Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are visiting a Slum in the Wadala area of Mumbai, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Slums in India are highly populated urban residential areas consisting of densely packed housing units of weak build quality and often associated with poverty. The infrastructure in slums is often deteriorated or incomplete and they are primarily inhabited by impoverished people as seen in the photographer's images of slum areas in India and in this photograph from the Wadala area in Mumbai, India.
Slums in India are highly populated urban residential areas consisting of densely packed housing units of weak build quality and often associated with poverty. The infrastructure in slums is often deteriorated or incomplete and they are primarily inhabited by impoverished people as seen in the photographer's images of slum areas in India and in this photograph from the Wadala area in Mumbai, India.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photogapher
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Slums in India

You have heard about them in movies and you have heard about them in the media, the slums in India are the squalids and the overcrowded urban street or districts inhabited by very poor people and a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, dirty run-down housing, poverty and social disorganization and is an integrated part of the society in India, whether we like it or not.

What is the meaning of slumming?

To visit slums especially out of curiosity broadly and to go somewhere or do something that might be considered beneath one's station.

A major issue of concern
Slums in India are a major issue of concern, as they are an indicator of the country's poverty and inequality. Slums are defined as areas where people live in substandard housing and are characterized by overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and a lack of basic services. In India, slums are increasingly becoming a problem as the population grows and urbanization increases and the slum population in India is estimated to be around 63 million people, making up about 17 percent of the total population. The majority of these slum dwellers are from low-income families and many of them lack access to basic services such as clean water, healthcare and education. These slums are often located on the outskirts of cities, making it difficult for the residents to access services in the city.

"The conditions in these slums are often deplorable and can lead to serious health risks. For instance, due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and lack of clean water, diseases such as 'Cholera', 'Malaria' and 'Diarrhea' are common in these areas. Additionally, violence and crime are also common in many slums, as they are often neglected by the government and have weak social infrastructure. In order to address the issue of slums in India, the government has taken various measures, such as providing subsidies and grants for slum upgrading projects and encouraging the private sector to invest in slum development. Additionally, the government has also launched various programs to improve access to education, healthcare and sanitation in slums"

However, these measures are not enough and need to be supplemented with more comprehensive and targeted interventions. Slums in India are an important issue that needs to be addressed. The Government of India has taken various measures to improve the conditions in slums, but these need to be supplemented with more comprehensive and targeted interventions. Only then can the issue of slums in India be effectively addressed and the living conditions in these areas improved.

What is the difference between slums and urban poor?
The urban poor arrives with hope and very little of anything else and they typically have no access to shelter, basic urban services and social amenities. Slums are often the only option for the urban poor. Several reasons contribute significantly to the expansion of slums. These reasons could be demographic, economic, political and social. Examples of socio-economic factors include uncontrolled rural-urban migration, informal economy or poverty. Political factors include political instability, poor planning and social conflicts. 'Urbanization' refers to the population shift from rural to urban areas, the corresponding decrease in the proportion of people living in Rural areas in India and the ways in which societies adapt to this change.

Effects of urbanization in India
An effect of urbanization is 'Urban sprawl', where a city becomes dispersed over an increasingly large geographical area such as the Wadala area in India. This movement from higher density urban cores to lower density suburbs means that as cities expand, they often begin to take up significant tracts of land formerly used for agriculture. Urbanization occurs either organically or planned as a result of individual, collective and state action. Living in a city can be culturally and economically beneficial since it can provide greater opportunities for access to the labour market, better education, housing and safety conditions and reduce the time and expense of commuting and transportation.

"Conditions like density, proximity, diversity and marketplace competition are elements of an urban environment that deemed beneficial. However, there are also harmful social phenomena that arise such as alienation, stress, increased cost of living and mass marginalization that are connected to an urban way of living"

Wealth disparities in India
The slums of India are a stark reminder of the immense wealth disparities that exist in the country. India is the second most populous country in the world and it is home to an estimated 65 million people living in slums. Slums are defined as areas of concentrated poverty and they are characterized by overcrowding, inadequate housing and poor sanitation and infrastructure. The majority of India's slum dwellers are migrants from rural areas who have sought opportunities in the cities. Many of them lack access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation and electricity. They are also more susceptible to a range of health issues due to their living conditions.

Slum programs as a solution
The Indian government has implemented several programs to address the issue of slums in India. These include the 'Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana', which aims to provide affordable housing to the urban poor and the 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan', which is a government-led effort to promote cleanliness and hygiene in India. In addition, the government has implemented several programs to provide access to basic services such as education, healthcare and employment opportunities.

A comprehensive approach is needed
Despite these efforts, the issue of slums in India remains a significant challenge. Poor infrastructure and overcrowding has led to the emergence of slum clusters in cities. This has resulted in a lack of access to basic services and amenities and an increased risk of disease and crime. Slums in India are a complex problem that requires a comprehensive approach to address it. This includes improving access to basic services, providing affordable housing and investing in infrastructure and sanitation. Additionally, the Government of India should focus on empowering the urban poor by providing training and access to employment opportunities. Finally, there needs to be greater awareness and understanding of the plight of the urban poor in order to tackle this problem effectively.

"Thousands of people live in Wadala in makeshift huts and it is cramped here and dirty and it is not uncommon for hungry rats to attack the children at night. It is here that the residents are better than anyone else how to collect, sort and resell rubbish, arouses many envious people. Because the success of one means the possible ruin of the other and everyone in the slum fights with all means for the pure existence"

Kristian Bertel | Photography is not only telling the stories of the people of Wadala – he is also telling their stories of their hope and quest for a better life and the impact of western consumption on this corner of the world. More than half of the world's population now lives in urban areas and a billion of these urban dwellers reside in neighborhoods of entrenched disadvantage – neighborhoods that are characterized as 'Slums'. Slums are often seen as a debilitating and even subversive presence within society.

In reality, though, it is public policies that are often at fault, not the people who live in these neighborhoods. Urbanisation is happening at a rate and scale which is far greater than when the same process unfolded in the north. Many people living under sub-standard conditions do not have their rights as urban citizens recognised and realise that they cannot rely on formal democratic channels or governance structures for their demands to be met.

Aroused by the sights in Mumbai
In the photographs he studies how the states in India interact with and is perceived by urban slum dwellers will thus be of central importance for future political and economic development and also studies the relations between slum dwellers and the state in three cities Delhi, Varanasi and Mumbai in India. Analysing these relations both from the perspective of the state and the perspective of slum dwellers, it focuses on three core state functions – security, welfare and political participation. The photographer aroused by the sight of the children in India and accompanied by his camera explored the 'Mud districts' of Mumbai, deeply moved by the conditions prevailing there.

Impressions of India
The impressions of these trips, published in galleries on this website, are an exciting document on the urban discourse of the turn of these cities, on the hotly debated social issue and the political attempts to solve it. An overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people. With the title 'Slums in India' the photographer takes up a term in this archive story that hopefully is to become synonymous with the slums of modern cities in the world and the viewers of his photographs gets an in-depth look at the distinctly different ways that India govern their cities and how this impacts their residents and the India slums population.

In his many photographs, the Photographer is asking why do slums exist and he also explores how India is governing their cities and how their different styles of governance produce inequality and exclusion. Drawing upon historical-comparative analyses and extensive fieldwork in Mumbai, the photographer investigates the ways that Indian cities manage land acquisition, disadvantages of slums, slum clearance and air pollution. In India, urban governance centers on associational politics, encompassing contingent alliances formed among state actors, the private sector and civil society groups. The photographer traces the origins of territorial and associational forms of governance to precolonial India. He then shows how these forms have evolved to shape urban growth and residents' struggles today. As the number of urban residents in India reaches beyond a billion, governing the urban in India makes clear that the development of cities in these two nations will have profound consequences well beyond their borders.

Why do slums exist in India?
In India, the causes of urban poverty can be linked to the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, forcing inhabitants of these regions to seek out work in India's mega-cities to the poverty slums. However, as more and more people make this migration, the space left to accommodate them becomes less and less. Urbanization is rapidly overtaking India, the two most populous countries in the world. 1/6 of humanity now lives in an Indian city. This transformation has unleashed enormous pressures on land use, housing and the environment. Despite the stakes, the workings of urban governance in India remain obscure and poorly understood.

Largest slums in India:
• Dharavi slum, Mumbai
• Bhalswa slum, Delhi
• Nochikuppam slum, Chennai
• Rajendra Nagar slum, Bangalore
• Basanti slum, Kolkata

Dharavi slum
This famous slum is a city within a city, it is one unending stretch of narrow dirty lanes, open sewers and cramped huts. In a city where house rents are among the highest in the world, Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those who move to Mumbai to earn their living. In cities, money, services, wealth and opportunities are centralized. In this urban slum area many rural inhabitants come to the city to seek their fortune and alter their social position. Businesses, which provide jobs and exchange capital, are more concentrated in urban areas. Whether the source is trade or tourism, it is also through the ports or banking systems, commonly located in cities, that foreign money flows into a country.

Located in the heart of India's largest city, the Dharavi slum is home to an estimated 1 million people. This vast community has been in existence since the turn of the 20th century, growing from the small village it once was to the sprawling urban agglomeration it is today. Aside from its incredibly dense population, the Dharavi slum is most well known for its role in the popular film 'Slumdog Millionaire', despite the many inaccuracies that movie portrayed about life in Dharavi.

"For many of its inhabitants, the Dharavi slum is not a place of despair and hardship, but rather a vibrant community and an extension of their families' homes. Across the 4 km² of the slum, there is an incredibly varied range of businesses and activities that exist side by side, along with a rich cultural diversity woven throughout. Over many generations, Dharavi has developed an ingenious and self-sustaining economic system, with informal economic activities keeping its streets bustling. The over 70,000 households in Dharavi are home to a diverse mix of ethnicities, religions and castes, while life in the tight spaces of the slum are dictated by communal relations and norms"

Many low-cost and highly competitive industries in Dharavi
Despite extreme poverty and overcrowding, economic and cultural creativity flourishes in Dharavi, with many low-cost and highly competitive industries operating such as recycle plants, garment factories and food production. The slum is also known for its thriving leather goods and pottery production, with approximately 15,000 informal waste pickers in the community separately collecting and sorting recyclables for sale. As India's economy continues to grow and the country's cities expand, the central government has attempted to redevelop the Dharavi slum in the past two decades.

Despite its long-term economic benefits, the contemporary slum redevelopment policies implemented by the state have largely failed to take into account the intrinsic social value of Dharavi's tightly knit community relations and cultural contexts, potentially putting the entire economic structure of the slum at risk. In spite of vast disparities in living conditions between the Dharavi slum and the rest of Mumbai, its inhabitants, however, continue to look for innovative solutions to both ensure their economic survival and preserve the vibrant cultural diversity of this unique community. The Dharavi slum stands as a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit and an interesting insight into some of the daily realities of extreme poverty in India.

Bhalswa slum
The Bhalswa slum is a community of poor people living in Delhi, India and it is located in the north western part of the city in the area Bhalwsa Jahangir Pur, a census town in North West district in the state of Delhi, India, where a large proportion of the city's urban poor resides. It has a population of more than 10,000 people, living in dire conditions and without access to basic amenities and it is situated next to Bhalswa 'Horseshoe' Lake and the site chosen for this competition is located to the West of Bhalswa, adjacent to the mentioned lake. The site is currently undeveloped and presents an opportunity to deliver affordable and sustainable housing to the area.

"The Bhalswa slum was established some 50 years ago by poor migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states. They came to Delhi in search of a better life and to escape poverty and exploitation in their home states. Since then, the slum has grown and today it is home to a wide range of ethnic and cultural groups. The slum dwellers face numerous challenges. They are deprived of access to basic services such as healthcare, water, sanitation and electricity. With no source of income, many of them turn to begging, stealing and drug peddling to make ends meet"

The Bhalswa slum also has a very high crime rate, with a high percentage of men and women incarcerated for their involvement in criminal activities. Despite all these problems, the residents of Bhalswa slum are trying to improve their lives. Several NGO's are working to provide better living conditions and access to basic necessities. New initiatives have been taken up to empower the residents, such as setting up small businesses, and businesses such as tailoring and day care centers. NGOs have also started awareness campaigns about hygiene and health care. The Government of Delhi has been taking steps to improve the condition of the slum. For instance, they have built houses for some of the residents and are providing free health care and education to the children living there. The Bhalswa slum is a prime example of deprivation and poverty, but its inhabitants are still hopeful of achieving a better quality of life. With the help of the government, NGOs and other organizations, the Bhalswa slum can become an example of progress and development and be a symbol of hope for India's poor.

Nochikuppam slum
Being an urban slum and an age-old settlement situated at the end of the Marina Beach in Chennai, which houses more than a thousand families, most of them belonging to fishing occupation and this slum has improved in terms of providing basic amenities like sanitation, providing education for girls and minimising crimes against women. However, a few things still have not changed. Alcohol abuse, housing facilities and communal violence continue to be matters of grave concern.

Nochikuppam or "here and there" in Tamil, is a small, coastal fishing village located in Chennai, India. Located in between two National Highways on the Bay of Bengal, Nochikuppam is an example of a subsistence-based fishing community in India, existing amidst and in the long shadow of extreme poverty and economic deprivation. Nochikuppam was formed when a group of small local fishermen and potters moved to this location due to rapid urbanization and industrialization in and around Chennai. These families have been living here since as far back as the 1930s, with few, if any, improvements to their living conditions. Some of the local fishermen decided to put up a series of makeshift shacks in this area and since then, it has been the de facto residence for about 1,500 people.

"The reality of life in the Nochikuppam slum is hard. Houses are built with mud walls and thatched-roofs and many families live in one single room. There is no access to clean drinking water and no facilities for proper sanitation. The slum is located in a coastal region and a vast majority of the families here depend on fishing for their livelihood. As a result, the fishermen cannot always guarantee a sustainable income and ends up depending on day-labour and begging to make up for their loss. Adding to their woes, the fishermen of this village receive inadequate support from the government"

The government has so far been unable to provide the fishermen with access to insurance in case of property damage due to natural calamities, and minimal healthcare services for the people in low-income backgrounds. At this point in time, the only hope for Nochikuppam is the local civil society, which has been organizing relief and support for the last couple of decades. These non-profit organizations help provide access to basic amenities like clean water, electricity, healthcare and educational resources to the people in Nochikuppam and they are the only silver lining for the people here. However, for life in Nochikuppam to truly get better, the government and the civil society need to work together to create durable and sustainable solutions to the problems faced by Nochikuppam that are meant to work in the long run. Only then will the true potential of Nochikuppam be unlocked and its people be able to enjoy a decent livelihood.

Rajendra Nagar slum
Nestled away amidst the bustling metropolis of Bangalore and Karnataka in India, lies the Rajendra Nagar slum and was designed to be a low-income residential area for average working-class families. Those who live in this slum are typically from a low economic standing, speaking mostly Kannada and Tamil. While the city of Bangalore is renowned for its skyscrapers and tech-enabled lifestyle, the Rajendra Nagar slum serves as a reminder of the stark contrast that exists between the wealthy and the impoverished in India. As a home to over 10,000 people, making it one of the largest and most densely populated slums in the city, which is also the one effected by the slum population as the habitants of the city are not ready to resettle under a flyover which is quite unsafe for them. Though the Bangaloreans refuse the existence of this slum.

While the hardworking people of Rajendra Nagar are living in poverty with an average per capita income of ₹1,000 rupees which is about $13.5 dollars per month, meaning that those residing in Rajendra Nagar live in abject poverty. The settlement was established over 50 years ago and has since grown in size due to the influx of people escaping unfair wages and abject poverty in neighboring villages.

"In the Rajendra Nagar slum the lack of safe and potable drinking water, scarcity of toilets and hygienic bathrooms and the risk of social isolation due to the caste- based structures in place are some of the issues faced by the people living there. For the majority of the population, lack of access to healthcare renders even the smallest of ailments fatal as they cannot afford treatment, thus leading to a deteriorating quality of life. This slum serves as a hotbed for criminals such as drug traffickers and there is an alarming regularity of teenage suicides in the area"

owever, over the last few years, several organisations and individuals have undertaken a plethora of initiatives to help the cause. The Bhoomika Trust, founded by Padma Shri Ms. Dr. Smita Agarwal, is a part of a larger redevelopment project in Rajendra Nagar, that seeks to restore the health and wellbeing of the families in the settlement. The trust has been organizing regular medical camps, in order to provide medical assistance to those in need and establishing a daycare centre and a nursery school, in order to provide quality education to children in the settlement. The efforts of the countless organizations, coupled with other initiatives by the state and the Central government have decreased the incidence of poverty in India, but for the people of Rajendra Nagar, help is yet to arrive in its completeness. Efforts must be made to understand the magnitude of the problem and to raise awareness about the initiatives being undertaken, lobbying for more support from the government and the corporate sector in order to provide basic amenities and opportunities to the people of Rajendra Nagar.

The population of Rajendra Nagar is mainly composed of semi-skilled and unskilled labourers who work as auto-rickshaw drivers, roadside vendors and labourers in the construction industry. Many of the slum dwellers also rely on the informal economy to make ends meet. As of 2021, many of the people living in Rajendra Nagar still subsist on very little. The government has made some efforts to improve the quality of life within Rajendra Nagar, including setting up several public health centers. Additionally, various NGOs have worked hard to help the slum's residents with education and access to better health services.

Unfortunately, the slum's infrastructure is still outdated and inadequate. Poor sanitary conditions, limited running water, and a lack of sewage system pose health risks and make it difficult for the dwellers to improve their living standards. The local government has yet to address the need for better transportation services for the residents of Rajendra Nagar.
Despite these challenges, the Rajendra Nagar slum is still an integral part of Bangalore. Its residents have shown an incredible level of grit in the face of poverty and inequality, not giving up hope for better days ahead.

Basanti slum
Kolkata is a bustling city filled with life and activity, especially within its bustling slum neighborhood of Basanti. Located near the state of West Bengal's West Central Railway Station, Basanti that primarily is a Bengali speaking slum has been there for many decades and has grown to become a marginalised community with many of its inhabitants belonging to a low-income or poverty-stricken background. Built on reclaimed marshland, the slum's soil composition is unstable and susceptible to flooding. Despite the legal efforts of changing the specialist nature of the land, it is still home to many poor residents who live in dire circumstances.

Many of the slum's people rely on industrial discards and scrap for income. The work is poorly paid and usually involves illegal activities such as gambling, begging and scavenging for items in the streets. Due to the lack of hygiene infrastructure, these workers and residents are subjected to regular exposure to disease is a slumand and the slum has a number of mosquitos breeding because of an open pond in the vicinity. This has caused various diseases like 'Malaria' and 'Cholera' to the residents of the slum.

Basanti has service providers, including medical dispensaries, a government-run school and local merchants and tailors. Despite this, many of the slum's poorer families suffer from malnutrition, with the government providing merely minimal nutritional welfare benefits. Security wise, Basanti is not well-equipped to tackle crime. It is reportedly the backdrop for many of Kolkata's most underprivileged street dwellers.

"The Basanti slum has seen efforts in the past to improve the living conditions of its inhabitants. For instance, the slum recently received funds from the government as part of their economic reconstruction plans. In spite of this, Basanti still has a long way to go before it resembles even an average Kolkata neighborhood. The plight of the Basanti slum is a reflection of the ever-growing statistical evidence of poverty located in India today. While there have been some positive steps made to help the inmates of Basanti, more must be done to ensure this community receives the help it urgently needs"

See this video about slums in India made by The Hindu.

The photographer's own experience of being in the slums in India
"- Photographing the slums of India was an experience I will never forget. Living in a country like Denmark, it's easy to forget how lucky we are to have readily available access to basic necessities such as clean water and electricity, but when I ventured into the slums of Delhi, that all changed. I was both saddened and inspired by the community I encountered. Sadness in the face of such abject poverty and filth. But there was also inspiration in the form of resilience. Despite the lack of basic resources, these people were surviving. They had found a way to make the best of their circumstances by creating a strong sense of community and by finding innovative ways to make money – even if that meant scavenging for recyclable items on the street. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to witness these people living in such conditions and yet surviving. Some of the children I met even seemed content and curious, intrigued by the photographer in their midst", the Photographer says.

"- As a photographer, the challenge of capturing life in the slums was difficult. It was hard to find a good angle that didn't depict too much despair. The conditions were hard to look at, but I didn't want to focus solely on the negative side. So I tried to capture moments of resilience, of joy and hope. My goal was to tell a story of the people behind the poverty and filth, to show that these were real people with dignity and strength. Overall, the experience of photographing in India's slums was both eye-opening and humbling. It reminded me of the difficulties that many people around the world are facing each and every day and of the strength that it takes to adapt and survive in such harsh conditions. In the end, I believe my photos helped to tell a story – one of hope in the face of despair, of humanity in the middle of poverty and of resilience despite the odds and in a time of growing inequality, it is our collective responsibility to make sure that we provide the necessary basic amenities to all citizens, regardless of their financial circumstances. The citizens of Rajendra Nagar as well as the other slums in the world surely deserve that", the Photographer says again.

Read also:  Slum dweller in Janakpur

Slum dweller in Janakpur

Read also:  Slum dweller in Janakpur

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 slum area 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.