Pure Politics


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Nearly 1400-1500 families of potters, residing in small houses (with workshops on the ground floor with residential space above), located on about 22 acres of land in Dharavi are in a dilemma since even if the proposed redevelopment plan is successful, it would be a severe blow to their survival.

The Kumbharwada is made up of five lanes, dotted with over 120 kilns. The potters here still make use of traditional methods of pottery. They use indigenous red and grey clay and bake the moulds in traditional kilns. They use waste forms and sheets of cardboards to light up the kilns. Some of the local household women are also involved in the traditional earthen lamps( diyas), who make them at their home and sell them to the traders.

Besides potters, there are also those running small tanneries since the leather and garments industry is another backbone of the Dharavi dwellers. While their work is already beset with the environmental issue, due to generation of offensive smoke, these small entrepreneurs are also worried that once the redevelopment work begins, they will have to wind up their shop since no one would give them space to live as well as carry out their trade. So while outsiders feel that Asia’s largest slum colony should be transformed into a modern housing colony, the potters, tanners and others prefer to carry on with their activities as it is since it is a question of their livelihood.

The potters have been carrying out the diya-making business for generations after their forefathers migrated from Gujarat centuries ago. The diya selling business is carried out by the people from all the communities, Hindu and Muslim in particular. They have been supplying Diyas, not only to different parts of India, but have also been exporting earthen lamps to UK, China, USA, Canada and even UAE, for generations.

The kiln owners prepare clay products in various shapes, sizes and designs. Usually they make earthen pots, bowls and flower vases. However during festivals they prepare traditional pots used for worshipping during Navaratri (a Hindu festival when the Goddess Durga is worshipped) and diyas that are lit during Diwali. Some potters also make Ganesh idols during Ganesh festivals (the festival of Elephant-headed god).

Slum redevelopment, be it any locality, always faces inherent bouts of resistance owing to conflicting interests at play when any private builder or corporate entity takes on the task of going about it from scratch.

Focusing on how the dynamics play out in Asia’s biggest slum pocket, namely Dharavi, housed in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, a story of how different pressure groups within the slum being at cross purposes with each other directly hinder the redevelopment process unfolds. For example, at the foot of the flyover that links the Sion Hospital highway with Mahim (East), we have Kumbarwada.

Kumbarwada is the house of the potter community who cater not only to earthen pots and utensils but also lamps that are in high demand during Diwali and other festive occasions. Currently, the potter community is facing competition from other quarters from beyond the borders of Maharashtra in sale of earthenware. Besides, there are some second and third generations of Kumbhars who, having got educated in the city opt out of their community business in favor of white collar office jobs.

The Kumbhars are however, faced with a vexatious issue owing to residents in the neighborhood taking up cudgels citing environmental concerns that get thrown up when the hazardous smoke emanating from their manufacturing location drifts not only to the adjoining areas but also as far as the civic hospital situated at the main road. Now, one may ask, how does this disturb the slum redevelopment process? To explain it, there are not just Kumbhars, but also tanners who cater to job works for the leather industry, and garment manufacturers catering to out sourced assignments from branded clothing firms.

When the residents who have settled there over the decades press for redevelopment of the slum, these small scale industry operators who are able to cater to big firms at low costs owing to cheap labor and also at no extra cost that incurs with environmental hazards left unattended, have an axe to grind. If the redevelopment work goes as per schedule and gets completed, these industries will have to look for alternate venues that might cost them heavily besides their having to lose out on a captive labor force.

Consequently, this group of entrepreneurs grease the palms of the authorities to ensure that the status quo is not permitted to change under one pretext or the other.

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