I spent two incredible days aimlessly wandering around the slums of Mumbai. With these pictures I hope to convey what I went through during those intense hours of exploration. A journey into the darkest realms of the human condition and at the same time one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever set my dirty boots.
Before entering this controversial area, I knew I was going to face some difficult situations and see some harsh scenes of suffering, but to experience that was actually one of the reasons I had made the effort to go there. I wanted to meet the dark side of the city to see what it really looked like.
My intention was to portray the soul of this extraordinary place through the faces of its inhabitants. The chaos, dirt and stench alongside the daily struggle of the housewife cleaning out the kitchen pots at the river, the playful laugher of the children and the desperate stare of the tailor at his untidy table full of cloth.
Once I had started this exciting project of capturing the dusty turmoil of the so-called slum, I just couldn’t stop myself. I was entranced by the mess, smells and unpredictability! I went deeper and deeper into the area and I wanted more of it, what ever it would take
The further I walked inside the wilder it became as the hidden gems were beginning to appear like magic.
Behind every corner I expected another gratifying adventure to be unveiled. Whether it was an inspiring little chat with a new made friend or a brief suspicious smile from an old lady, there was always a good chance to feed my hungry lens with some delightful rays of light.
The excitement that runs through you when you confront the fear head-on and scare it away is absolutely a natural high hard to match. There was no time to chicken out anymore when facing all these intense challenges. Either you keep walking unafraid with a smile or you run home.
The encounters with the people will stay with me forever. The heartwarming smiles but also the deep pain and desperation in the eyes of most of them.
Dharavi is considered one of the largest slums in the world. The low-rise building style and narrow street structure of the area make Dharavi very cramped and confined.
With a population density of over 277/km2 Dharavi is also one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The Dharavi slum was founded in 1884 during the British colonial era, and grew in part because of an expulsion of factories and residents from the peninsular city centre by the colonial government and from the migration of poor rural Indians into urban Mumbai. For this reason, Dharavi is currently a highly diverse settlement religiously and ethnically.
Dharavi has an active informal economy in which numerous household enterprises employ many of the slum residents. Leather, textiles and pottery products are among the goods made inside Dharavi. The total annual turnover has been estimated at over US$1 billion.
In addition to the traditional pottery and textile industries in Dharavi, there is an increasingly large recycling industry, processing recyclable waste from other parts of Mumbai. Recycling in Dharavi is reported to employ approximately 250,000 people. While recycling is a major industry in the neighborhood, it is also reported to be a source of heavy pollution in the area. The district has an estimated 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories. Two major suburban railways feed into Dharavi, making it an important commuting station for people in the area going to and from work.
Dharavi has severe problems with public health. Water access derives from public standpipes stationed throughout the slum. Additionally, with the limited lavatories they have, they are extremely filthy and broken down to the point of being unsafe. Mahim Creek is a local river that is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation causing the spread of contagious diseases. The open sewers in the city drain to the creek causing a spike in water pollutants, septic conditions, and foul odors. Due to the air pollutants, diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, and asthma are common among residents. There are government proposals in regards to improving Dharavi’s sanitation issues. The residents have a section where they wash their clothes in water that people defecate in. This spreads the amount of disease as doctors have to deal with over 4,000 cases of typhoid a day. There is also an average of 1 toilet per 500 people.
Dharavi has suffered from many epidemics and other disasters, including a widespread plague in 1896 which killed over half of the population of Mumbai. Though large sums of money have been borrowed by the Indian government in the guise of improving sanitation in Dharavi, none of these have materialized into any development on the ground.
Dharavi was most notably used as the backdrop in the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008).