Mumbai’s Dharavi slum in India is estimated to generate an annual business turnover of $650 million as a tourist attraction.
Once a mangrove swamp on the edge of Mumbai, more than one million people now live in the 557 acres of land in Dharavi.
Slum tourism allows around 1,000 tourists a month to have a peek into the lives of Dharavi residents.
Tour operator Asim Shaikh said: ”A lot of people coming have a negative image (of slums) in their minds. Like you know, they are poor people, dirty people living in bad conditions. Through these tours we try to change the image what people have in their minds. We have been doing these tours from the last seven years, and it’s not only like we have changed a lot of minds, but it’s more of an educational tour.”
Opting for either a long morning tour or the shorter afternoon option, the tourists prepare themselves for a long walk and real insight from their guides about life in Dharavi.
Progress is being made but there are some who are striving to make Dharavi an attraction for more visitors.
Raju Korde, president of Save Dharavi Foundation, said: ”More than 60 per cent of Mumbai’s population is living in slums. Most of the people call Mumbai ‘Slumbai’. Government has introduced various schemes for a slum-free Mumbai. Government has planned to rehabilitate and resettle Dharavi’s 60,000 families under this scheme and convert Dharavi into an ultramodern city.”
The effect of such government schemes however, has been negligible at best.
It is the people within Dharavi who are making a real difference and no effort is being spared to clean it up and improve the lives of its inhabitants.
The tour operators are not only contributing towards helping change the mindset of people towards the slums. They are also donating most of their hard-earned money to charitable causes like providing free education to slum children and helping the slum dwellers to start a small business and upgrade their standard of living.