Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bombay and Dharavi: a Brief History

I thought I'd put up chunks of some of my research here, for those of you who are curious.

First: A brief history of Bombay and Dharavi --

Bombay and Dharavi:
A different kind of development took place in Bombay during the 1850s that made way for workers to create spaces like Dharavi within the city. After the colonial period of the city’s growth as a major trade and port city, Bombay expanded from rapid industrial growth and migrant workers who came to the city seeking jobs from the booming textile mills. The “native city” in Bombay developed as workers moved in to live near the textile mills in areas like lower Parel. Chawls sprung up to house the male workers pouring into the city.  It was common to find as many as 12 men living in the same room and about 200 of them sharing the same bathroom.[1] During the American civil war between 1861-5, the cotton and textile industry in Bombay lost a major competitor and did particularly well. The promise of work, better wages, and a chance to escape the limiting caste system of the villages attracted more and more workers to the city. Workers were now earning enough to send home to their families in the villages, work for a few years, and then return to invest in their villages, therefore gaining a better position within their communities. 
           Economic expansion, however, was not limited to mills and formalized industries. Workers developed communities around their work sites because Bombay did not offer affordable housing options to meet the needs of the rapidly growing working class. Dharavi itself developed as a community of workers who were not incorporated into the mills and needed to seek employment elsewhere. These workers took up jobs that offered goods and services to the rest of the city though the work itself was considered undesirable but necessary, like recycling and leather tanning. Most of these workers found jobs in the informal economy, taking up work as daily wage earners. In their lifetimes, most of them will never have a legally protected contract with their employer, and end up with the title of “temporary worker,” which makes them susceptible to abuse, arbitrary termination, and poor working conditions. Communities like Dharavi and Jari Mari expanded over time and supplied the city with many necessary services and alternatives to the formal business sector, providing employment and housing to an enormous number of Bombay’s residents. Today these communities have strong internal markets and self run businesses that international companies are studying for their own production methods. 
Bombay and Dharavi have been interconnected for a long time: neither one can survive without the other. Out of the 21 million people living in the city, eight million people live in Bombay’s slums.[2] Dharavi covers 550 acres of land and has a diverse population of individuals who create their own communities within the space.[3] New migrants arrive in Dharavi all the time for specific training in their trade before they move into other areas of the city.[4] Most of these individuals are daily wage laborers who are members of the Dalit caste, but there is also a significant Muslim population in the area. This is still a space for migrant workers to leave their villages and join relatives or friends in the city and where their social networks help them find work and housing. Dharavi provides labor for many of the services consumed by the upper and middle classes of the city: workers from the slums provide drivers, maids, nannies, cooks, and cleaning services for families across the city. Since the closure of the mills, Dharavi has also become an increasingly important site for manufacture and production. Entrepreneurs and business owners running small shops within Dharavi operate under lower start up and overhead costs that formal manufacturing jobs because the work usually takes place within the same space that a family or group of workers may sleep, eat, and work. There are roughly 5000 informal businesses operating within Dharavi, turning over more than $600 million in economic activity per year.[5] Manufacturers here supply the garment industry with western style shirts for export, dancing shoes worn by famous celebrities, and the leather bags carried by India’s elite families.
Bombay creates some of the demand for work that Dharavi’s residents have developed ways to supply, but Dharavi has also created and supplied its own market. Dharavi is an informal city: there is not enough water for residents, and often ten or more families will have to share a water tap that will provide them with water for less than three hours a day.[6] The city does not provide this part of the city with a garbage collection system, which means locals residents have developed their own way to manage waste and recycle. Services like garbage collection, recycling and others were developed by local residents to meet the needs of their community. In addition to providing an important part of Bombay’s manufacturing sector with products, Dharavi exists as a self-sustaining local economy where products are developed through local innovation to meet the desires, preferences and prices demanded around them.[7] Residents from Dharavi run their businesses without the support of the government or formal finance structures. Banks will reject often applicants for credit cards or loans when they see that the applicant’s mailing address is in Dharavi or similar areas within the city.[8] Microfinance firms are moving into the area and offering their services, but many business still operate independently from formal loan systems. Residents are also challenged by the government when they try to reinvest in their homes and the space despite how much of their time and production happens here: Dharavi exists on a highly desirable piece of land within the city, making it a target in discussions surrounding redevelopment and relocation of the slum-dwellers.

[1] Ashish Chandra, Lecture, June 18, 2012.
[2] Jim Yardley, IHT, Dharavi: Self-created special economic zone for the poor,, Online.
[3] Hanna Ingber, The Shiva Rules: Lessons from Asia’s Largest Slum, The Global Post, May 17, 2011, Online.
[4] Yardley.
[5] Ingber.
[6] Yardley.
[7] Ingber.  
[8] Interview with Mathias Echanove, July 4, 2012.  

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