Dharavi, as they say, is a billion dollar a year enterprise constantly being worked upon by its residents. No wonder we did not witness what we were expecting: a population in despair; widespread lockdowns; and, a complacent population or administration basking in the glory of a “model” in times of a crisis. However, we uncovered the long-term travails of the people.
Job loss and unemployment rocked every part of India during the lockdown, but for Dharavi’s residents, it was different. Here, lockdowns not just killed opportunities, but also created a situation where they found that their future opportunities were also curtailed. It was the stigma of being residents of Dharavi. It was not a trophy for the victor, which the outside world has been celebrating.
Rupali Veerkar of Vijay Nagar was a housekeeping worker and the sole breadwinner for her family of six members. Her daughter is partially blind. But without regular income, she could not take her for treatment. “I applied for a housekeeping job in Worli. The moment I said I live on 90 Feet Road in Dharavi, I was refused the job,” she said, indicating how the pandemic was playing with their lives. This was an inherent contradiction of the “Dharavi model”. Every family shared their own tales of social ostracisation.
Dharavi’s 15,000-odd small factories have closed down. At Kumbharwada—a hub of small pottery factories—we met potters David Suleman and Deepak Singhadia. A large range of earthen pottery products—from pots to
unsold in their
“We are selling our products for less than half the price, but now even that is not possible. The season of festivals is just passing by under the lockdown,” Suleman said referring to these festivals when their products would be in high demand. “This is our existential crisis,” Singhadia said. Interestingly, 0.1 million
Sunny Madav Tikre’s mother from Dharavi was forced to share a bed with two patients in the hospital. She died a few days after admission
The monsoon rains have made life even more unlivable for people living in Dharavi amid the COVID-19 pandemic migrants had already left Dharavi before the infection peaked.
Amid the economic emergency and the lingering ostracisation that will choke future opportunities, hunger is haunting hundreds. While some families said they never got grains from the government, many families admitted that after the initial period of lockdown, government agencies and many voluntary organisations distributed dry ration. But this too stopped as time went by.
Many families told us how they had reduced their daily food intake. Many have reduced milk in their diet for children, while others had completely avoided non-vegetarian foods. Some had restricted their number of meals. Sharp reduction in food intake can lead to reduction of immunity levels, which in turn, may take away hard-fought gains achieved so far against COVID.
For female residents, the manifestation of the economic crisis was also a hygiene issue. We met many women who had stopped using safe sanitary napkins.
They had to prioritise food in face of shrinking savings. Mariyam Rashid, a senior official of SHED Foundation, a Dharavi-based non-profit, said government agencies had stopped condom distribution since the lockdown. “This will obviously lead to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexuallytransmitted infections. Cases of domestic violence too have gone up. When males are at home all the time, and in such cramped settings, it obviously leads to unhealthy familial relations. Females have borne the brunt of the COVID-induced lockdown here,” said Rashid.
In face of this overwhelming pandemic, treatment for other ailments are being ignored. Kailash Gaud, an IMP practising in Dharavi, said, “Tuberculosis (TB), for instance, is highly prevalent in slums. But all government TB-medicine distribution centres are closed. This will have a huge impact, especially for drugresistant TB patients as these drugs cost many thousands of rupees per month in the open market.”