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dharavi

Battling Stereotypes, Hitting the Headlines & Making a Difference

In 2008, Slumdog Millionaire’s success put Mumbai’s slum community on the world stage. Millions around the world felt as if they really were a part of it, engrossed in the film, as they followed Jamal through the crowded streets of the city’s underworld.


Finally being on the world stage, in many ways, was one of the worst things that could have happened to the image of India’s slum residents. For the vast majority of viewers, the pickpockets, gangsters and helplessness depicted in Slumdog will be their permanent recollection whenever they hear that word ‘slum’. They will never visit India, and certainly not any of its underprivileged areas. “Dharavi? Where they blind the child beggars so they’ll earn more? I’ll pass, thank you very much.”

Plastic sits on rooftops waiting to be recycled.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that slums are tough places to live. Dharavi, India’s largest and one of the world’s most notorious, faces a host of problems due to overcrowding – one million people inhabit just over 2 square kilometres, in a population twenty times as dense as the rest of the city.

 Scratch beneath the surface, though, and there’s another side to Dharavi. Amid the narrow alleys and open drains, a thriving ecosystem can be found, fuelled by an entrepreneurial backbone which sees the slum export over $660 million worth of goods every year.

Denied a head start in life because of where they were born, Dharavi’s residents are determined to break the cycle of poverty – and the existence of so many successful business owners, restaurateurs and tech start-ups reveals the community’s strong spirit of determination.

A local-led approach to quality education

Reality Tours & Travel, a socially responsible tour operator founded three years before Slumdog was released, has made it its mission to show people the true nature of India’s slums. Its signature Educational Slum Tour of Dharavi has revealed to visitors from more than 100 countries that there’s more to the area than Slumdog Millionaire’s misery.

The company’s focus on social and urban development issues is refreshing: 80% of profits fund a sister NGO, Reality Gives. Reality Gives has reached over 6,000 children, youth, and adults with their education programmes since 2009 in Dharavi and also Delhi’s Sanjay Colony slum since 2015. Using quality curricula developed through a blend of local and international expertise, their focus is on bringing quality standards from leading overseas institutes to India’s slum communities, all the while monitored closely by a Director of Education recruited from Harvard University.

On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about another educational NGO based in Dharavi; Reality Gives has many peers, which, some argue, reduces people’s ability to create their own change. This is the aspect where Reality Gives takes a unique approach. It hires and trains staff locally to deliver its programmes, with the vast majority of its teachers and operational staff coming from the communities they serve.

This local-led model has produced some remarkable stories of slum residents determined to create their own destiny in life. Karthika Nadar’s journey, which began when she joined Reality Gives’ Dharavi Girls Football Academy when she was 17, is one such example. Having grown up in Dharavi where she still lives with her family today, Karthika had reached a point in her life where she was happy but unable to choose the career she wanted. Employed as a compounder at a local pharmacy, she worked unsociable evening hours for a very modest salary. Her dream had always been to become a teacher and provide education to the community. Karthika took her first step towards this goal by joining the Academy. Quickly developing into a popular leader and seeking further preparation for her goal, she signed up to Reality Gives’ Youth Empowerment Program (a curriculum of English, Computer Classes, and Life Skills, which aims to help young adults tackle the world of employment). This proved to be a turning point for Karthika, who fulfilled her ambition by graduating from the programme and joining Reality Gives as an IT teacher. From the Community Centre where she once studied and now teaches in, she describes the programme as “the chance I needed to develop my English and begin my career. More than just learning, I began to feel strong.”

As Reality Gives continues to grow, its focus will remain on empowering slum residents. Together with Reality Tours & Travel, the two organisations are determined to redefine what the word “slum” means to the rest of the world. Rather than giving handouts to Dharavi, Sanjay Colony, and other underprivileged areas, they want to put educated, empowered residents on the world stage so that they themselves can challenge the stereotypes.

This article was originally published in The Logical Indian

Balaji’s Story: Living & Working In Dharavi Slum

My name is Balaji and I am 27 years old. I live in Dharavi and have worked as a tour guide at Reality Tours and Travel for over 5 years now.  As a local from the slum, I have a lot to say about my neighbourhood –  the way it has changed with time and the changes that have happened to me in this time too by learning new skills in my job.  

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Manoj’s Story: Making a Dream a Reality

My name is Manoj Ramesh Medwal and I was born and brought up in Mumbai. My parents both come from Delhi and I have one elder brother and one younger one. We live together with my mum. My elder brother is married and has two wonderful children. I’m really proud to be a nice uncle. We live in Mahalaxmi, an area in the South of Mumbai, not too far from Dhobi Ghat, the famous open-air laundry place of the city. This is my story… (more…)

What Would The Neighbours Say? A Study Into Community Perceptions Of Slum Tours In Dharavi

Slum tourism has become extremely popular in the 21st century, especially in Mumbai. With its escalating use, throughout media and existing scholarship slum tourism has generated a heated and critical debate especially concerning ethics and its so-called ‘voyeuristic’ nature. However, scholarly research on slum tourism remains limited and fragmented.

Reality Tours & Travel began, first and foremost, to serve the Dharavi Community. To bring people here to challenge the negative stereotypes they held about ‘slums’ and sensitise them to the multilayered, multifaceted cultures, communities and lives being played out in ‘Asia’s largest slum’. To turn the profits we made from taking these tours into tangible, positive change through our sister-NGO, Reality Gives. (more…)

Five TED Talks We Love, And Why We Love Them

Since 1984 ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’ (more commonly known the world over as ‘TED’) have been sharing ‘ideas worth spreading’ relating to all things, from education to business, science to development. In the last 30 years, they’ve shared over 2,400 talks in more than 100 languages which have been viewed 500 million times.

These talks are a regular source of ideas, information and inspiration here in the Reality Group office – here are a few we love, and why we love them. (more…)

What’s Life Like When The Monsoon Comes To Mumbai?

The months of monsoon bring joy to millions of people not only in Mumbai but all over India. The torrential rains arrive after a torrid, long and tiring summer. The monsoon begins during the first week of June in the southwest coast. It then travels up through the Indian state of Kerala, up towards the North and usually reaches the city of Mumbai around the second week of June. (more…)

Ganesh & The Story Behind Maharashtra’s Favourite Festival

India is a very diverse country and every city has its own rich history and culture. A particularly striking aspect of this is the range of different festivals celebrated throughout the country.

One of the biggest festivals celebrated around this time of the year in Mumbai is “Ganesh Chaturti”. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is one of the most famous Hindu Gods and easily identified by his elephant head. He is known as the God of Wisdom and Intellect, but also as “Ek Dant”- one tooth – and “Vighnaharta”- vanquisher of obstacles. (more…)

What I Learned From Two Years in Dharavi: Reflections From Our Former Marketing Director, Nick

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of working in Dharavi: the heart of Mumbai, its center of small scale enterprise, and “one of the largest ‘slums’ in Asia”. Dharavi is an incredibly unique area that outsiders rarely get the opportunity to work in and learn from for such an extended period of time. It is an organically built neighborhood comprised of over 80 different communities that was born out of necessity and now houses up to one million people (who speak over 30 languages and follow six religions) and 15,000 small scale industries. (more…)

How Dharavi Makes A Difference: Eight Surprising Facts About Mumbai’s Largest Slum

Your average Mumbaikar might wonder why Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, has survived, slap bang in the middle of India’s burgeoning financial capital, for so long. As the city has grown and expanded, Dharavi has come to occupy a prime piece of real estate. Why not bulldoze it down and start again?

What people across Mumbai might not know is the way that the slum is influencing their lives; how the million people and over ten thousand businesses Dharavi is home to are a vital part of the Maximum City, rather than a blight upon it. (more…)

If Reality Tours Planned The Royal Visit To Mumbai

Will and Kate are in Mumbai, kicking off their whirlwind trip around India. In 2012, Prince Andrew visited Dharavi with the help of our founder, Krishna Pujari. For this royal visit, however, our services weren’t called upon. But that didn’t stop us from imagining the perfect one day Mumbai tour for the royal couple!

Our itinerary would be a mix of prominent sights tied with British colonial history, local experiences, and an introduction to Mumbai’s temples, markets, and slums. (more…)

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