“YOU WANT TO GO INSIDE THE DHRAVI SLUMS??” My friend’s aunty screamed, her bellowing voice seemingly out of place with her beautiful Indian sari and tiny body.
“Of course! What’s the big deal? Why don’t you guys want to see it?” I asked her and her daughter.
“I have to drive past that place every day after work. I don’t want anymore reminders that poverty like that exists in my city,” her daughter replied.
What is one thing that you’ve seen that will be embedded in your mind forever?
For me, it was this experience…
The Dhravi Slums. The setting of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
“Yeah I know what to expect.” I thought. “It’s just poverty, lots and lots of poverty, and people all living together. What else could it be…?”
TOXIC INDUSTRY CONDITIONS
Well now I’ve been on a tour inside Dhravi and it wasn’t anything like I envisioned it would be. In fact it’s worse. We walked through the toxic industry section. I didn’t feel so good. I had a sort of sick feeling in my gut. In all honesty, I was constantly trying to suppress the urge to cry. I shouldn’t be sad because the people didn’t look at all sad. In fact they looked fine, they were just working away, doing what they know they need to do to survive. But to me it was like seeing a whole new world.
Sure I’ve seen documentaries about people working for close to nothing in horrible conditions, but never have I seen it with my own eyes. People were working a metre away from me, in excruciatingly small rooms, with close to no lighting, rubbish as their floor, no shoes to protect their feet, and no gloves or safety devices to protect their bodies from the boiling hot devices used to melt something deadly looking. I saw people working in the same tiny rooms that they would sleep in. Most people come from rural India to work in the successful industry sector that exists within Dhravi slums. A population of over one million people live in Dhravi making it Asia’s largest slum.
I saw women sifting through what resembled pieces of glass. However, as I looked closer I realised it looked more like plastic take away containers that had been crushed. I saw the coloured remains of food on the plastic and a blanket of flies surrounding the women. The plastic is to be sorted through by the women and divided by quality of plastic. It is then to be cleaned, dried on roofs, put through pressing machines and then sold to plastic manufacturing companies.
The women turned around and smiled at me. I walked by and smiled back at them. Of course, on the outside I looked happy as if what I was witnessing on an average day in the Dhravi slums was unsurprising. But inside I was hurting, watching them dig through the sharp pieces of plastic, which undoubtedly would have been cutting their tender fingers. This was their life all day, every day. How can I genuinely smile whilst watching this? But it would never be okay to let them see how their working conditions shocked me.
I saw numerous dark dingy rooms with rows of men all lined up hunched over sewing machines. Like most girls who live or have lived in Europe, half my clothes come from Zara, and half of Zara’s clothes come from India. Seeing where the clothes we all buy are actually manufactured, brought a whole new perspective to the situation. It was funny seeing men making pretty little blouses. You admire your delicate item of clothing and think that it could only possibly have been handcrafted with a woman’s touch. Unfortunately the reality is not always as beautiful as we imagine it to be.
ONE DOLLAR A DAY SALARY
“Roughly how much are they paid per month?” I ask our male tour guide, a local to the Dhravi slums, who had sweet smiling eyes, “Around thirty dollars a month.”
In case you can’t do the maths, that’s less than one dollar a day. Less than one dollar a day to work in toxic conditions. I actually held my breath at some moments, out of fear of breathing in the air surrounding the toxic materials. I am saddened to think about the life expectancy of the people living and working here. Apparently the average life expectancy of people within the Dhravi Slums is between 50-60 years old. By the way, there is only 1 toilet shared among 1,400 people.
I can rant as much as I like and you can see as many photos as I managed to secretly take, but nothing can possibly cause you to experience the same overwhelming, incomprehensible feeling that you feel when witnessing something like this first hand.
I’ve read the statistics, I’ve watched documentaries, I’ve read news paper articles, hell I’ve even studied International Human Rights Law and the Law of Slavery and Human Trafficking, but nothing will prepare you for seeing this sort of poverty and the conditions that these people work under. You will only really be able to comprehend what it is like inside the Dhravi Slums by doing a tour with Reality Tours and Travel. It is something I highly recommend doing if you travel to Mumbai.
For a detailed description of the tour read the following article: http://www.news.com.au/travel/world-travel/slum-tour-in-dharavi-mumbai-with-reality-tours-and-travel/story-e6frfqai-1226666920937
Let me finish with this. What I found most interesting about the whole experience is: I am sad, they’re not. These people are each other’s family, and they are genuinely happy within their community. The reality is they know nothing else, and you cannot miss what you have never had.