With about a million people, Dharavi was a key constituency for those wanting to get elected to the Lok Sabha this year. It’s also economically important, with an annual turnover of Rs 30 billion (and that’s just what’s declared).
Dharavi may be poor, but it sits on a prime location as far as property developers are concerned. Successive waves of politicians have attempted projects to move the slum’s residents into new housing, and allow private businesses to move in.
Ballaji, 24, works in the family trade, making flower chains for weddings and other celebrations. He has a six-week old son and is keen that his young family have a secure future. He is dismissive of the politicians who come for their votes. He said the election period is the only time government workers come to help clear the rubbish from inside the slum.
“The politicians ask them to clean up during the election,” said Ballaji. “That is to show them they are doing something, so they can get enough votes from people.”
Ballaji said he did see one politician visit the slum in the run up to the vote, but it was the first he had ever seen her. He didn’t even know who she was. “She was walking around the area,” he said. “I don’t know why she came here, maybe to gather our votes. I saw her only that time.
“Maybe I’ll see her again — maybe after five years.” he added.
Ballaji also works as a slum tour guide. He loves Dharavi, and spends his time showing tourists the richness of the community and its entrepreneurial ethos. But he had few kind words for politicians and developers.
“The government talks about a lot of development projects but we don’t see any proper development here,” he said. “Now we’ve just finished with the election, let’s see — maybe we’ll get the same government or maybe a different government. We are not sure what the government is going to do. Let us see.”
Ballaji said that times were hard for many of those trying to make a living in the slum. His flower business was no longer blooming.
“Business is going down. Nowadays no one wears flowers in their hair,” he said.
“India, of course, is growing, but I don’t know where the money is going. The poor are still struggling. We don’t have proper facilities.”
He added, “I think the money is growing in the politicians’ bank accounts.”
But Ballaji wants to stay in Dharavi with his family, as it has everything he needs. For him, the slum development schemes touted by politicians would just mean him being uprooted from his community.
“The new generation will never look for government support,” he said. “The government is not going to do anything, nothing for us. We work hard to do better.”
Photo: Jon Hurd on Flickr
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