Mumbai Slums
The Infamous Dharavi Slum

Mumbai slums, Photo courtesy of Andreas Grosse-Halbuer and Reality Tours and Travel

  Photo courtesy of Andreas Grosse-Halbuer via Reality Tours and Travel

"Mumbai slums" was last updated on March 01, 2013

If it isn't delicious food and beautiful landscape India is known for, then it's known for its slums in Mumbai. The slums in India are the dark side of the country.

It is said that India wants to get rid of the slums because of the unsanitary conditions and the serious health issues the people of Dharavi face every day. And some are just embarrassed to have slums in their city. 

But should they get rid of them? I mean, to the people who live in the slums, they consider the slums as their home.

Read more to find out!

Dharavi Slum -
One of the Largest Slums in India

The most reputed slums are the Mumbai slums. And the well-known one in Mumbai is called Dharavi, which is one of the biggest slums in the world! The movie Slumdog Millionaire was partly shot at Dharavi.

It used to be the largest slum in Mumbai, but from 2011 there are four other slums in the city which are larger than Dharavi.

In Dharavi, 57.000 homes are crammed together. Large families have a living space of 2,2 square meters. If the inhabitants are lucky, they have a toilet and fresh water.

So they need to be flexible with the scarce space. A dozen people or more may share one small house/shack. A room can function as a kitchen and living room during the day, and bedroom at night.  

I've seen a couple of videos from Dharavi and it's quite shocking to see children taking a dump on the sidewalk, and children playing with their kites in contaminated water. 

A boy in Dharavi slum, photo courtesy of Tom Parker and Reality Tours and Travel

Photo courtesy of Tom Parker via Reality Tours and Travel

The dhobis in Dharavi even wash clothes in so-called "water", or you can just call it sewage. 

Mumbai slums, © Hambardzumyan

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The Industrial Dharavi

Ironically, Dharavi pulls in approximately $500 million to $1 billion a year.

This is how:

Most of Mumbai's trash comes to Dharavi. But instead of doing nothing with the garbage and let it rot - they recycle it! This is the essence of industrial Dharavi, which has an 80% employment rate (2010 numbers). 

Can recycling in Dharavi slum, photo courtesy of Tom Parker and Reality Tours and Travel

Photo courtesy of Tom Parker via Reality Tours and Travel

Recycling means work for an estimated number of 200,000 people who work day and night! And easing the burden for the environment in Mumbai.

You'll find thousands of 'factories' (more like shacks) and hundreds of bakeries and shops. 

Stacked and recycled carton in Dharavi, photo courtesy of Tom Parker and Reality Tours and Travel

Photo courtesy of Tom Parker via Reality Tours and Travel

They recycle carton, plastic, buckets of tin and pieces of clothing and much more. Many things are fixed. And the things they fix are products "made in Dharavi," which in fact is of rather good quality. You can buy ceramics, clothing, handbags, sandals etc. Who would have thought that a slum would have a thriving pottery business?

Local worker in Dharavi slum, photo courtesy of Tom Parker and Reality Tours and Travel

Photo courtesy of Tom Parker via Reality Tours and Travel

Other positive things about Dharavi is that many children in Dharavi go to school, which were started by locals and international NGOs. And the crime rate is not exactly high. It's difficult to be a villain in such cramped quarters. 

British Kevin Mccloud takes you into the heart of Mumbai slums, sleeping and eating there for 2 weeks.

Here's the link to YouTube

On the other hand, Dharavi faces some serious public health problems. The lack of enough toilets is just one of many things, and then you have open sewers and water scarcity.

Many would say that workers in Dharavi work under terrible conditions. You might call it modern slavery.

But I think there's more to it. We can argue on the fact that they don't have a choice. This is their way of living. The only way of living.  

They have adapted to their environment for so long, but instead of being 'just' a slum, they've turned Dharavi into something special. And if we try to see it from their perspective, working under terrible conditions is better than not working at all. Work gives them self-respect and dignity. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending terrible working conditions. I'm just trying to understand this from another perspective. There are always two sides of a story ;-)

Redevelopment plans for Dharavi

Because of its prime location, developers consider Dharavi as the hot upcoming real estate in Mumbai. The redevelopment started in December 2012.

Click here to read more about Dharavi redevelopment (opens in a new window)

Click here to read more about poverty in India

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Slum Tours
in Mumbai

Slum tours are a pretty new concept, but a popular one for backpackers and tourists in Mumbai.

The most popular travel agency which offers slum tours to Dharavi is Reality Tours and Travel.

The main purpose of these tours is to change or break down the negative view of one of the largest slums in Mumbai. I mean, there's actually something good happening inside Dharavi's walls.

I'll give you 3 good reasons as to why you should book a slum tour:

  • It's a one in a lifetime experience! 

You get to observe how the people of Dharavi live, work, eat and drink.

  • It's cheap and you're contributing to the local community! 

 The cheapest slum tour you can get via Reality Tours and Travel is around $8-9, and Reality Tours' profit goes to local welfare-projects.

  • You'll never encounter anything as unique as Dharavi 

Apart from what I've already mentioned; back in the 1800s it was a mangrove swamp where Koli fishermen (Koli is an ethnic group) used to live. Then the swamp was filled with rotten fish and trash. And this led to the fishermen's abandonment of Dharavi. 

As you can imagine, this opened up a lot of space.

Eventually thousands of people from Gujarat moved to Dharavi to establish a ceramics business, Tamils came from the south and started tanneries and travelers from Uttar Pradesh came to the area to be part of the rising textile industry.

All of this made Dharavi one of the unique slums in the world.

Here's some basic information on Reality Tours and Travel in Mumbai:

Tour price : from Rs 600 to 15,000

Rs 600 per person for a short tour around Dharavi. Rs 1200 per person for a long tour around Dharavi. Rs 15,000 for a 2-day village tour.

The price depends on the duration and where you want to go. The cheapest tour lasts for 2,5 hours.


You will be redirected directly to Reality Tours and Travel's Contact Page (opens in a new window)

Do you want to know more about the slums in Mumbai? There are so many good books regarding this topic.

My favorites are definitely Shantaram and Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Here are some of Amazon's best-sellers on Indian slums :-)

Sources used in this article:

  • Kevin McCloud - Slumming it - Part 1 and Part 2
  • Rob Gregory - Investigating the redevelopment of India's most famous, informal settlement Dharavi (Aug 23, 2010)
  • CNN Travel/Erin D. Yard: Touring the Dharavi slums (June 14, 2010)

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Mumbai Slums

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