Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are wandering into the Dharavi area of Mumbai in Maharashtra, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
In this archive story we will focus on slum children in the Dharavi area of Mumbai. These slum children often came from the country to one of the great cities with their families and live in slums or in the outskirts of the cities. As lodgings, they are used for sewers, pipes and sewers. The children of these families live and work in the street and it is estimated that only about 10 percent of them have a firm job, for instance, as a salesperson at a street crossing, in a tea shop or other small business.
In this archive story we will focus on slum children in the Dharavi area of Mumbai. These slum children often came from the country to one of the great cities with their families and live in slums or in the outskirts of the cities. As lodgings, they are used for sewers, pipes and sewers. The children of these families live and work in the street and it is estimated that only about 10 percent of them have a firm job, for instance, as a salesperson at a street crossing, in a tea shop or other small business.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Slum children of Dharavi

Dharavi is one of the most unusual places in India and a most prolific slum with its annual $650 million dollars worth of products, completely turns our notions of a poor district upside down and if you thread your way through dense traffic and pass by food stalls you will reach a narrow path that leads directly into the heart of the 12.5 million metropolis the Dharavi area.

How many people live in Dharavi?

It is estimated that between 2 and 6 million people live and work here on 2 km² and Dharavi has the highest population density in the world.

Dharavi, a city within the city
Just 10 minutes walk from the financial center of Mumbai away, lies the district, sandwiched between two railway lines. 1 to 3 storey houses made of concrete, wood, sheet metal and plastic are built close together. Surveys have shown that most families live in a house that consists of one room and this room measures an average of 12.5 m² and accommodates 6.2 people. But in recent decades one of these Slum areas of Mumbai and its residents have not only built the most diverse dwellings, but also spun networks to ensure their survival. Typical of the neighborhood have become tiny factories, where three to five workers produce food, clothing, leather goods and much more. The number of such micro-enterprises in Dharavi is disputed, the figures vary between 5,000 and 10,000.

"A slum is a part of a city or a town where many poor people live and it is a place where people may not have basic needs. Some of these people may also have social disadvantages susch as the Dharavi boys and the Dharavi girls. Most of the Dharavi kids come to school after they finish working in day-long 9 to 6 shifts at the plastic recycling units"

There are also several schools in Dharavi, over 100 temples, mosques and churches and a hospital. Some women stand on the stony-dusty sidewalk in front of a shop with colorful women's clothing, next to it two dogs are sniffing at a plastic bag and then the road narrows and the scenery looks almost village-like with a gnarled banyan tree seems to have grown together with one of the houses, next to it a shrine in honor of the Indian guru Sai Baba.

Dharavi has two major roads, the '60 Feet Road' as written on How to get around in Dharavi and the slightly larger '90 Feet Road'. In the winding lanes east of the '90 Feet Road' lies 'Kumbharwada', the pottery district of Dharavi and around 2,000 families go about their traditional craft here and on the walls and open spaces are clay pots for drying edge to edge, in every shape and size. In the middle, in a larger place, stands an imposing kiln, the circumference around two by two meters, chest high, its smoke runs through the district and this structure is typical of Dharavi where people are living and working in a confined space. In this way, 63 percent of Mumbai's entire production is generated in the neighborhood like a huge battery powered by human labour, where Dharavi supplies not only Mumbai with goods, but also the world market and the inhabitants of Dharavi earn about $500 million dollars a year and Dharavi has developed from a fishing village, first documented in 1910.

At that time, Bombay still consisted of several islands, which were gradually drained and the newly gained land provided space for land refugees and the city grew. Today's Dharavi is the result of decades of use of its migrants. What you see in Dharavi now has developed over the last 30 years and back then in Dharavi were small huts, there was no road, there were no latrines, basic needs were not covered and now you can see real settlements.

"In the slum of Dharavi many children work hard as garbage collectors, street vendors or begging to help their families survive. Many slum girls and slum boys do not have a roof over their heads and live on the street, including children with disabilities due to childhood illnesses such as 'Polio' or other infirmity and they barely have access to medical treatment and state support and besides, like most of their parents, they are illiterate. As cities in developing and emerging countries continue to grow, the needs and rights of slum children living there are systematically overlooked and play little role in urban development and the consequences for the children are serious"

A slum as a living and working world
In front of an open pink door many shoes signal that this is a meeting place for women and children. Slum children of a neighborhood lose their playground because an expensive sports center is built there. Deprived of their place, they must now be on the street and the slum children tell their own story, because one thing they always feel again. In Dharavi there is not much space for children and Indian slum kids to access water and access to space and these are two areas where hierarchies become very clea and this is particularly blatant to see in the slums, because of both there is little, so it must be fought for. Who has access and who does not, depends on where he is in the social hierarchy and the photographer found out how difficult it is to find rooms in Dharavi was discovered by the Photographer when he was doing his photo project for this archive story.

Poverty makes you sick
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Dharavi no longer carry the water in buckets home for ₹2 rupees, but have a water pipe in the house or at least near their house. However, only those who pay around ₹150 rupees a month get water and then the water runs out of the tap just a few hours a day. Although the district's infrastructure has partially improved, for instance, most residents now have electricity, but the daily commute to the bathroom is still problematic. If you want to use a clean toilet, you have to pay ₹2 rupees and suppose you have a small lot, but you have no money, how can you build a toilet? You will go out and use the pay and use toilets.

The lack of hygiene of the sanitary facilities leads to many slum dwellers to diseases. It is also due to the torrential rains of the monsoon, the drainage channels and living areas are equally flush, while distributing dirt and fecal matter and leaving moisture for months. In Dharavi stomach and intestinal diseases, 'Thypus', 'Chikungunya' and 'Dengue fever', 'Tuberculosis' and the immunodeficiency 'HIV' are rampant. One could want more education for Dharavi's youth, because it was on the outskirts, it was considered a dirty place and everything that is despised, everything that is considered undesirable, was located in Dharavi. It is considered the religious justification of purity and impurity, with which Hindu society delimited itself from the 'Dalit', often advanced. For some people, the Caste system in India and untouchability are both a kind of social arrangement for exploitative social relationships and religion was conjured up to provide legitimacy for these balance of power.

In Mumbai, around 92 percent of all workers work in the informal sector and the strong growth of the city has put Dharavi at the center of Mumbai and is now attracting the attention of the global economy, but Dharavi residents continue to be trapped in traditional structures, the sociologist explains and the traditional social structure and the new social structure of the capitalist market exist side by side. The least sheltered workforce is fed by the disadvantaged castes and the tribal population and a large number of defenseless workers come from the 'Dalit' communities and they remain marginalized, their voices are not heard, they remain vulnerable many times and this condition has essentially not changed.

Slum children and their families fear expulsion
The inhabitants of Dharavi should demand what they want. Yes, they want a renovation, but they want to do their job and they should get room for their work and they should have room for their social gatherings. Since 2007 hovers over Dharavi a sword of Damocles because the authorities of Mumbai have offered the slum for sale. The purchaser wins the best land, but his purchase obliges the law to provide each family in the neighborhood with 20.9 m² and to guarantee water and wastewater supply and the planned slum refurbishment is a mammoth project that raises great hopes and at the same time displaces many residents of Dharavi from their decades-long home and the problem is that most of the residents pay Dharavi's rent.

The decision on who gets a right to a new home is based on ownership, so it makes no sense. Because most of Dharavi's residents will find no place. About 85 percent of all residents would go out and the refurbishment breaks the typical Dharavi structure and some people have lived and worked in a small 2-storey house. For many other inhabitants of Dharavi, however, the move to a high-rise would mean a career break, for instance for the potters and the countless small factories.

Malnutrition and illnesses in the slum
The share of malnourished or malnourished children in cities is increasing worldwide. Around fiftyfour percent of the poorest children in the slums in India have been left behind by malnutrition in their physical and mental development. Vaccination campaigns often do not reach children in the slums. Diseases such as 'Pneumonia', 'Tuberculosis' and 'Diarrhea' spread easily in overpopulated neighborhoods. Although families in the cities have better access to clean drinking water than in rural areas. But the supply does not keep up with the increase in the number of residents because the poorest families are also rarely connected to mains and they pay up to 50 times more than their wealthy neighbors to private water sellers for a gallon of water and more and more people in the cities have to do their job outdoors.

Inspired by the resilience of the children
As a photographer he have a mission to document life in the slums and give voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves. It is no doubt a difficult and emotional experience for the photographer to observe, document and ultimately tell the story of the hard life experienced by the children of Dharavi. The sights, sounds and smells of the slum can be overwhelming and are likely to produce a range of emotions and he feels inspired by the resilience of the children, who despite living in abject poverty, still manage to fight for a brighter future for themselves and their families. The determination to succeed in life that these children display is truly remarkable.

"The photographer often talks about feeling hopeful when he is seeing the immense potential of the children of Dharavi. As a photographer he feels tremendous sadness when he observes the difficult living conditions endured by the residents of Dharavi. The lack of basic necessities – food, shelter and clean water – is heartbreaking and it is no wonder that so many of the children are malnourished, ill and suffer from diseases"

A sense of responsibility to help those in need
At the same time, the photographer also feel a sense of responsibility to help those in need. Through his work, he is hoping to bring awareness to the difficult plight of the children in Dharavi and that it can contribute to their recovery. While these emotions can be difficult to manage, they can also be a source of motivation and drive for the photographer, as he knows that his work can and does make a difference and some children also are attending schools in Dharavi. Despite its challenges, the photographer finds the experience of photographing in Dharavi to be a rewarding one that has a lasting impact on him.

Schools in Dharavi:
• Kids Gurukulam Preschool & Day Care
• Joglekarwadi Upper Primary Mar
• Dr. Vaibhav's docent institute
• National Urdu High School

See this video from Dharavi made by The Hindu.

The photographers's own experience being in Dharavi
"- Recently, I traveled to this bustling city to take photographs of the everyday life of slum children. Arriving in Dharavi, I was immediately met with the hustle and bustle of an impoverished city. It was hard to imagine such extreme poverty in a part of India that was just a few kilometers away from a first-world city. As I made my way through the tight alleys of Dharavi, it quickly became apparent how difficult life could be. The first child I encountered was an 8-year-old boy who lived in a densely populated area of the slum. He was often seen scavenging through garbage, looking for anything he could find to resell and earn money. Despite the harsh conditions, he was surprisingly upbeat and often seen with a smile on his face. His inspiring attitude was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time
", the Photographer says.

The life of slum children
"- As I continued my journey through the tight alleys, I encountered an array of people, children and adults alike, living in unimaginably difficult conditions. Barefoot children wearing worn-out clothes were walking around, gathering together in the shade seeking shelter from the blistering sun. The living conditions in Dharavi are not fit for human habitation. Despite the extreme poverty, the children here are some of the hardest workers in the world. They are making the most of their limited resources and trying to make a living. In the few hours I spent there, I was humbled by these resilient children who remained positive despite their difficult living conditions. Overall, my experience in Dharavi was very humbling. I was able to appreciate the hard work of these children and took away the appreciation that they are capable of great things. Despite my time there being short, it was an enlightening experience that has stayed with me, highlighting just how fortunate we are and that we must do all we can to support those less fortunate", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a cople of slum children in Mumbai. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.