Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slum Tour Anyone?

I don't know how I feel about this. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world (and let me just thank my friend Joe for pointing me in the direction of the above link). The website looks fantastic (not the look look but the words on the website), where it does seem all PC and progressive...more progressive than PC. Like the term PC which people use pejoratively, the website is saying the word slum doesn't have to be pejorative but just descriptive. It's a slum that has a $665 USD income a year. People are productive and involved in all sorts of livelihoods.

I think I know why this feels strange to me....I hesitate to take photos in the villages where I am a visitor since it feels invasive and disrespectful. The villages in which I work, I have only just stopped asking if I can take photos since the people I work with had started rolling their eyes at me and said, look madam, every time you come here you ask us, and every time we tell you it's ok. Stop asking and we will let you know when it is not ok. So, labeling something a slum tour reeks of disaster tourism for me BUT but but but, this is being done with the permission of the residents and it goes into that debate about images and how aid agencies like showing people as victims and not people and it seems that this tour group is not doing that...80% of the revenue goes to NGOs in the area and they are creating awareness.

I don't know. What do you guys think?


Damian said...

I think this is an excellent idea! I would definitely go along. Do it! And tell us about it!

PS Have you read the Economist's recent piece on Dharavi?

Joe Schollmeyer said...

Hello, Joe here. Thanks to Zehra for throwing this out for comment and thanks to Damian for the great article that I hadn't seen. My personal interest in Dharavi is to produce a documentary about the place, inspired largely by this tour and its message. I am currently organizing a crew and raising money for the film. If anyone out there has any interest in collaborating or resources to bring to bear on this, I would love to hear from you. jschollmeyer@gmail.com I first read about the tour in the Guardian, and mentioned it to an architect friend, Ryan Yaden, who was about to cash in on a round-the-world traveling scholarship he had won at the time. He took the tour, and if you check out his blog, and see the magnitude of his trip, it’s clear that when he says that was one of the most fascinating experiences of the whole year abroad, that’s saying a lot. http://2005rotch.blogspot.com/ Most everyone’s gut reaction to the concept is negative at first, as it does smack of exploitation. But its apparently done very tastefully and respectfully, and it seems to me that its awareness-raising potential about a place that few outsiders dare to tread is very valuable toward a hopeful outcome for people who live in this unfortunate circumstance. It may be dire situation, but many are full of aspiration for opportunity. Most slums are after all, people from the countryside who move to the city in search of better job prospects. Consider also that in Mumbai and other cities with sizable squatter settlements, there is immense pressure to eradicate slums because they are seen as a scourge, they are illegitimately owned, they don't pay taxes, the land is very valuable for development, etc. And beyond human rights issues, consider the contribution Dharavi makes to the greater Mumbai economy, which Zehra pointed out. I think this is a story worth sharing.

Alka said...

Thanks Joe and Damian... Very interesting readings. I think there is also an issue here about a slum as a supposed temporary state of residence. Afterall, most are built on public land, with disposable materials and house migrants or people who otherwise moved into the city. However, sadly it is a permanent state of life for many people now - it is where they live and die and spend at least their entire lives, if not >1 generation. So it is a very real and specific culture that has formed and as such, i don't think it is exploitative to take a tour of it in much the same way one might go and take a tour of a nature reserve. it would be exploitative if it was done without the approval and participation of the slum dwellers but to pretend that slums are not here forever so we should not be partaking in this temporary stain in someone's life (to have lived in a slum) is to deny the reality of what they have become today.

Damian said...

Z, here is a ping back to this post. I hope you'll be writing again soon.