MUMBAI – The worst nightmare of Mumbaikars came true when at least two Covid-19 positive cases have been reported from Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, nestling in the belly of Mumbai, here on Thursday.
While one 53-year old man with no history of foreign travel was found positive for coronavirus and has reportedly succumbed in a government hospital late on Wednesday, another was found positive on Thursday (April 2).
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with a police team promptly sealed off the entire building No. 9 in Punjabi Camp, Sion-Koliwada area today amidst howls of protests and abuses.
Officials have so far chosen to play down the incidents and are not confirming the death of the 53-year old man ostensibly to prevent panic in Dharavi, considered the most congested place on the planet.
Started as a small settlement way back in 1880, Dharavi – literally meaning ‘quick-sand’ – is spread across barely 2.25 sq. kms of prime real estate in the city, housing around 200,000 families, plus a host of small or cottage industries functional 24×7, and with mostly common toilets.
In some places, the slums are as tall as two, three or four-storied structures, and there are a few resettlement colonies, slum housing schemes dotting the place, with little or no open spaces.
“It is this congestion that makes Dharavi most vulnerable in pandemics like Covid-19. The norms of ‘social distancing’ don’t exist in a place where often 8-10 persons live in a 100 sq. feet tenement, people queue up for basics like water supply or toilets, ration shops, etc,” said a local plastic businessman Salim Shaikh, living in Antop Hill.
Sprawling from Mahim on Western Railway (WR) to Sion-Matunga stations on Central Railway, a portion of the city’s Mithi River drains into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim Creek in Dharavi.
Besides the families from all over India who have made Dharavi their home since the past over 135 years of its existence, the area boasts of over 20,000 small-medium business units ranging from textiles to fabrication, pottery to leather, recycling, plastics, etc, generating an estimated Rs 7000 crore per annum.
In fact, some of the goods manufactured here, especially in the leather and artefacts segments, command a global market for their superior quality.
The 2008 British film by Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”, which bagged 8 Oscars, was set against the backdrop of Dharavi and had many children actually picked up from the periphery of this slum.
Earlier, a Bollywood National Award Winning thriller, “Dharavi” (1993) by Sudhir Mishra had hit the silver screens, and over the years many Indian films have been shot with Dharavi as the thematic backdrop.
Prior to that, an Australian convict on the run, Gregory David Roberts, escaped to India around 1980 and after spending many years hiding in Mumbai slums, penned his experiences in a book, “Shantaram” (2003), which proved to be a runaway hit.
This spurred enthusiastic locals to launch the world’s first ‘slum tours’ including one called ‘SlumGod Tours’, who enjoy a regular international clientele, comprising intellectuals and the elite, all excitedly slumming it out in Dharavi.