging living conditions in Mumbai’s slums, a vibrant world exists within, filled with innovative businesses, captivating art and a passion for sports. The bustling trade sector generates significant revenue, employing thousands and benefiting the entire community. Art and music add cultural richness to the slums, attracting global attention. Additionally, slum residents find joy in unique sports like slum golf and cricket, fostering a sense of community and providing opportunities for all skill levels. The slums of Mumbai defy stereotypes, showcasing resilience, creativity and a spirit of determination.
– Max Steventon