Dharavi: The World’s Largest Slum right in the heart of Mumbai


Slum creation is so widespread that we may speak of it as a trend in architecture. The architectural debate won’t go there often, as there are not any glossy magazines, no cocktail table books, and no architectural institutions which promote its design and elegance, but the time is certainly ripe to look at the ways of buildings that provide housing to quite a billion people. This chapter is about the conditions under which slums (Dharavi) arise, the place of this style in architectural theory, and therefore its relevance to the planning profession.

Slums and their formation

Slums develop during high urbanization. The influx of labor from the countryside to the town goes far beyond the housing and absorption capacity of the town. Industrialization may be a powerful driver of urbanization. During the economic revolution, many slums emerged in Western cities. People lived in high-density factory towns, under miserable conditions. This side effect of the economic revolution was overcome by introducing legislation that set conditions on the standard of housing. In addition, many manufacturers arranged an honest home for their employees.

Violence is another major explanation for migration. Besides the flow of migrants from rural to urban, the migration of refugees may be a major explanation for slums. One difference between groups who migrate because of urbanization and who migrate because of violence is that folks within the first group prefer to migrate at a selected moment, while the latter is on just one occasion forced to go away, thanks to circumstances. This migration is a result of natural disasters or human violence.

Natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, floods, and wars drive people from their homes. If the home is not already destroyed, a life-threatening situation is a reason enough to migrate. By its nature, the forced displacement of a refugee means a neighborhood of the gained property can’t be brought within the migration. In the hurry, refugees take all which will be taken. A rural migrant features a better starting position. Possessions are often taken and purchased assets are often sold. The motive for economic migration is the lure of the town. The motive of expulsion is a reason for refugees to migrate.

The third type of migrants that feed into slum formation is caused by deportations. These forced migrations are literally a mixture of the previous two forms. Under its segregation policy, the apartheid regime in South Africa forced many native Africans to go away from their territory. They came up in townships like Soweto near Johannesburg and, therefore, the Cape Flats in Cape Town. Under an equivalent regime, many forced removals to the so-called ‘homelands’ happened, which has led to acute overcrowding.

About Dharavi

The Dharavi slum came into being in 1884. It had been originally inhabited by fisherfolk when the world was still creeks, swamps. It became attractive to migrant workers from South Mumbai et al. when the swamp filled in thanks to natural and man-made causes. The world grew as poor rural Indians migrated to urban Mumbai.


Pre-Colonial era

Before colonial rule, the Koli fishing community had settled at the northernmost tip of the island of Parel. Their community was right next to the Mahim Creek, which provided their livelihood for hundreds of years. Remember, this is often the pre-colonial Bombay- a gaggle of seven islands on the coast of the Arabian Sea .

Colonial Era

In the 16th Century, the Portuguese colonists built a little fort and church at Bandra, the shore opposite to Dharavi, but didn’t interfere with the Koli fishermen community. In 1737, the British built the Riwa Fort at Dharavi, also referred to as the Kala Qila, on the orders of their second British Governor of Bombay, Gerald Aungier. The fort served British forces as a watchtower, guarding them against any attacks from the Portuguese or the Marathas.

The turning point within the history of Dharavi came within the 18th century, when the swamps of Bombay were reclaimed. All the seven islands were joined into one landmass, with Parel on its outskirts.

The Mahim Creek dried up soon afterward because of the reclamation project. The Koli community had lost their source of livelihood and dispersed towards brighter locations.


At India’s independence from colonial rule out 1947, Dharavi had grown to be the most important slum in Bombay and every one of India. It still had a couple of empty spaces, which continued to function as waste-dumping grounds for operators across the town. Meanwhile, Bombay continued to grow as a city. Soon Dharavi was surrounded by the town and became a key hub for the informal economy. Ranging from the 1950s, proposals for Dharavi redevelopment plans periodically came out, but most of those plans failed because of a scarcity of monetary and banking and/or political support.

Population of Dharavi

Dharavi covers a neighborhood of only 2.1 square kilometers, which is home to about 1 million folks that come from a good range of religions, races, and castes- many of whom are second-generation dwellers. While this might sound sort of nightmare for countries that boast a way lower population density, the people of Dharavi sleep in perfect harmony, making the slum an epitome of secularism. 

Children running through anthropometrically incorrect narrow alleys, open drains, and garbage dumps during a sloppy settlement may be a visual often seen in many Bollywood and Hollywood films- a still usually captured during this mangrove-turned-squatter jungle to portray Mumbai or maybe the whole country of India.

Dharavi’s socio-economic status

Dharavi is on the brink of the Bandra Kurla Complex, which is one of the richest business hubs in Asia. Its propinquity to Mumbai’s two main suburban rail lines makes it accessible for people to go to work. It’s a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and different agreement. Dharavi is said to be one of the most literate slums in India, with a literacy rate of 69%, according to Wikipedia.

The commercial sector of Dharavi is home to varied, thriving small businesses belonging to people of various backgrounds. Dharavi’s massive annual turnover results from about 20,000 single-room factories, terracotta potters, plastic recyclers, metalsmiths, embroidery workers, leather tanners, and even the papad-drying business and so on.

Products made in Dharavi are not just distributed all over the country but are even exported to markets abroad such as the United States and the UAE. In fact, the widespread concept of “small-business” that exists around the globe today prevailed in Dharavi much before it became popular. Today, several businesses like these operate successfully out of Dharavi through online ventures.

Condition of Dharavi

Photo by Unsplash

The entire residential district lacks any kind of infrastructure, like roads, public conveniences, and toilets. With an average of 1 toilet per 500, most residents use alleys or the local river as a toilet, even though the river is also a source of Dharavi’s freshwater. Open sewers become playgrounds for children, while dead rats line the alleyways, and live ones run up and down.

Dharavi has experienced severe public health problems, with an extended history of epidemics and other disasters. Dharavi has suffered from many epidemics and other disasters, including a widespread plague in 1896, which killed over half the population of Mumbai. While India’s anticipation is 67 years, the typical lifetime in Dharavi is a smaller amount than 60. Virtually all housing has been constructed illegally and is extremely crowded and little. Each tiny bedroom accommodates up to 5 people.

Sanitation of Dharavi

Sanitation is one of the most important concerns of this settlement because the mangrove streams that run through the fishing village are replaced by sewer lines and contaminated streams. To one’s surprise, according to a study done in 2006, there is only one toilet per 1440 people in this settlement. This scarcity in sanitation facilities has led to the contamination of the Mahim creek that runs through Dharavi, which has been heavily polluted by sewage and garbage, which also adversely affects other parts of the town that the creek flows through, ultimately resulting in the contamination of the Mahim Bay.

Dharavi’s rise to fame

The movie industry has played a key role in bringing this slum to prominence. It was featured in films just like the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and therefore the newer Gully Boy.

Dharavi plays host to tourists who need a whiff of what life is like for slum-dwellers in India. Tours for tourists are organized through the narrow alleyways of the slum to showcase the recent business hub that it’s become over the past few years. The sprawling Dharavi became the favorite tourist experience of 2019 in India and even beat the Taj Mahal, says travel site TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards.

Dharavi and Redevelopment Concepts

Character of Dharavi

The residents of Dharavi are not any different from other city dwellers -their way of living is nearly as progressive as the average Mumbaikars. Every household features a continuous supply of electricity, a gas range, a mean cable connection, and slowly most of the residences are being accommodated with air conditioners, which is actually a luxury commodity.

One of the difficulties in proposing redevelopment plans for Dharavi is the unique and inherent character of its urban fabric. In fact, most buildings in Dharavi are designed verbally, with no architectural drawings. The general trend through Dharavi is that the client verbally expresses his needs and in response to it, the contractor verbally explains the design to the labour- a practice indigenous to the present slum.

Redevelopment Proposals

On several occasions throughout its history, many national, as well as international establishments, have proposed plans to redevelop and upgrade the slum. However, none of these redevelopment plans have been welcomed by the residents of Dharavi, as they seem to be quite comfortable and content with their lifestyle.

Most redevelopment concepts include the development of social housing within the sort of apartment buildings to exchange the individual slum dwellings on each plot of land, which is essentially a profit-driven motive for the builder. This would mean the abolishment of industries like plastic recycling and pottery, which is the main reason for the Dharavi-ites’ opposition regarding such plans.


It surely seems tempting for the government to succumb to the temptation of such development projects. But history shows that they are invariably heartless failures. Usually, former slum residents usually get boxed up into characterless apartment blocks. The whole sense of community is lost. And major industries like pottery and recycling disappear into piles of papers.

It would be far more humane to supply slum residents with adequate infrastructure, including titles to the property they occupy, and help them pack up the slum. De-slumification might then occur naturally in tandem with economic development, and obviate the necessity for simply demolishing whole communities.

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