The Durable Slum
Dharavi and the Right to Stay Put in Globalizing Mumbai
Publication Year: 2014
In the center of Mumbai, next to the city’s newest and most expensive commercial developments, lies one of Asia’s largest slums, where as many as one million squatters live in makeshift housing on one square mile of government land. This is the notorious Dharavi district, best known from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. In recent years, cities from Delhi to Rio de Janeiro have demolished similar slums, at times violently evicting their residents, to make way for development. But Dharavi and its residents have endured for a century, holding on to what is now some of Mumbai’s most valuable land.
In The Durable Slum, Liza Weinstein draws on a decade of work, including more than a year of firsthand research in Dharavi, to explain how, despite innumerable threats, the slum has persisted for so long, achieving a precarious stability. She describes how economic globalization and rapid urban development are pressuring Indian authorities to eradicate and redevelop Dharavi—and how political conflict, bureaucratic fragmentation, and community resistance have kept the bulldozers at bay. Today the latest ambitious plan for Dharavi’s transformation has been stalled, yet the threat of eviction remains, and most residents and observers are simply waiting for the project to be revived or replaced by an even grander scheme.
Dharavi’s remarkable story presents important lessons for a world in which most population growth happens in urban slums even as brutal removals increase. From Nairobi’s Kibera to Manila’s Tondo, megaslums may be more durable than they appear, their residents retaining a fragile but hard-won right to stay put.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Series: Globalization and Community
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
I came to Mumbai expecting to document a great transformation, but I ended up writing about the contentious politics of stability.1 When I began conducting the research that became this book, almost a decade ago, I was basically convinced of the overwhelming power of global capital—and the neoliberal policies that direct it—to destroy communities...
The narrow lanes and pathways through Dharavi’s densely packed central neighborhoods open up in front of Aneesh Shankar’s house. A flower garden and a courtyard—seemingly out of place in a part of the city where nearly every bit of space is used to either house someone, make something, or sell something—give way to a freshly painted two-story bungalow with a...
1 Becoming Asia’s Largest Slum
Dharavi’s early history is usually recounted with an air of nostalgia, tracing the slum of today back to the small, idyllic fishing village it was just a century ago. As its familiar origin myth goes, Dharavi was a sparsely populated village until the middle of the nineteenth century, inhabited by members of the Son Koli caste of fishing people. The Kolis are believed to...
2 State Interventions and Fragmented Sovereignties
Around the time that Dharavi became “Asia’s largest slum,” another attempt to transform the settlement was launched. Having been allowed to develop more or less independently and free from direct state involvement for over a century, Dharavi became the site of significant government attention in the mid-1980s, when the resources and authorities of the national...
3 From Labor to Land: An Emerging Political Economy
In the 1980s and 1990s Mumbai1 underwent a major economic transition, shifting from a mostly manufacturing city to one increasingly dependent on services and consumption. With changes to India’s industrial policy and increased competition from abroad, manufacturing facilities, particularly those associated with the city’s historically powerful textile...
4 Political Entrepreneurship and Enduring Fragmentations
I had been trying for weeks to set up a meeting with Satish Sheynde, the elected BMC councilor for Dharavi’s 176th Ward and a longtime member of the Congress Party. I had heard that Sheynde had been criticizing the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) in private conversations and public forums. Meanwhile, these accounts conflicted with official statements...
5 The Right to Stay Put
The postmonsoon humidity felt even stickier than normal from within the small courtyard in Kumbharwada, the potters’ settlement in the southeast corner of Dharavi. The potters’ ovens emitted heat and smoke, working overtime to bake enough small clay lamps for the upcoming Diwali festival season. On this morning in late September, several women were busy...
Conclusion: Precarious Stability
Almost a decade after the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP) was announced amid media fanfare and bold proclamations that Mumbai would soon be slum free, the promises have yet to be realized; the project seems poised to become another illustration of Mumbai’s presumed planning pathologies. Caught between global development imperatives and local struggles over the right to stay put, the government has put the project...
I would first like to thank my dissertation committee, Richard Taub, William Mazzarella, Terry Clark, Diane Davis, and especially my dissertation chair and mentor, Saskia Sassen, who excitedly shouted “Bombay!” when I told her I was thinking of doing this research in India. Their feedback and support on this project and throughout graduate school were invaluable. A special thank-you goes to Diane Davis, who planted the seeds for...
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