Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are seeking out the Slum areas of Mumbai in India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Slums of India and the areas of slum and shanty towns in India has been of great interest for the photographer through the years. In central Mumbai just few kilometers away from the Andheri airport you can find the Dharavi slum. When visiting Mumbai it is hard not to ignore the slum areas of the city as seen in the slums of mumbai pictures.
Slums of India and the areas of slum and shanty towns in India has been of great interest for the photographer through the years. In central Mumbai just few kilometers away from the Andheri airport you can find the Dharavi slum. When visiting Mumbai it is hard not to ignore the slum areas of the city as seen in the slums of mumbai pictures.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Slum areas of Mumbai (Bombay) in India

Slum areas arise within the city, where people live in small shanty houses made of simple materials. Dharavi is one of the locations in Mumbai, India, that the photographer covered for a photo essay. It houses one of the largest slums in the world and the slum reflect life in the slums very well. A photo walk through the city's wide open slums tells you that despite a growing economy in India the urbanization still has its toll in India's many cities, which can also be seen in the slum area photos of the areas in Mumbai.

What is slum life?

The word 'Slum' is often used to describe informal settlements within cities that have inadequate housing and squalid, miserable living conditions. They are often overcrowded, with many people crammed into very small living spaces. All slums are not the same and some provide better living conditions than others.

Dharavi, a slum in India
The slum of Dharavi
is a slum that was founded in 1882s during the British colonial era and this particularly slum grew in part because of an expulsion of factories and residents from peninsular city center by colonial government and from rural poor migrating into urban Mumbai, then called 'Bombay'.
At India's independence from colonial rule in 1947, Dharavi had grown to be the largest slum in Mumbai and all of India and it still had a few empty spaces, which continued to serve as waste-dumping grounds for operators across the city. Mumbai, meanwhile, continued to grow as a city and soon Dharavi was surrounded by the city and became a key hub for informal economy. When photographing in Dharavi it is easy to see that it currently is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, diverse settlement. Dharavi's total population estimates vary between 300,000 to about 1 million people.

Dharavi is considered one of the largest slums in the world and has an active informal economy in which numerous household enterprises employ many of the slum residents and it exports goods around the world. Leather, textiles and pottery products are among the goods made inside Dharavi by the slum residents.

As a photographer going into the slum of Dharavi, it is understandable that Dharavi has suffered through many incidences of epidemics and other disasters.
Dharavi is located between Mumbai's two main local railways, Western Railway and Central Railway. West of Dharavi are the districts of Mahim and Bandra and north of Dharavi is the Mithi River, which flows into the Arabian Sea. South and east of Dharavi are the districts of Zion and Matunga. Both the location and poor drainage make Dharavi prone to flooding during the rainy season.

Bandra and Wadala, other slum areas in Mumbai
Mumbai has been one of the centers of India's urbanization for 200 years. At the middle of the 19th century, after decades of urban growth under East India Company and British Raj, the city's population reached half a million. The urban area then covered mostly the southern extension of Mumbai peninsula, the population density was over ten times higher than London at that time. Most parts of Mumbai faced an acute shortage of housing and serious problems with the provision of water, sanitation and drainage. Residential areas were segregated in Mumbai between European and 'Native' residential quarters.

Slums in India were from the beginning heavily concentrated in areas meant for 'Native' Indian population and it attracted no planning or London-like investment for quality of life of its inhabitants. Urban poverty encourages the formation and demand for slums. With rapid shift from rural to urban life which can be seen in Wadala, poverty migrates to urban areas. The urban poor arrives with hope and very little of anything else and he or she typically has no access to shelter, basic urban services and social amenities. Slums are often the only option for the urban poor.

Slums of Mumbai and slum Bombay typically begin at the outskirts of a city like in the Bandra and Wadala area of Mumbai. Over time, the city may expand past the original slums, enclosing the slums inside the urban perimeter. New slums sprout at the new boundaries of the expanding city, usually on publicly owned lands, thereby creating an urban sprawl mix of formal settlements, industry, retail zones and slums. This makes the original slums valuable property, densely populated with many conveniences attractive to the poor. At their start, slums are typically located in least desirable lands near the town or city, that are state owned or philanthropic trust owned or religious entity owned or have no clear land title. In cities located over a mountainous terrain, slums begin on difficult to reach slopes or start at the bottom of flood prone valleys, often hidden from plain view of city center but close to some natural water source.

"In cities located near lagoons, marshlands and rivers, slums start at banks or on stilts above water or the dry river bed, in flat terrain, slums begin on lands unsuitable for agriculture, near city trash dumps or next to railway tracks and other shunned undesirable locations"

With Mumbai the second largest urban agglomeration in the world is located in India, making it a major challenge in terms of urbanization. Fortunately, Earth's largest urban space provides plenty of inspiration as a prosperous megacity that runs like a well-oiled machine proving that even extreme urbanization can be overcome. But this wealth must not be confined to the highest social class. In the Indian capital of Mumbai, the economic capital of the South Asian republic, are the most expensive residential palaces in the country, but also the largest slum in Asia. Urban poverty, slums and limited access to safe drinking water and sanitation are just a few of the 'Herculean tasks' that bring increasing urbanization and modernization rates for the country. Smart urban development strategies and clever government programs are needed to turn challenges into opportunities.

Fortunately, some such initiatives have already been launched. 'Housing for All India' had set itself a very ambitious goal that in year 2022, affordable housing should be provided for every poor household. The project envisages the construction of 20 million houses in urban areas in more than 2,500 cities and the funding and implementation should be through a combination of public and private initiatives, such as loan-linked grants and housing, which will be influenced by the beneficiaries.

Characteristics of slum areas in India
A slum is a highly populated urban residential area consisting of densely packed housing units of weak build quality and often associated with poverty. Slum dwellers in India regularly deals with problems such as lack of clean water, constant migration at slums, no sewage or waste disposal facilities, pollution and unsanitary living conditions. High levels of pollution, lack of basic needs and room-crowding are some of the basic characteristics of slum housing and substandard housing structures. One can see the places where the people live, some of the work they do and how they live their daily life. Incredible and unimaginable at the same time.

The recycling businesses going on in the Dharavi slum are quite industrious, as well as other businesses such as pottery making and leather goods. The women were washing clothes, shopping for groceries, selling food in the markets. The men and boys were building new walls on houses, digging drains, collecting plastic, paper, cardboard and metal and bagging it in batches, to take to recycling plants. So much happening down every street and alleyway.

Firstly the people are busy working as there are three major industries pottery making, leather and recycling. It certainly is not a way of life any of us would want but it does give you a much better perspective of their lives. They are people looking after their families and trying to improve their lives the best they can.

Largest slum areas in Mumbai:
• Dharavi
• Mankhurd-Govandi
• Kurla-Ghatkopar
• Dindoshi
• Bhandup-Mulund

Spread over 600 acres of land this slums is a prime location in Mumbai with 4 to 5 railway stations located nearby. For two decades now, the mill­ion or so residents of Dharavi, one of the largest slum clusters in the world, have dreamt of a life of greater dignity, of owning a house, not having to wait in long queues for water and using public toilets, escaping the gutter-lined streets and the poverty and disease

This slum is yet another densely populated slums where over 500,000 people live in a 4 km² area. The slums here are more densely populated then Dharavi and the population suffers from underlying health conditions.

It is difficult to imagine that the Kurla-Ghatkopar belt in Mumbai is actually is a range of hillocks, that have many landslide accidents duting the monsoon and there are around 75 large slum settlements from Kurla to Ghatkopar.

In 1986, people were brought into Dindoshi which seemed as it was, the middle of nowhere. Plots were marked out on open land and allotted to families. There was no electricity, no pathways, no drains, though water taps and toilets were being provided on an adhoc basis. Today Dindoshi is a location in the suburb of Malad, continues to grow and will slowly merge with other informal settlements surrounding it.

This suburb in the north-east of Mumbai, Maharashtra, India that comes under zone railway station on the Central Railway line of the Mumbai Suburban Railway. It was first railway station of Mumbai Suburban district on the central railway line. Garbage vans hardly come to slum and rubbish gets piled up for days resulting in spread of illnesesses and the sewage lines are clogged and the area gets flooded during the monsoon.

Shanty towns and materials
Shanty homes are often built hurriedly, on ad hoc basis, with materials unsuitable for housing. Often the construction quality is inadequate to withstand heavy rains, high winds or other local climate and location. Paper, plastic, earthen floors, mud-and-wattle walls, wood held together by ropes, straw or torn metal pieces as roofs are some of the materials of construction. In some cases, brick and cement is used, but without attention to proper design and structural engineering requirements and various space, dwelling placement bylaws and local building codes may also be extensively violated and overcrowding is another characteristic of slums.

"Many dwellings are single room units, with high occupancy rates. Each dwelling may be cohabited by multiple families and 5 and more persons may share a one-room unit, where the room is used for cooking, sleeping and living. Overcrowding is also seen near sources of drinking water, cleaning and sanitation where one toilet may serve dozens of families"

See this video about slum areas in India made by Hindustan Times.

"- As I stepped into the labyrinthine alleys of Dharavi, Mumbai's largest slum, I was acutely aware that this was no ordinary tourist destination. It wasn't about voyeuristic poverty tourism – it was about understanding the heartbeat of a thriving community that defies adversity.
Dharavi is often misunderstood as a place of misery. However, as I walked through its narrow lanes, I witnessed resilience, resourcefulness and an indomitable spirit. The people here are not victims – they are creators, entrepreneurs and artists", the Photographer says.

"- Dharavi isn't just a slum – it's a testament to human resilience, creativity and community bonds. As I left, I carried with me stories of hope and the unwavering spirit of Mumbai's unsung heroes. The slums I have visited in India are like cities in themselves, where daily life evolves through the day and as a photographer not only the people are interesting to photograph but also the wide variety of colors in plastic and the patterns of the roof tops are interesting subjects to photograph", the Photographer says again.

Read also:  Slum children of Dharavi

Slum children of Dharavi

Read also:  Slum children of Dharavi

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a slum area in Mumbai. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.