Hyderabad University, India
An Excerpt from her blog post “Mumbai”
One of the most striking things about India, and Mumbai in particular, is how close in proximity the rich and poor live together. I've been in India for about 5months now, and I've never seen as many beggars as I did in Mumbai, particularly children. Mumbai is home to Dharavi Slum, Asia's largest slum, in population, not area, and its located between two major railways in the middle of the city. Strangely enough, the shape of the slum is actually quite similar to a heart, so the slum is also called "The Heart of Mumbai."
I know this is going to sound weird, but one of the best things we did was go on a slum tour. It was recommended to us by both Lonely Planet and another group of friends that went to Mumbai several weeks earlier. We went with a company called Reality Tours, and they put 80% of the money you pay for the tour back into the slum. They've built schools, a community center, and various art projects. A couple of the girls had reservations about taking a slum tour, for obvious reasons, but I actually didn't. I felt really good about going with Reality Tours, but part of me also knew that if we didn't take a slum tour I probably would've just taken it upon myself to walk through the slum, which definitely would not have been safe.
The Industrial District is definitely the most dangerous and poorest part of the slum. The working conditions are horrible and ridiculously unhealthy. I mean, these men are melting plastic bottles and aluminum cans all day and inhaling all of those toxic fumes. According to our guide, these workers come from small farming villages up North when its no longer harvest season. The factory owners let them sleep in the factory at night (which also provides the factory with free security) so the workers are always on time. Depending on the factory owner, some of the workers are compensated for on-the-job injuries, but not always. Most of the factories provide protective wear, but in the Mumbai heat wearing a thick suit and gloves while working around an incinerator all day is not ideal.
One of the most enlightening things I learned was that nearly everyone living in the slum has a stable job. Of course the Muslim women can't work, but people who live in Dharavi are taxi drivers, waiters, janitors, ect. I had always kind of assumed that the beggars we encountered wandered around the streets during the day, but then went back to their house in the slum at night. While the people living in Dharavi are poor, they aren't living on the streets, which means that the beggars who live on the street literally have nothing except what they can carry on their person, and considering all the street children there are in Mumbai, realizing that is very unsettling.
The Muslim area was very cramped, with tight winding passages and stacked, multi-story buildings. However, the Hindu area had more open-air and was noticeably cleaner (Our guide said this was because keeping a clean house was so important in Hinduism, but I think he was Hindu so I'm sure he's biased).
Near the Muslim-Hindu community divide there was an open space, covered in garbage, where a bunch of kids were playing cricket and running around. Unless a child is potty trained I think Indian parents find it pointless to even put pants on that child, so there was a whole bunch of naked toddlers running around Mumbai. Consequently, I don't think I've ever seen so many little toddler penises and I'll be quite fine if I never see so many again. However, while we were in the area where the kids were playing we kind of integrated ourselves with the kids and played with them for a bit. I put myself on official "pants-patrol," so if any little kid that actually had pants was showing a half-moon or a bit of crack I'd walk over and help to pull their pants back up.