Slums in India

History and Background

Dharavi MapIndia MapThe history of slums in India is vast. In a nation of over a billion people, where more than a quarter live on less than a dollar a day, the level of poverty is enormous. However, slums sprung up all around the country for primarily the same reasons. In order to give a more in depth analysis of the history of these slums we can focus on the slum of Dharavi in Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia.

            The land that now constitutes Mumbai was originally seven islands. (Slums) When Portuguese and British settlers arrived in India, they colonized these islands and used them as a major port because of Mumbai’s naturally deep bay. As India’s population began to grow, more people flocked to the cities, which caused the major expansion of Mumbai. Tanners, fishermen, and workers of other crafts all came to Mumbai in order to make money and support their families. As all these people came, the city started to run out of room. The island of Mumbai is only twelve square miles, and the greater Mumbai metropolitan area has an area of about 250 square miles. As the population increased into the millions, the poorest residents could not find affordable housing as prices rose due to increased demand. Instead, they built cheap, makeshift houses in areas around the city that would turn into today’s slums.

            In 1950, slums were small and mainly located near factories and places of work. By 1980, nearly half of the residents of Mumbai lived in these slums.  Today, the seven million slum residents of Mumbai account for sixty percent of its population. (Indian) It is not difficult to see why so many people live in places like Dharavi. The relative low cost of slums compared to other forms of housing have pushed more and more members of India’s lower class to them. Trying to survive in this low cost housing is the only way that many can have enough money left over for meals.


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