Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NYT: Taking the Slum Out of 'Slumdog'

Many of the scenes from the blockbuster "Slumdog Millionaire" were shot in the outskirts of Mumbai, in Dharavi. But NYT OP-ED contributors suggest that the images from the movie do not portray the truth about Dharavi:

Dharavi is all about such resourcefulness. Over 60 years ago, it started off as a small village in the marshlands and grew, with no government support, to become a million-dollar economic miracle providing food to Mumbai and exporting crafts and manufactured goods to places as far away as Sweden.

No master plan, urban design, zoning ordinance, construction law or expert knowledge can claim any stake in the prosperity of Dharavi. It was built entirely by successive waves of immigrants fleeing rural poverty, political oppression and natural disasters. They have created a place that is far from perfect but has proved to be amazingly resilient and able to upgrade itself. In the words of Bhau Korde, a social worker who lives there, “Dharavi is an economic success story that the world must pay attention to during these times of global depression."

The authors of this article are researchers with PUKAR - Partners for urban knowledge, action & research, based in Mumbai. PUKAR seeks to "generate new urban knowledge by encouraging maximum participation of Mumbai’s citizens in this process" through such initiatives as youth knowledge production (democratizing research to engage youth in learning) and neighbourhood projects (encouraging citizens to write their own ethnographies, narrating their own histories).

Slums in Mumbai and around the world certainly contain poverty, suffering, and desperation, but the people who live in these places are not just victims. Rather they are actors in the world, and sometimes from desperation can come resourcefulness and innovation from which we could all learn. Perhaps this is a theme of the movie that does ring true.

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