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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

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 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…)

Is There A Right Way To Respond To Begging?

Mumbai, a city of over eighteen million people, is home to an estimated 300,000 ‘beggars’, people who survive by asking others for money or food in public spaces. Many are children, female or the elderly. A large number are physically maimed. From the bona fide Mumbaikar to the tourist in India for the first time, having to come face to face with this side of the city on a daily basis can, and should, be a cause of great distress, concern and reflection. (more…)

Useful Apps To Help You Make The Most Of Your Trip To India

India is a vast and vibrant country with endless experiences available wherever you look and a culture that is truly unique. Many travelers flock to this birthplace of spirituality, home of mouth-watering cuisine and endless geographical beauty.

However, with so much to experience and such a different way of life to the one visitors are used to, many tourists struggle to navigate the frantic, occasionally over-crowded and somewhat stuffy life that mother India has to offer them. Fortunately, using these five apps can significantly improve your time spent in this wonderful country and help you get around easily and problem free. (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…)

Celebrating 10 Years in Dharavi

On January 4, 2016 Reality Tours and Travel celebrated 10 years of working in Dharavi. To mark the occasion, we’ve created a video that looks at the different ways in which we have impacted some of the lives of the tens of thousands of people who have been a part of our story.

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From Dharavi To Smokey Mountain: What It Takes To Run A Responsible Tour Company

Chris Way, co-founder of Reality Tours, takes us through his work with Smokey Tours in Manila and compares it with the challenges he faced in Dharavi.


I have been acting as a Consultant for Smokey Tours since March 2013, when I visited Manila for the first time. Juliette Kwee, from the Netherlands, who was working as a missionary for a Manila based NGO working in the slums, saw the potential of providing slum tours in the area. The benefits that she saw were the obvious ones- employment opportunities for the tour leaders, tour receipts being used directly to help the people in the area, but also, she wanted to be a connecting agent between visitors wanting to help out and organisations doing work in the slums. (more…)

4 Questions To Quickly Vet Travel Related Organizations

Research is an important aspect of traveling responsibly. If you’re going to support a travel company, whether it’s a hotel or tour operator, you should ideally research them before choosing them. We have created the following list of 4 questions to help guide your research. If it is difficult to find the answers, if the answers are ambiguous or if you don’t like the answers, you might want to reconsider choosing that particular organization.

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Making The Switch To Dharavi: When Adding Value Is Not Just About Profit

Our new CEO, Paul Whittle, discusses what prompted him to leave his comfy job at a major tour operator in London to join us in Dharavi.


“You’re doing WHAT?!”

This sentiment, be it a sense of enduring fascination from friends or a cry of anguish from a long suffering family, has pervaded most of my adult life. Six months after leaving a well paid and highly respectable job in London to go on a bicycle ride from the UK to Turkey this last summer, the exact same reaction was again ringing in my ears. This time two wheels had been exchanged for three as I found myself in a tuk tuk whizzing through the streets of Mumbai to my new home. The daily commute now being to the slightly less luxurious surroundings here in Dharavi, one of Mumbai’s and indeed Asia’s largest slum communities.

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