A boy is looking out from his home near Rajabali Chawl Road in Dharavi, India. It is located in the heart of the city, squeezed between two railway lines. On one square kilometer, one-to-three-story books of concrete, sheet metal or plastic lined up seamlessly, Mumbai's largest slum and one of the largest in the world.
India's biggest slum, the Dharavi is spread out on 557 acres in the central area of Mumbai, India. This photographical and vibrant place caught the eye of photographer Kristian Bertel, who ventured into the narrow lanes of Dharavi with his camera.
Dharavi, a society in itself
An astonishing 55 percent of Mumbai's population live in shantytowns and slums, and the largest slum in Mumbai, and in all of Asia, is Dharavi. Established in 1933 atop reclaimed marshland, it incorporates 1.7 square kilometers sandwiched between Muimbai's two major railway lines and is home to more than one million people. While it may look a bit shambled from the outside, the maze of dusty alleys and sewer-lined streets of this city-within-a-city are actually a collection of of abutting settlements.
Overlooking Dharavi from above is a vivid scenery of blue and brown colors. From the plane you can see first of all Dharavi not Mumbai's temple, the Hotel Taj Mahal Palace or the Bollywood studios. With its many huts, the slum resembles the scaled-up tank of a centuries-old turtle. Even on the journey from the airport to the center, he can not be overlooked.
Slum inhabitants from different parts of India
In each part of the slum inhabitants from different parts of India, and with different trades, have set up homes and tiny factories. Potters from Saurasthra live in one area, Muslim tanners in another, embroidery workers from Uttar Pradesh work alongside metal-smiths, while other workers recycle plastics as women dry passadams in the searing sun. Some of these thriving industries even export their wares. In addition to the traditional pottery and textile industries in Dharavi, there is an increasingly large recycling industry, processing recyclable waste from other parts of Mumbai.
This is one of the many sewing factories, which can be found in Dharavi, India. It is estimated that as much as sixty percent of all garment production in Asia takes place within this. A number likely higher in India, where the informal workforce accounts for over ninety percent of economic activity. This informal garment sector is made up of reservoirs of migratory workers.
Mumbai is housing one of the largest slums in the world
Dharavi, also spelled Daravi, Darravy, Dorrovy is a locality in Mumbai, India. It houses one of the largest slums in the world. Dharavi slum was founded in 1882s. Dharavi is situated between Mumbai's two main suburban railway lines, the Western and Central Railways. To its west are Mahim and Bandra, and to the north lies the Mithi River, which empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim Creek. To its south and east are Sion and Matunga. Both its location and poor drainage systems make Dharavi particularly vulnerable to floods during the wet season.
Mostly it is minorities and members of the Dalit which are formerly the untouchable caste, who flock to urban centers from less developed regions of the country to escape poverty and discrimination. These invisible members of the global assembly line exist in the murky territory of contracted and subcontracted garment orders, in an increasingly competitive buyer-driven industry of fast-fashion. In an effort to keep up with constant price cutting and short lead times by large retailers, factories employed by the foreign companies will subcontract orders into the informal sector, where workers exist utterly beyond the reach of any labour laws and ethical industry standards. This is a portrait of a young man in Dharavi.
Life in the slum of India
Up close, life in the slums seems strikingly normal to photograph. Residents pay rent, most houses have kitchens and electricity, and building materials range from flimsy corrugated-iron shacks to permanent, multistorey concrete structures. 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. This melting pot of people, work places and production areas are altogether what makes Dharavi a unique place to experience. Both as a tourist but also as a photographer.
It is true that one misses a big piece of Mumbai's reality when one does not visit the slum. Dharavi is home to about one million people. And in the 2,000 slums of the city, live more than 60 percent of the population. This is a photo of Dharavi in India taken by the photographer.
People from all over India live in Dharavi
When passing through the residential space of Dharavi, the photographer undoubtedly felt the sense of community spirit that exists in the area. People from all over India live in Dharavi, and this diversity is apparent in the temples, mosques and churches that stand side by side. A walk through Dharavi's narrow alleys is quite an adventure, and you will leave with an enlightened sense of the purpose and determination that exists in the area.
Dharavi has severe problems with public health. Water access derives from public standpipes stationed throughout the slum. Additionally, with the limited lavatories they have, they are extremely filthy and broken down to the point of being unsafe. Mahim Creek is a local river that is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation causing the spread of contagious diseases. In this image a woman on the street in Dharavi has been photographed.
Mumbai, as the center for urbanization
Mumbai has been one of the centers of India's urbanization for 200 years. At the middle of the 19th century, after decades of urban growth under East India Company and British Raj, the city's population reached half a million. The urban area then covered mostly the southern extension of Mumbai peninsula, the population density was over 10 times higher than London at that time. Most parts of Mumbai faced an acute shortage of housing and serious problems with the provision of water, sanitation and drainage. Residential areas were segregated in Mumbai between European and 'native' residential quarters. Slums were heavily concentrated in areas meant for 'native' Indian population, and it attracted no planning or London-like investment for quality of life of its inhabitant.
In Dharavi, many small businesses have settled, about 15,000. The photographer is seeing into to an open door, and he enters the gray concrete hut. Inside are two men, fogged with dust and smoke. Their upper bodies are sooty and sweaty, they carry the traditional waistcloth, the lunghi, around the waist. These men are soaking and washing clothes in a factory in Dharavi, India. This image is representing the photographer's inside look of Dharavi in Mumbai, India.
Photographing the narrow lanes of Dharavi
From the main road leading through Dharavi, the place makes a desperate impression. However, once having entered the narrow lanes Dharavi proves that the prejudice of slums as dirty and underdeveloped does not fit real living conditions. Sure, communal sanitation blocks that are mostly in a miserable condition and overcrowded space do not comfort the living. Inside the huts, it is, however, very clean, and some huts share some elements of beauty. Nice curtains at the windows and balconies covered by flowers and plants indicate that people try to arrange their homes as cosy and comfortable as possible.
The photographer goes into the tangle of alleyways by pushing through a gap between two huts. So far it smells like everywhere in Mumbai, the megacity of 18 million people. After hot spent air and iron. The permanent horn stops, and also the hum of the motors sets. Compared to the outside, it is amazingly quiet here. Cars have no place in narrow streets. You go on foot. In this image an Indian man is carrying some barrels in Dharavi, India.
Images of recycling businesses in Dharavi, India
Walking through Dharavi, home to an estimated 20,000 single room factories, it is difficult to find anything that is not recycled here. As you walk along the dark alleys of Dharavi as a photographer, you come across workshops and factories recycling everything from plastic and paper to soap and candles. As you can see on the image above oil barrels are also recycled, where a man is carrying used oil barrels on his shoulder. And the Dharavi factories are also recycles vegetable oil tin cans that are used in every household in India. These two-litre containers are hammered back into shape, dipped in scalding water, cleaned and then polished. A few travel operators offer guided tours through Dharavi, showing the industrial and the residential part of Dharavi and explaining about problems and challenges Dharavi is facing. These tours give a deeper insight into a slum in general and Dharavi in particular.
Migrants from the Bihar region of India, now bonded labourers in factories in Dharavi, Mumbai. Most have left their homes and families in rural regions of the country only to join the growing ranks of the urban poor in order to earn a living. In this image a tired brick worker has been portrayed while he is taking a break in Dharavi, Maharashtra, India. He is one of the many workers in Dharavi, India.
Impressions of Dharavi, India
From the main road leading through Dharavi, the place makes a desperate impression. However, once having entered the narrow lanes Dharavi proves that the prejudice of slums as dirty, underdeveloped does not fit real living conditions. Sure, communal sanitation blocks that are mostly in a miserable condition and overcrowded space do not comfort the living. Inside the huts, it is, however, very clean, and some huts share some elements of beauty. There is a disagreement if Dharavi is the largest slum in Mumbai. Some sources claim other slums in Mumbai have grown to become larger than Dharavi. Other sources disagree and rank Dharavi as the largest slum in India.
On his way thorugh Dharavi the photographer leads further along paths, at the edges of which are tonnages and sacks, filled with hangers or attachments of spray cans. Almost the entire Mumbai plastic waste is recycled in Dharavi. Cleaned, shredded, melted. The industry here invites every day 4,000 tons, including international companies. In this image a man is working in a garage in Dharavi.
Images and photos from Dharavi in Mumbai, India
In a collection of photos from India the photographer Kristian Bertel has photographed the daily life in India, including Dharavi. During his latest journey to India he was spending several days in this area of Mumbai, India. "- Photographing people in the cities is a theme in photography that has a lot of appeal to me, because I generally find people as an interesting subject to photograph. In my work and on my journeys I continue to explore what makes a great portrait photo by looking at the three key elements of any great photo, light, composition, and a moment. As a photographer I'm interested in how to take portraits and pictures that tell a story", the photographer says.
To understand the ins and outs of the garment industry. Along the way, the photographer understood that the many factories are a litany of unregistered commercial establishments deeply woven into India’s garment industry, producing merchandise largely destined for retailers abroad. In this photo a woman in Dharavi has been portrayed.
Images of neighborhoods in India
Kristian Bertel is a curious and dedicated photographer, who travel to most places in the world photographing people and their cities. "- In my photographs I try to take the photos the way that I was seeing the scene, so the images and my imagery always stays true to what I have experienced", he says. His images have been shown online as photo essays documenting many aspects of the daily life particularly in India. He works as a photographer as a stringer and he is available for editorial assignments all over Europe, Asia, Africa and in the Middle East.
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More images from India
If you are interested to see more images and imagery from India, you can see one of the slideshows, which also appears on the photographer's website.
See the slideshow | press here