A Tale of Two Cities

If we stand on the bridge over the railway line at Sion in Mumbai, we are truly between two different worlds.

On one side is the middle class area of Sion, with its wide roads, shops filled with fashionable clothes and toys for children, Domino’s Pizza and Barista coffee outlets, and children riding their bicycles.

On the other side are the narrow lanes of Dharavi, the largest slum area in Asia. Dharavi is a mini- India, with people from all over the country living there.  

When we enter Dharavi, we feel as if we have left Mumbai to enter another city.

I once had occasion to go to the Kumbharwada area, in Dharavi.

On one side of the narrow lane there were the Zopadis or hutments of the Kumbhars, or pot makers. On the other side there was a large, foulsmelling cesspool of stagnated sewage water.

It seemed that some months earlier, a sewage waste pipe had burst and the sewage water had flowed out to the side of the lane.
The pipe had been repaired, but the sewage water had not been drained off.

I asked the women I had gone to meet, why they did not tell the Municipal authorities.
“They do not listen to us.” was the reply.
“Why not?”I asked.
It seemed that the local corporator had told them not to.
I learned that both the local corporator and the MLA belonged to the Congress party, while most of the residents of that area had voted for the BJP.
So much for the corporator or MLA representing all his constituents once he is elected.
“Next time we will vote for the Congress.” they told me.

In the Mumbai suburb of Khar (East) between the Western Express highway and the Khar railway station, there is a large slum area. If you walk through the lanes there, you can see the flags of various political parties on many buildings.

The local social organisations or Mandals are generally affiliated to one or another political party.

I went there once to the home of a girl that I knew. She told me that lately some people belonging to a religious group had been coming every Sunday to their area. There were eight or ten of them and they came from outside that area. They sold religious books and told local people about their religion.
The locals were afraid that they meant to convert them. So they asked for the support of the local SS shakha.
And after that voted for the SS in every election.
Corporators and MLAs have funds which they use for building projects in their constituencies. These are public funds, not private ones. Essentially the tax-payers’ money.
But the money is used as though these are funds provided for election campaigns.
Public toilets are constructed and the name of the corporator prominently displayed on them.
Meeting halls are also built. Roads are repaired.  

And all these welfare projects are situated in areas where the majority citizens vote for that particular corporator.

I have recently read several times, in the media as well as on blogs, about how uneducated voters should be educated on how to vote.

Perhaps educated voters need some instruction, too?

Firstly, they could be educated regarding the need to actually cast their vote– the turn out on voting day, in upper- middle- class educated areas being on the lower side.

Secondly, they might also like a lesson in realpolitiks. They may care to learn that the voters in under-privileged areas cannot just get up and vote for the candidate or party that they like. They have to keep many other factors in mind while deciding whom to vote for.

If educated voters really want these general elections to be different, perhaps they should start thinking of ways to address the problems of the residents of these “second cities” that exist everywhere in India.




  1. Thank u for throwing light on such dark yet real facts!!I thought these were only events that they exagerate in the films…. didnt know if its actually happening!!I promise to learn about the system and then cast a wise vote this time!


  2. “When we enter Dharavi, we feel as if we have left Mumbai to enter another city.” There are such disparities in almost all cities,about which we are totally unaware.
    Forget foreigners, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has surprised many Indians living a shout away from slums and writing about “India” with great authority..for them it is now “slum tourism”…
    As you have rightly said Manju, before we try to ‘educate’ voters living in these parts of ‘second India’ we need to be educated about them and their problems first…and that cannot not happen through sanitised one-night stands!


  3. Indyea- this seems like an interesting tag.:)I will do it a little later on.

    peppy- We do not know of the problems of people less fortunate than ourselves, but living here in the same city where we live.
    If they are uneducated and can not speak up for themselves, it is up to us to speak up for them.


  4. Vinodji- “Slum- tourism” is a good description of the modern attitude towards these areas.
    I am tired of hearing so-called educated people talk as if the solution to any social problem is very simple and straightforward.
    Frequently they know nothing of the pressures that people in underprivileged areas live with.


  5. there are such “slums” everywhere Manju….but may b intensity is less.I dont know what to say, really! we all need to be educated in one or other way…..infact,when any such issue comes to me….every thought goes back to one thing to me! – Being responsible citizens!I remember, when I was at school, social studies – esp history and civics were my fav subjects! I read [infact most of us read] in 7th class discussing abt rights and duties of citizen…imp questions in board exams etc….everyone as a student knows about it….And I still remember all those….one thing I should say is as years go by, I keep discovering new meanings to those, and keep understanding the need for those….how many of us really know and keep up with it?even if 1 among 100 would keep up, is he/she noticed enough to make an impact?? Ya, we can argue saying ocean starts with a drop of water but still it needs to sustained and contained in something to form ocean! haina?Also, since we are so huge in number, its always difficult to manage/control/even see to it that something happens…..its difficult to organise something, and publicize it…..except when the people themselves get involved [it makes everything a lot easier]may b this is irrelavant to topic here but i spmehow end up in this dilemma always…..


  6. each slum i have visited or crossed in the city has the flag of some or the other political party. the kind of living conditions that exist there wud force anyone to vote for the hope of any improvement in them..however small..


  7. Sahaja- You are right- it is difficult to organize something and publicize it, except when the people concerned are involved.
    And finding solutions to their problems is not something that can be undertaken on the spur of the moment when the elections are just a few months away.It has to be a continuous effort.
    Finding solutions does not mean only protest marches and public meetings. It also means constructive projects which need sustained commitment on the part of those involved.


  8. Very true Manju. There are two Indias existing side by side, one stuggling to survive, the other trying to claim their rightful place in the new world order, both unaware or perhaps wary of each other. And no one can fault the slum dwellers for trying to improve their lot by voting for the candidate that delivers.


  9. At least uneducated and poor have an excuse but what’s ours? I remember watching a documentary long back about a slum area in Tamil Nadu where missionary distributed TV and Rs.100 in return the whole village converted to Christianity. Can we blame them? In a country where rich are getting richer and poor, poorer…


  10. Solilo- I do not blame the slum-dwellers for voting for those who help them.But do blame the political parties for taking advantage of their weakness.
    Likewise, in the example you have given, I do not blame the poor people who converted.I do, however, blame the Christian Missionaries who bribed them to do so.
    It says a lot about their religion that they have to resort to such tactics.


  11. I remember reading this from your archives, but had not commented on it at that time. I had forgotten to mention the religious zealots who merrily convert the people for a paltry sum and the much like the politicians forget about helping them later. And so desperate are these poor people that they would do anything for a few rupees. Like you I am mad at the zealots too.


    1. I’m so sorry to be late in responding to your comment, but I wasn’t online for a few days….

      Yes, conversions are a real problem in Mumbai slum areas- perhaps the situaton is more or less similar in other Indian cities too.

      Many times protecton from religious zealots is the reason people support certain parties, even though they may not agree with their politics.


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