Houses are made of anything and everything. The ones in the picture above are patched together with corrugated metal and tarps.
Dharavi is mostly one- and two-story buildings with a few high-rises resulting from failed government redevelopment schemes.
Garbage and raw sewage are everywhere. I can only imagine what it looks like during monsoon season.
There are lots of informal (and illegal) electricity-sharing schemes between the pre- and post-1995 homes. You can purchase from your neighbor enough electricity for a lightbulb and television for, say, 200 rupees per month (five dollars). Same thing goes for water.
Many times, entire multi-generation families will share one- or two-room dwellings. The entire community of one million people is located on a one square-mile plot of land, so it's safe to say that it's pretty crowded.These workers are recycling cooking oil cans. They wash the containers and steam off the labels before selling them back to the manufacturers. Besides cooking oil and plastic, workers here recycle aluminum, cardboard, and glass.
Within Dharavi, there is a community of Muslim tanners that immigrated from Tamil Nadu - a state on the other side of south India. Here they are laying the processed animal skins out to dry.
The potters' quarter - known as Khumbarwada - is one of the more affluent neighborhoods within Dharavi. Some potters make up to 10,000 rupees per month, or $250.
Round-the-clock sweatshops are everywhere. We saw people making garments and luggage for 80 or so rupees per day - far more, however, than they earned in the rural communities all over India from which they emigrated.
Despite the squalid conditions, life is just life in Dharavi. Children go to school, people worship and celebrate, and families do all the normal family things.
There are something like 26 Hindu temples, 12 mosques, and 5 churches within Dharavi. (Those numbers are off the top of my head; don't quote me.) With a few notable exceptions (such as the 1992 riots between Hindus and Muslims that swept Mumbai), Dharavi's diverse residents get along remarkably well.
Seeing the bit of Dharavi that I did had a big impact on me. It's overwhelming, it really is. It's hard to confront a world where, within the same city limits, some people are spending $500 on one night in a hotel, and some good and very hard-working people don't see that much in a year. I think most of us would like to “do something”, but don’t really know where to start. Take this with a grain of salt as I'm no expert on social change, but I think it starts – and ends – with every person’s own heart and mind. You may find yourself overhauling urban housing policies in Mumbai someday, but it’s far more likely that you will have a more subtle impact. That’s okay, though, because the cumulative impact of many caring, knowing people adds up to a lot – more even, I think, than the impact of a few people who are hell-bent on drastic change. We owe those few people a lot, but we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook because we’re not among them. And even those movers and shakers need to make sure their hearts and minds are in the right place. So what can we do? We can remember to be so grateful for what we have, we can stay informed, we can consume thoughtfully and share freely, we can pray for peace and equality, we can take care of the people we love, and we can try to be very, very broad about who it is that we love.