Mumbai People are living everywhere in Dharavi, widely counted as India’s mega-slum near central Mumbai, and a target of big, billion dollar development plans supported by the Bombay Municipal Corporation. But, the survey of housing units and census on population, particularly the parts that trigger any potential plans for relocation and BMC or developer compensation, insist on overlooking what is under their noses and in front of their eyes, all of which makes it hard to believe that popular support should be given to any such inequitable development plan.
ACORN India has support for the development of three community organizations in different sections of Dharavi, largely along the drainage pipes running from the slum into the old mangrove swamps that remind any visitor that all of Mumbai is a series of islands linked by bridges in this huge city. Most of these areas where locations where the ragpickers we have been organizing are living and working. Regardless, for the purpose of this conversation, these people are the metaphor for the poor of the world: they are invisible to the surveys and census counters.
Many of our people are new migrants from inside India largely and in some cases from Bangladesh, drawn to the city in search of livelihoods. Slumlords have created shacks and shelter of sorts where they pay rents, but all of this is informal, so records which would force our folks to be seen and not just stumbled over, don’t help prove the case. We have to win the right to be seen and heard in Mumbai.
Inside Dharavi some families have lived for decades and actually have some records of their property. The problem is for the tenants. There may be records on the ground floor, but the surveyors ignore and do not count the tenants living on the upper floors in one room after another.
Mumbai sees itself as a world class city of the future. The aspirations are palpable.
The poor are going to have to force them to walk that talk or prove that this is what it seems: another land grab based on people removal. This fight is an old one, but it’s not over, until it’s won.