Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Tour into Dharavi Public Housing

On the day before my exodus from India, Murugan and I went into Dharavi for interviews focused on my study on the IT industry and how the poor have been affected. If you can remember back to my previous post on housing for the poor, I talked about the plans for Pune, which were being modeled after the schemes in Mumbai. We happened to stumble across the building of one such scheme, and intrigued, I dropped all my plans for the IT study.

We approached the nearly abandoned building to find several guys sitting on the window sill. They invited us into the littered and ghostly building, a prime place for loitering and recreational drugs (which I was offered several times during our chat). They explained that this building was a MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority) scheme building. The development schemes attempted over the years in Mumbai are confusing at best and mind-boggling at worst.

After about an hour of conversation between two different groups, we were invited up to the home of Murugan (name coincidence with my translator). It was actually quite clean, but the evidence of a job left undone was clear – a big drum in the bathroom full of water (see tenet Murugan in pic 2) or the kitchen sink that had no spicket, both because the water was never completed. Explained Murugan's sister Anita, “We are taking trouble [for] two years…Two years past – no light, no water, no nothing.” The government told them they could move in and after 15 days, water and electricity would be usable. Unfortunately, it was never to happen.

The lack of windows and poor hygiene were also creating serious problems. “Look at all the small children we are having…I’m having three children. All the mosquitoes are filled here…Three of them died also here.” Those are her neighbors Anita’s talking about. We asked others in the building and they confirmed that four people had died recently from malaria, asthma, and unsanitary conditions. But with their homes destroyed, they have nowhere else to live. She wanted me to contact the government, contact the media, do something. Murugan and I plan/hope to write a joint paper and submit it to the Dharavi School, which he is close with, to see if they can do something.

The next day I wanted to learn more, and I met other Dharavi residents, some who were pleased with their new housing and others who were being enticed by developers to agree to the project but felt the terms were grossly unfair. I did meet some people and go into their homes – they were very happy with the efforts made to give them cheap housing. It had allowed one man to put his children in private schools. But the same man estimated that 90% of his neighbors weren’t the intended dwellers. Instead, the slum dwellers were renting out their new housing and living right back in Dharavi shacks. Even after a quick, three day investigation of the situation, it’s clear to me how complicated the issue. And with political motives at play, it’s unclear whether anything will ever get done.

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