On air: the view from Mumbai’s slums

slumToday WHYS is rolling up its sleeves and broadcasting live from the Mumbai slum of Dharavi . You might remember its chaotic makeshift rooves and crowded alleyways from the film Slumdog Millionaire – which is perhaps why it’s often referred to as India’s most famous slum. This jungle of humanity and corrogated iron also happens to be on prime real estate putting its estimated one million residents at loggerheads with authorities who want it redeveloped .
The image of a slum on high value property is perhaps a great metaphor for the extremes that India faces, with its yawning gap between rich and poor. This gap didn’t seem to hurt India’s ruling Congress-led alliance, which on the weekend emerged triumphant after a month long election process. Indian investors were wildly positive, sending stock markets surging on the news. Are green shoots sprouting in India? Can the optimism in India lead Asia through a biting economic turndown and instability in the region? And can those living in the slum made famous by the Hollywood blockbuster expect their lives to change?

34 Responses to “On air: the view from Mumbai’s slums”

  1. 1 Rob (UK)
    May 18, 2009 at 15:13

    I would like to know if the residents of Dharavi who voted for Congress really feel like the party represents them. Don’t they feel out of the system?

  2. 2 Monica in DC
    May 18, 2009 at 15:55

    I would like to know if the residents of Dharavi actually got to vote… and if so how much information did they really have? It seems to me these people are so ignored, disdained, whatever- even the children who were in the movie.

  3. May 18, 2009 at 16:10

    India is the second most populated country on Earth with its more than a billion population. This remains a challenge for any Indian government as the poor largely outnumber the rich. What seems to keep India a stable country is its democratic system despite its flaws.

    The existing slums in India is an indication that it’s still has a long way to go before all the Indians can enjoy the fruits of its economic boom. Slums can be a matter of the past if the Indians use their potentials to the most for equitable share of its wealth and not by maintaining two facets in which a large section lives in abject poverty while others have immense wealth.

    India still has to create an economic system that can make it a power to contend with. Asians markets can flourish through economic relations with India, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of cheap labour. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to create jobs for the poor Indians in sectors like building, but they themselves can’t afford a descent home.

  4. 4 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    May 18, 2009 at 16:20

    The film “Slum Dog Millionaire” raised awareness about the plight of India’s slum-dwellers, as is proven by the fact that, when the home of one of the film’s child stars was demolished last week, it was widely reported around the world. Awareness is the first step needed before change can come.

    I think Indians should be immensely proud of the way the recent elections were conducted, and at their outcome. The clear mandate to Congress will allow it to put through reforms that have been delayed for the past five years by political infighting.

    Change comes slowly, and there is massive inertia, but India’s on the right track and its electorate–even in the grimmest slums–should be hopeful for the future.

    • 5 Docb
      May 19, 2009 at 00:11

      The USA corps outsourcing in India have changed the dynamic somewhat but the true problem is the population of cheap labor and the coruption of the govn’t…Sound familiar…look to South America and a creeping change in North American! Plus China and we have a world wide errosion of the middle class…which is not economically sustainable! Upraisings to come!!!!

    • 6 ismail
      May 22, 2009 at 05:58

      Have you been to an actual election process in India? I have. And I know people who have worked for politicians during the elections. Do you know what they do? The polling booths are ‘divided’ up among the various parties. Every party has its own hoodlums roaming around. And they have an unspoken understanding to keep off each other’s territories. The hoodlums ‘cast’ votes numerous times. They do this by rubbing off the voter’s ink that is on their fingers from the previous ‘voting’ that they did. All political parties have this unspoken understanding that the ‘lucky’ guy with the most number of votes ‘wins’. Ofcourse there are ‘blind spots’ where the parties involved run into each other. This can result in violent clashes that can sometimes lead death.

      I am not telling you this with the intention of expressing cynicism. No. Your sense of optimism brings a smile to my lips. This is intended for hypocrites and bigots in my country to know that they are not undisclosed in their hypocrisy.

  5. 7 Tom K in Mpls
    May 18, 2009 at 16:36

    Are they squatters, or do they own? I know cheap multistory housing can safely keep many more people in the area. The Tamil situation is more interesting, but maybe to fluid right now for discussion.

  6. 8 Shaun in Halifax
    May 18, 2009 at 16:55

    I’m curious to find out, not if it is practical, but even if it is possible to administrate a country with a population that large. The bureaucratic inertia must be tremendous. How do administrators get anything done?

    • 9 Ronald Almeida
      May 20, 2009 at 08:23

      Who says anything ever gets done ?

    • 10 ismail
      May 22, 2009 at 06:21

      what is the concern is not the population. what is the concern is efficient administration. I have worked for the last 20 years as a salesman/marketing person/administrator/supervisor and ran my own operation. During my years I have also shown an active interest in understanding what makes people tick the way they do. And I can tell you with absolute conviction that Leadership Matters. It matters no matter how uneducated or educated the general public are. And it will continue to matter so long as human beings will continue to be susceptible to imitation and be a creature of habit.

  7. May 18, 2009 at 17:08

    James from Kenya

    India I feel will always have the have nots and have lots. Personally I think however their economy is growing its still cant manage to pull the majority poor from their poverty. Not unless perhaps they create sustainable viable small scale businesses whose products are marketed is the same huge population or the affluent. Kinda like China the way huge consumers are its people.

  8. 12 Nate, Portland OR
    May 18, 2009 at 17:33

    Do the slum dwellers vote, and do they vote knowledgeably?

    An Indian friend from Puna (sp?) told us her maid had sold her vote for something like 50 rupees (a little more than $1). I’ve heard other stories suggesting the poor will vote for anybody who makes their lives a little easier – usually in very simple, low-cost ways. The officials elected that way can do whatever they want with government funds because their constituents don’t have the luxury of caring what happens. On what basis to Dharavi residents cast their votes.

    Government corruption in India is notorious. I believe (for what its worth…) that part of the problem is the huge mass of uneducated voting their perceived immediate short-term interests and not worrying much beyond that. Do the residents of Dharavi have an opinion on corruption beyond what they experience? Do they know who the corrupt politicians are, and will they punish them at the ballot?

    I think India’s going to experience some major ups-and-downs in the next few decades as population and econ. growth stress their resources, but I’m very hopeful long-term.

    • 13 Mohan
      May 18, 2009 at 18:49

      Mohan from USA.

      As a person raised in the USA, I can only be proud of the relative honesty of the election process, leaving the elected administrations aside.

      India can only improve when a fresh, new, honest ideas are imbibed by the people and the government that represents to them. The aging Congress Party is an old bureaucratic cog. It is time for rapid and radical change so that there are better opportunities for the lower economic strata.

      One change begins with a radical rebellion against the richer strata’s obsession with titles and status. In the podcast, I had to put with a radio newscasters constantly repeating that she is one. Who cares? First and foremost we are all human beings; we are all accountable for each other.

      Yes, the poor is not aware of what was going on the roof of Dharavi. But, did anyone speak with the people in their native tongue about what was going on?

  9. 14 archibald in oregon
    May 18, 2009 at 17:35

    This seems to be the ultimate example of class system failure. Why is movement within Indias class structure so difficult? How can anyone in gov’t, with even the slightest compassion for humanity, allow these slums to continue for centuries? Is this the sum of true civilization?

  10. 15 Patti in Cape Coral
    May 18, 2009 at 17:42

    I can only hope that life changes for the better for the people in the slums, but change is so slow, I really don’t think it will be any time soon. Maybe in their grandchildren’s time there will be a more dramatic change, if things keep going better.

  11. 16 deryck/trinidad
    May 18, 2009 at 17:46

    Poverty is a difficult problem to eradicate.There are innumerable factors that leads to it and there are also many factor that prevent those in it from escaping. Some factors that prevent people from escping poverty are: 1. the inability to access resources by the ruling class. 2. ignorance and the belief in superstition. 3. hopelessness. 4. broken homes 5. domestic violence 6. acceptance of poverty as a divine right 7. lack of requisite competencies like discipline, patience and desire to get out of poverty. These are a few and they are all intertwined perhaps we can have some more as well as solutions because this is a grave issue.

  12. 17 Vijay
    May 18, 2009 at 18:00

    The view from Mumbais’ slums

    Are Green shoots sprouting in India?

    Cheap foriegn credit is needed so business people can borrow money and citizens have access to credit for the purchase of houses and cars etc…plus the protected Indian chebol conglomerates like tatas, reliance and birlas need foriegn competition.

    Can the optimism in India lead Asia out of trouble

    Yes, India can be the catalyst for progress in Asia if foriegn companies are allowed to operate freely (creating jobs for the urban people)and agriculture produce can be exported with out hindrance (giving income to the rural community)
    Dr.Manmohan Singh has promised to intorduce market reforms now he is free from the shackles the LEFT had imposed on him.

    and can those living in the slum hope for their lives to change?
    Are the lives of the people living in the slum that pitiable?
    Of course their lives will change for the better
    ask them what is the rate per square foot or square yard of the properety they live in

  13. 18 Vijay
    May 18, 2009 at 18:09

    The reason why the BJP/Shiv Sena lost is because they wanted to ferment communal hatred and only thought of their supporters and not the economic and social needs of all citizens
    North Indians were lynched in the street last year in Mumbai,south Indians are referred to as “monkeys” and the Muslim community has suffered due to rioting and descrimination.

    The left lost because of their poor attitude towards business,the common man and the USA nuclear deal.

    Dr.Manmohan Singh seemed a calm, sensible leader who would look after the needs of all citizens rich or poor.(just look at the stock market)

  14. 19 brinda
    May 18, 2009 at 18:16

    Coming from India i can tell you that this like vicious cycle. WE have our share of problems.

    Apart from the growing population,,,, there is immense diversity. countries we 2 or 3 sects of religion or cast are fighting away to death.If we compare that, India is still largely a peaceful country.

    I am sure all developing countries face similar problems. Nothing new .This is not the first time any such even has taken place. The only reason for the problem is being highlighted is because of the movie.

    We must count our blessing that we are still able to have a stable government and we are still able to elect a national level party . Stability of government goes a long way in a countries economy. How many countries are able to do that ?

    The magnitude of problems vary and kind of problem also do. Developed countries also have their share of problems. The kind of attention vary too. Poverty is self imposed in most cases. (I am not generalizing ).

    The more entertaining the problem i guess the more attention it gets.

    I am sure the problem would not even get front page of a national newspaper leave alone international web forums!

  15. 20 Vijay
    May 18, 2009 at 18:30

    @Abdelilah ,I think there are more people here than estimated,some communities are not properly counted when there is a census.
    The last time caste was included on a census was 1931,some educational and employment quotas are still based on that census .

    There are 20 million Bangladeshi refugees in India,who talks about that

    In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu there are 60 million Tamils the population of the whole of Sri Lanka is only 20 million.

  16. 21 Enagha, Dallas
    May 18, 2009 at 18:49

    India like every other new democracy has no excuse for the slums which exist in the cities and in Mumbai especially. India as i recall was among the first colonies to gain independence from the British Empire. If they pride themselves in class divisions and nepotism they are heading for more and more underdevelopment. I do not see how India’s large demographic numbers cannot be translated into high democratic participation.

    I think that India has the ability to move beyond core/periphery relationships and become an economic superpower which provides the needs of every citizen.

  17. 22 Vijay
    May 18, 2009 at 18:59

    Indians may make use of new technology but do they have the protocols to use it properly.

    I went to a record office in Patiala,Punjab to look for some old family revenue records,it took a long time to get them(one month) because the old punjabi and urdu records were being digitised,by a sub contrator.I found books of records in ENGLISH piled up in a corner so I asked the employees why weren’t they stored properly,oh they only had a contract for digitising the punjabi and urdu records not the english ones (which would be BURNT).

    May 18, 2009 at 19:00

    Thank you for highlighting this WHYS. It is so sad and shamful to the world though the biggest blame should lie square at the doorsteps of the Indian Government itslef. India is said to be an economic powerhous?

    There is no reason for such sqalid existence in a fast growing economy. What I see in these pictures is total neglect. The Indian government should be ashamed of this. They should go to other countries to learn how their citizens live and no wonder they are never interested in going back home.

    This government should know that Indians living in less developed parts of the world do not live in such conditions. There has to be another problem in this country that results in this kind of poverty because we know these people for hardwork that always rewards them. They are capable of moving from rags to riches in within a short time. There must be something to account for what we see in those pictures.

    May 18, 2009 at 19:14

    This is a classic showcase of failure of both democracy and capitalism. I think it is the high time that per capita is measured in human terms rather in monetary terms. Most government are giving statistics of growth since they think this more important and urgent since they view it in terms of competition with total disregard of the cost that citizens have to bear.

    If the citizens and the government of this country do not want to here this, they are deluding themselves. It could be the real reason behind the rise of crime and terrorism that has become part of daily life in this country.

    Congress of what?

    • 25 Tom K in Mpls
      May 18, 2009 at 19:41

      ‘per capita’ means: for each person. Which is the most useful measure. In the US we blow things out of proportion by tracking totals. The problem is not with democracy or capitalism, it is corruption of those in power and apathy of the poor. This means those with power keep power because nobody challenges them. It is the people, not the system you need to blame. Just check what systems are used by the G20 countries. It’s the people at all levels you need to blame.

      • 26 Ronald Almeida
        May 20, 2009 at 08:55

        You’ve called a spade a spade, but Indians don’t know what it means. Only those who have lived long enough in other countries can see it in comparison. Frogs in the well can’t even see anything wrong.

    May 18, 2009 at 19:22

    Indians should remember that the biggest asset for any democracy is its people and none of them are dispensable. There is no reason this country should behave like a modern day Pharao’s Egypt where masses are consigned to building a mamoth pyramid at the top of shich only a few well connected people live and the base made up of masses who toil unrewarded. What is India investing in if not for its own citizens?

    May 18, 2009 at 19:42

    In my opinion, the erradication of these slums should be treated as a matter of urgency by this government and future governments. The government should tap the enormous talent and energy of its hardworking masses. They have shown us that they can overcome hoplessness given the displays of Bolywood whose talent comes from the same slums.
    There is no point saying that things will tricle down at unknown future. The future is now rather than tomorrow. Such things have been promised people here in Africa where people are promised transformation in thirty years to come. Who buys such crap?

    These people should ask their government a simple question. For how long will India continue to be at the cross road of backward cultures and modernity when the country is better equipped as it is?

    Indeed its a shame for some people in these slums to think that what is at odds is patriotism rather than destitution in which they live.

    May 18, 2009 at 19:58

    I hope these people see the reason behind my outbursts. I happen to live in Africa where things are no better, but two wrongs do not make a right. India should be an example for Africa where corruption in governments has ruined many national goals and vistited squalidness to their citizens.
    Can this country walk its talk?

    They should invest more in modern education.

    They should do away with caste systems that reduced their people to lead in such unacceptable standards.

    They should learn from the USSR which had enough knowledge to fire rockets into space and yet could not grow food for its citizens which led to its self defeat.

  23. 30 Roberto
    May 18, 2009 at 20:32

    RE “” This jungle of humanity and corrogated iron also happens to be on prime real estate putting its estimated one million residents at loggerheads with authorities who want it redeveloped . “”

    ————- Great, let the rich pay out the nose for the property and give them their exclusive enclaves and compounds easily accessible by terrorists and pirates from the sea.

    Key point being that 95% of ALL PROFIT from the development subject to the strictest conservative accounting methods be given for these citizens for relocation on purchased property with the newest minimal cost housing with electric and plumbing.

    Not relocated on floodplains, toxic landfills, but settlements around the country with a set aside for education or job training. And I do mean for the rich to pay out the nose for wanting to swing the big bully rich stick.

    Otherwise, the people already know they have no value in most of society as human beings save for subsistance or dirty labour, kidneys and assorted body parts, and their vote, all of which the rich thinks belongs to the rich.

    These poor are in desperate need of a Gandhi to rally them and shame the rich and middle class of India into at least a veneer of equity as they are making India the #1 place for the world to come and be a billionaire by exploiting these poor souls.

  24. 31 Sridhar Subramaniam, Lexington, MA, USA
    May 18, 2009 at 20:37

    India is a democratic country and it has a huge population.India has been changing governments peacefully every five years.For a long time, India was in a license-permit regime which stifled growth. Mixed Economy was and is the economic model. The policy planners wanted to have best of both the worlds and they felt that the trickle down theory will work but apparently it has not done much to eliminate poverty. At one stage, India’s Balance of Payments reached precarious and alarming levels. That was the advent of the first wave of reforms undertaken by the duo of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. After that there has been no looking back. The gargantuan elephant has started to stir. Successive governments has continued to pursue reforms and the demographic profile is also altering in favour of India with an estimated 50% of the population being under 35.

    There is persistent clamour to completely unshackle the economic forces and pursue further reforms. Coupled with pragmatic and prudent policies and social engineering , India can indeed become an economic powerhouse. There are challenges and problems. Population Control, modernising and use of technology, Universal Primary Education, Healthcare, Infrastructure, Corruption, Pollution and Clean Fuel alternatives, Agricultural Productivity, Consolidation of Landholdings and modernizing farm practices are some of the challenges.

    We need Statesmanship and political sagacity to steward us in those exciting years ahead.

  25. May 19, 2009 at 23:35

    No. China is leading the way for Asia’s economy.

  26. 33 Ronald Almeida
    May 20, 2009 at 09:32

    Indians may get richer but their mentality will not improve. The middle class of Mumbai don’t live any better than the slum dwellers.

    A country gets the govt. it deserves. Nobody can point a finger at corrupt officials and leaders because everybody is corrupt. They blindly ape the worst aspects of the west but have no idea of the rest.

    India has everything only nothing works. Biggest democracy? That’s a farse where the majority of the population don’t even know the meaning of the word.

    Being an Indian myself who has travelled and lived extensively abroad and in my own country, I can honestly say I have not in my whole life seen a country more Dishonest, Devious, Disorganised and Dirty. India in 4D not 3.

    It’s nature and past culture is breathtaking, but one has to hold ones nose against the stink where ever one goes.

    Religion, Bollywood and Dirty Politics are the three curses which inorder to feather their own nests make the citizens dumber than they already are.

  27. November 1, 2009 at 22:17

    The slums show that no matter how far India has come economically it still has a very long way to go in becoming a fully developed country.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: