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Aerial View Of Dharavi, Mumbai.


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Pegeen Hearn



Dharavi, located in Mumbai, India, is one of the largest slums in Asia and has gained both national and international attention for its unique and vibrant community. Despite its reputation as a slum, Dharavi is a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of its residents, who have transformed it into a bustling hub of economic activities.


Dharavi is not just a slum; it is a microcosm of diverse cultures, entrepreneurial spirit, and a thriving informal economy. Many people perceive slums as bleak and destitute, but Dharavi is a stark contrast to this stereotype. It is home to nearly one million people living in cramped quarters, yet it exudes a sense of vitality, creativity, and community.


This article will explore the history, geography, infrastructure, economic activities, challenges, social and cultural aspects, government initiatives, and development plans of Dharavi. Additionally, we will delve into the aerial view of this unique urban settlement, allowing us to gain a broader perspective of its layout and the scale of its population.


Through this article, we hope to challenge the negative perception associated with slums and shed light on the remarkable resilience and ingenuity of the people living in Dharavi.


History of Dharavi

The history of Dharavi dates back to the late 19th century when it was initially an area of marshland and mangroves. It gained recognition in the early 20th century when it became a settlement for migrants, mainly from rural areas, who were seeking employment opportunities in the growing city of Mumbai.


Originally, Dharavi was divided into various villages and was mainly used for agricultural purposes. However, as Mumbai expanded, the demand for affordable housing increased, leading to the transformation of Dharavi into a residential area for the working class.


During the 1970s, the government introduced policies to regularize slums, providing greater security to residents and allowing them to invest in their homes. This led to the development of small shops, industries, and workshops within the slum, forming the foundation of Dharavi’s informal economy.


In the 1990s, Dharavi gained global recognition after being featured in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” The film showcased the resourcefulness and resilience of the residents, but it also brought attention to the challenges they faced in terms of inadequate infrastructure and living conditions.


Despite its humble beginnings, Dharavi has become a symbol of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency. It is known as a thriving hub for various industries, such as leather goods, pottery, textiles, and recycling. The slum has also become a hotspot for small-scale manufacturing, attracting both local and international businesses.


Today, Dharavi continues to evolve and adapt. It represents a complex urban landscape, where people from different backgrounds and communities coexist, forming a unique social fabric. The history of Dharavi is a testament to the resilience and determination of its residents, who have transformed it from a mere settlement into a vibrant and thriving community.


Geographical Location of Dharavi

Dharavi is strategically located in the heart of Mumbai, the financial capital of India. It is situated between two major suburban railway lines, the Western and Central lines, making it easily accessible for commuters. The slum spans an approximate area of 2.1 square kilometers, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.


Dharavi is sandwiched between the affluent neighborhoods of Bandra and Sion, which create an interesting contrast between luxury high-rises and the informal settlements of the slum. Despite its central location, Dharavi is somewhat secluded from the bustling city life, creating a distinct microcosm within Mumbai.


The slum is bordered by the Mithi River to the south, which has played a significant role in shaping its geography. The river acts as a natural boundary and provides a source of water for various household and industrial activities within Dharavi.


One noteworthy feature of Dharavi’s geography is its diverse zones. The slum is divided into different sections, each specializing in specific types of economic activities. For example, the Kumbharwada area is known for its pottery industry, while the Chamda Bazaar area is famous for leather goods manufacturing.


Due to its location within Mumbai, Dharavi is also influenced by the city’s climate and weather patterns. The monsoon season, which lasts from June to September, often brings heavy rainfall and occasional flooding to the area, posing a challenge for residents living in poorly constructed structures.


The geographical location of Dharavi has both advantages and disadvantages. While its central position offers proximity to job opportunities and transportation networks, it also presents challenges in terms of limited space for expansion and inadequate infrastructure. Despite these challenges, Dharavi remains a vibrant and dynamic neighborhood, reflecting the resilience and resourcefulness of its residents.


Infrastructure in Dharavi

The infrastructure in Dharavi is characterized by a mix of formal and informal systems, reflecting the unique nature of the slum. Due to its rapid growth and dense population, the infrastructure faces several challenges, but it is also a testament to the adaptive nature of the community.


One of the key challenges in Dharavi is the scarcity of basic amenities such as clean water and sanitation. Access to clean drinking water remains a persistent issue, with many households relying on shared water sources. Additionally, the lack of proper sewage systems and waste management facilities poses health and hygiene challenges.


Housing in Dharavi is predominantly informal and often consists of poorly constructed structures made of scrap materials. The absence of proper building regulations and infrastructure planning has led to overcrowding and inadequate living conditions. Despite these challenges, the residents have made innovative use of limited space, creating compact and functional dwellings.


Transportation within Dharavi is primarily through narrow lanes and by foot. The slum is not designed to accommodate cars or large vehicles, contributing to congestion and limited mobility. However, the proximity to the suburban railway lines provides a crucial transportation lifeline for residents commuting to work and other parts of the city.


Another significant aspect of infrastructure in Dharavi is the presence of small-scale industries and workshops. The slum serves as a thriving hub for various economic activities, such as recycling, leather production, pottery, and textiles. These small-scale industries are often operated from cramped spaces within residential areas, highlighting the adaptive nature of the community’s infrastructure.


Another essential element of Dharavi’s infrastructure is the presence of community spaces and institutions. Despite the limited land availability, the slum boasts numerous community centers, schools, and healthcare facilities that cater to the needs of the residents. These spaces serve as important social and educational hubs, bringing people together and fostering a sense of community.


Efforts have been made by the government and non-governmental organizations to improve the infrastructure in Dharavi. Redevelopment plans have been proposed to provide better housing and amenities for the residents while preserving the unique character of the slum. However, these plans have faced challenges and debates regarding ownership, resettlement, and the preservation of community bonds.


In summary, the infrastructure in Dharavi is a complex mix of formal and informal systems. The slum faces challenges in terms of basic amenities, housing, and transportation. However, the resilience and adaptability of the community are evident in their ability to make the most of limited resources and create a functional and vibrant neighborhood.


Economic Activities in Dharavi

Dharavi is not just a slum; it is a thriving economic hub that sustains a diverse range of industries and businesses. The slum is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit, with residents actively engaged in various economic activities to support their livelihoods.


One of the key economic sectors in Dharavi is the informal recycling industry. The slum serves as a major center for recycling and waste management, where individuals and small businesses collect, categorize, and process waste materials for recycling or reusing. This industry not only provides employment opportunities but also contributes to sustainable practices and resource conservation.


The leather industry is another prominent economic activity in Dharavi. The slum is home to numerous small-scale leather workshops where skilled artisans produce a wide range of leather goods, including shoes, bags, and garments. These products are not only sold locally but also exported to international markets, contributing to the local economy.


Textiles and garments manufacturing also thrive in Dharavi. The slum is dotted with small-scale tailoring units and garment workshops, where workers produce clothing items for both local consumption and export. Many renowned fashion brands outsource their production to these units, making Dharavi a significant player in the global textiles and garments industry.


The pottery industry in Dharavi is another important economic activity. In the Kumbharwada area, skilled potters create clay pots, vases, and other decorative items using traditional techniques. These products find a market both within and outside the slum, contributing to the cultural heritage of the community and providing employment opportunities.


Additionally, small-scale food processing, jewelry making, and embroidery businesses can be found in Dharavi. These economic activities are often operated from small makeshift workshops within residential areas, showcasing the resourcefulness and adaptability of the community.


Moreover, Dharavi has also seen the rise of micro-enterprises and home-based businesses. Many residents run small shops or stalls selling everyday essentials, groceries, and street food. These micro-enterprises not only serve the needs of the local community but also contribute to the vibrancy and vitality of the slum.


The economic activities in Dharavi not only provide employment opportunities but also foster a sense of community and collective growth. The informal economy in the slum is characterized by strong social networks, where residents support and collaborate with each other for mutual benefit.


However, it is worth noting that the informal nature of these economic activities often poses challenges in terms of limited access to credit, lack of legal protections, and vulnerability to economic fluctuations. Nevertheless, the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the residents continue to drive the economic growth and success of Dharavi.


Challenges and Issues in Dharavi

Dharavi, like any other densely populated urban area, faces a myriad of challenges and issues that impact the daily lives of its residents. These challenges stem from the informal nature of the settlement, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of comprehensive urban planning.


One of the primary challenges in Dharavi is inadequate access to basic amenities such as clean water, sanitation, and electricity. The slum suffers from a lack of proper sewage systems, resulting in unhygienic living conditions and health hazards. Access to clean drinking water is limited, with many residents relying on shared water sources that are susceptible to contamination.


Housing is another significant challenge in Dharavi. The slum is characterized by overcrowding, with makeshift structures constructed haphazardly and without adherence to building regulations. Many residents live in cramped spaces, often lacking adequate ventilation and sanitary facilities. The precarious nature of these structures makes them susceptible to fire hazards and collapse during natural disasters.


Transportation and mobility are also challenging in Dharavi. The narrow and congested lanes make it difficult for vehicles to navigate, leading to traffic congestion and limited accessibility. The absence of proper roads and public transportation options further hinder the mobility of the residents, making it challenging for them to commute to work or access essential services outside the slum.


Economic vulnerability is another issue faced by the residents of Dharavi. Although the slum is home to numerous small-scale industries, many workers earn low wages and have little job security. The informal nature of the economy also leaves workers vulnerable to fluctuations in market demand and economic uncertainties.


Healthcare services in Dharavi are limited and often inadequate. The slum lacks hospitals and well-equipped medical facilities, forcing residents to rely on overcrowded clinics or travel long distances for specialized treatments. This poses significant challenges, especially during emergencies or outbreaks of diseases.


Education is another area that faces challenges in Dharavi. Although the slum has schools, the quality of education and access to educational resources remain concerns. Limited resources, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of trained teachers contribute to educational disparities and hinder the development of children living in Dharavi.


Despite these challenges, Dharavi’s residents display incredible resilience and resourcefulness in finding solutions and adapting to their circumstances. Efforts have been made by various organizations, both government and non-governmental, to address these issues and improve the living conditions in the slum. Redevelopment plans have been proposed to provide better housing, infrastructure, and access to basic amenities while preserving the unique social fabric and economic activities of Dharavi.


While the challenges in Dharavi are significant, they also provide an opportunity for innovative solutions and inclusive development. Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on improving infrastructure, providing access to basic amenities, enhancing livelihood opportunities, and investing in education and healthcare services.


By recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by the residents of Dharavi, it is possible to create a better future for the slum, one that ensures the well-being and prosperity of its vibrant community.


Social and Cultural Aspects of Dharavi

Dharavi is not just a slum; it is a rich tapestry of social and cultural diversity. The residents of Dharavi come from different backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, creating a dynamic and vibrant community that celebrates its cultural heritage.


One of the remarkable aspects of Dharavi is its strong sense of community. Despite the challenges they face, residents often form close-knit relationships and support networks within their neighborhoods. The slum is characterized by a spirit of cooperation, where neighbors help each other during times of need and celebrate festivals and events together.


The cultural diversity of Dharavi is evident in its various festivals and celebrations. From Hindu festivals like Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi to Muslim celebrations of Eid and Christian festivities, the slum is a melting pot of traditions and religious practices. Each festival is marked by vibrant colors, music, dance, and communal feasts, bringing joy and unity to the community.


The local cuisine of Dharavi is another aspect that showcases the cultural diversity of the slum. Street food stalls offer a wide array of delicious and affordable treats, ranging from vada pav and bhel puri to kebabs and biryani. These culinary delights represent the fusion of different regional flavors and traditions, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of the residents.


The arts and entertainment industry thrives in Dharavi, providing an outlet for creative expression. The slum is home to numerous talented artists, musicians, and performers who express themselves through various art forms. Graffiti and murals adorn the walls, showcasing the artistic prowess of the community and telling stories that resonate with the residents.


Education and sports also play important roles in the social fabric of Dharavi. Despite the challenges, there are schools and initiatives that focus on providing education and opportunities for the children of the slum. Additionally, cricket, football, and other sports are played in open spaces, bringing people together and fostering a sense of camaraderie.


Dharavi’s social and cultural aspects are not limited to its residents. The slum attracts visitors from around the world who are interested in experiencing its unique culture and interacting with the local community. Guided tours and community-based tourism initiatives allow visitors to gain insights into the lives and stories of the residents, promoting understanding and appreciation for the challenges they face.


However, it is important to note that the social and cultural aspects of Dharavi can face challenges amidst the rapid urbanization and redevelopment plans that may disrupt the existing social fabric. Preserving and empowering the voices and cultural expressions of the residents is crucial in ensuring the sustainable growth and development of the slum.


Dharavi is a testament to the resilience, diversity, and creativity of its people. By embracing and celebrating its social and cultural richness, it is possible to nurture a vibrant and inclusive community that cherishes its heritage while forging a better future for generations to come.


Government Initiatives and Development Plans for Dharavi

Over the years, the government of India has recognized the need to address the challenges faced by the residents of Dharavi and has undertaken several initiatives and development plans to improve the living conditions in the slum.


One notable initiative is the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme introduced by the government. Under this scheme, efforts have been made to relocate residents from dilapidated and unsafe structures to newly constructed buildings with improved infrastructure. This initiative aims to provide better housing facilities and access to basic amenities while ensuring the preservation of the social fabric and economic activities of the slum.


In recent years, redevelopment plans have been proposed to transform Dharavi into a sustainable and inclusive neighborhood. The plans focus on creating more open spaces, wider roads, and better infrastructure to improve the quality of life for the residents. They also seek to provide housing for those who are currently living in substandard conditions and ensure that their rights and interests are protected during the redevelopment process.


The government has also taken steps to address the infrastructural challenges in Dharavi. Efforts have been made to improve access to clean water and sanitation facilities through the expansion of sewage systems and the implementation of water conservation initiatives. Additionally, electricity and street lighting have been upgraded to enhance safety and convenience for residents.


Recognizing the importance of education, the government has established schools and educational programs in Dharavi. These initiatives aim to provide quality education to children living in the slum, focusing on enhancing literacy rates and providing skills training for future employability. Scholarship programs and vocational training centers have also been introduced to empower the residents and enhance their economic prospects.


Alongside government initiatives, non-governmental organizations and community-based initiatives have played a vital role in the development of Dharavi. These organizations work towards empowering the residents, providing healthcare services, vocational training, and supporting the growth of small businesses. They also advocate for the rights and interests of the community and facilitate their participation in decision-making processes.


While these initiatives and development plans aim to improve the living conditions in Dharavi, they have also faced challenges and debates. Issues relating to ownership, relocation, and the preservation of community bonds need to be carefully addressed to ensure that the redevelopment efforts are both inclusive and sustainable.


It is imperative for the government to actively engage with the community, listen to their concerns, and involve them in the decision-making process. This participatory approach will ensure that the development plans for Dharavi are culturally sensitive, economically viable, and sustainable in the long run.


Through these government initiatives and development plans, there is a potential to transform Dharavi into a model urban settlement that showcases inclusive growth, sustainable development, and the preservation of the slum’s unique social and economic character.


Aerial View of Dharavi

An aerial view of Dharavi provides a unique perspective on the sprawling urban settlement and offers insights into its layout, infrastructure, and the scale of its population. While on the ground, Dharavi may appear to be a maze of narrow lanes and densely packed buildings, an overhead view reveals a complex mosaic of distinct zones and vibrant activity.


From above, one can observe the densely populated neighborhoods that are home to thousands of residents. The buildings, constructed in a haphazard manner, occupy every available inch of land, creating a sense of vertical congestion. The rooftops of these structures reveal a tapestry of colors, adorned with clotheslines, satellite dishes, and small gardens, showcasing the resourcefulness and adaptability of the community.


Amidst the tightly packed buildings are numerous open spaces and narrow pathways that connect different pockets of the slum. These pathways serve as the lifeline of Dharavi, facilitating movement, social interaction, and the flow of goods and services. They are lined with small shops, street vendors, and vibrant street art, adding a splash of vibrancy to the aerial view.


The aerial view also highlights the diversity of economic activities taking place in Dharavi. Different zones are dedicated to specific industries, such as the leather industry in Chamda Bazaar or the pottery industry in Kumbharwada. The presence of workspaces and small factories becomes apparent, showcasing the productive energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the residents.


Another significant aspect that can be observed from above is the presence of community institutions and public spaces scattered throughout Dharavi. Amidst the sea of buildings, one can identify schools, healthcare centers, religious places, and community halls. These spaces serve as important gathering points and social hubs for the residents, reflecting the strong sense of community in the slum.


Interestingly, an aerial view also underscores the contrast between Dharavi and the surrounding affluent neighborhoods of Mumbai. Beyond the borders of the slum, high-rise buildings and luxurious apartments stand in stark contrast to the cramped structures of Dharavi. This stark juxtaposition highlights the socio-economic disparities that exist within the city.


From an aerial perspective, the challenges faced by Dharavi become apparent. The lack of proper infrastructure, limited open spaces, and inadequate access to basic amenities are evident in the densely packed landscape. However, the ingenuity and resilience of the residents are equally evident in the efficient utilization of every available space and the thriving economic activities taking place within the slum.


An aerial view of Dharavi serves as a reminder of the complex and vibrant nature of the settlement. It provides a glimpse into the daily lives of its residents, showcasing their resourcefulness and ability to thrive amidst challenging circumstances. It also highlights the need for comprehensive planning and sustainable development to ensure a better future for the residents of Dharavi.



Dharavi is much more than a slum; it is a testament to the resilience, creativity, and vibrant spirit of its residents. Despite the challenges they face, the people of Dharavi have transformed their settlement into a thriving hub of economic activities, cultural diversity, and community strength.


Through its rich history, geographical location, and unique infrastructure, Dharavi has become an urban microcosm that defies stereotypes and showcases the resourcefulness of its residents. The informal economy, encompassing industries such as recycling, leather production, textiles, and pottery, has made Dharavi a vital player in the global market.


Challenges related to infrastructure, access to basic amenities, and housing persist in Dharavi. However, the government, alongside non-governmental organizations, is working to address these issues through initiatives and redevelopment plans. The aim is to improve living conditions while preserving the vibrant social fabric and economic activities that make Dharavi distinctive.


The social and cultural aspects of Dharavi are woven into its very essence. Festivals, food, arts, and sports bring the community together, creating a sense of belonging and celebration. The slum’s rich cultural heritage, diverse social fabric, and strong community bonds are sources of strength and resilience.


An aerial view of Dharavi offers a unique perspective on the intricacies of the settlement, showcasing the congested yet vibrant landscape. The overhead view reveals the complex network of narrow lanes, vast rooftops, and diverse economic activities that coexist within the slum.


In conclusion, Dharavi represents the possibility of transformation and the power of communal strength. It challenges conventional notions of poverty and demonstrates the ingenuity and resilience of its residents. By recognizing and addressing the challenges, while embracing the cultural richness and vibrant community spirit, Dharavi can become a model for inclusive and sustainable urban development.


It is crucial to remember that Dharavi is not just a slum; it is a home to a resilient community that deserves opportunities for improved living conditions, access to basic amenities, and recognition of their unique contributions. By supporting and empowering the residents, we can work towards creating a future where Dharavi thrives as a vibrant and inclusive neighborhood, showcasing the best aspects of humanity in the face of adversity.