Dharavi is home to a population of between 300,000 to 1 million people. Spread over 535 acres it is one of the largest slums in the world. Yet here exists a recycling industry worth an estimated US$650m creating a hive of activity and cottage industry.
As part of our Mumbai trip, we had the opportunity to spend a few hours in Dharavi visiting the potters, leather workers, soap makers, and material dyers and printers.
First up we’re the Gujarati Potters who have trained as artisans through the generations. Spinning pots by wheel, hand or in moulds, these potters are turning out 50-100 pots a day. All the clay is brought down from Gujarat and the ovens run on cottonseed. It’s almost Diwali so small lights and brightly painted candle pots are being made in the thousands. It’s hot work stoking the ovens and the smoke drifts across the whole area as they bake.
Next up we meet the plastics recyclers. One groups collects the plastics, then they are sorted, cleaned and shredded. Once they’re ready they are bagged up and set back to the villages to be melted and recycled. Wire is also stripped and the metal melted into silver ingots.
The large material suppliers sent their material to Dharavi to dye and print the materials so they’re ready to make clothes. Wax printing produce strong patterns, which emerge as the material is dyed and the wax melted off with hot water. Beautiful bright coloured material hang on wooden poles as they dry.
Finally we visit the leather makers. The skins are brought in, the hair burnt off and stripped, the leather tanned, treated and dyed. Beautiful leather goods are produced and sold on-site as well as exported overseas.
Dharavi is an active hive to activity. Inhabitants live closely alongside the businesses and have done for the 50-60 years it has existed. Artisans pass the skills through the generations and the closed community welcomed us and we felt honoured to be able to witness their hard work.