Directly opposite Mumbai’s newest and most expensive commercial developments, lies Dharavi, where as many as one million squatters live in makeshift housing on 535 acres of prime urban land. As property prices are booming and cities are now vying to be “world class,” governments across India, and throughout the world, are facing new pressure to clear settlements like these. But Dharavi and its residents have endured for a century, holding on to what has become some of Mumbai’s most valuable land.
In The Durable Slum, Liza Weinstein draws on a decade of work, including more than a year of firsthand research in Dharavi, to explain how, despite innumerable threats, the slum has persisted for so long, achieving a precarious stability. She describes how economic globalization and rapid urban development are pressurizing authorities to eradicate and redevelop Dharavi—and how political conflict, bureaucratic fragmentation, and community resistance have kept the bulldozers at bay. Today the latest ambitious plan for Dharavi’s transformation has been stalled, yet the threat of eviction remains, and most residents and observers are simply waiting for the project to be revived or replaced by an even grander scheme.
Dharavi’s remarkable story presents important lessons for a world in which most population growth happens in urban slums even as brutal removals increase. It demonstrates that these settlements may be more durable than they appear, their residents retaining a fragile but hard-won right to stay put.
Introduction: A Mansion in the Slum