Entering my final year at Durham I decided to write my dissertation on something exciting and unique… so I chose Dharavi. It is said to be one of Asia’s largest slums located in India’s modern megacity Mumbai. Having been to India before it has always intrigued me, so I decided to conduct research there during the months of July and September 2016. I have been extremely to lucky receive both the Henrietta Hutton Research Grant by the Royal Geographical Society and the Joanna Court Travel Bursary from Durham University which have been really helpful in funding the trip.
Through mainly interviews, my work examines the typical representations of Dharavi and how the reality of the community contrasts this. It provides a unique perspective of the residents and their own understandings of these external representations. Very often it is perceived as a place of dirt, disease, crime and crowdedness; Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind! However, it is much more than that because it contains entrepreneurship and it has a thriving community!
You can watch my film about my research findings here:
(Image below courtesy of Reality Tours & Travel).
When I first arrived in Mumbai I was very, very nervous. However, once entering Dharavi I actually found it be a safe environment and the people very friendly. I also felt reassured with the help of the NGO Reality Tours & Travel (RTT). They use slum tourism as a way of challenging the external negative perception of Dharavi. They kindly provided me with guides everyday who lead me through the lanes of Dharavi and translated all of my interviews.
Each day I made my way around different areas of Dharavi such as the industrial and residential parts. It was a colourful sight; families sit washing utensils and preparing food, children play and workers work hard. In other areas I have been welcomed by the children who have been happy to practice their english around me whilst being very intrigued with my work. I have been to a range of factories and businesses such as garments, leather, plastic, pottery, metal and food. My photograph below shows a worker in one of the garment factories where they made children’s dresses. I even had a go at sewing…although I was terrible!
From what I have seen so far, Dharavi is a unique slum and it causes us to really question how we even think about slums today. I have still got a long way to go before the research is complete but I look forward to finding out more of the interesting data which is waiting to be discovered…
In return for the generous help of the RTT, I have conducted research on the Dharavi community perception of RTT and slum tourism. You can find out more about Reality Tours and Travel here: http://realitytoursandtravel.com/
You can find out more about my research and RGS grant here: https://www.durham.ac.uk/geography/news/allgeognews/?itemno=28185