The Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India.

The numerous and growing slums surrounding Indian cities garnered global attention after the smash success of the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire. The movie graphically portrayed the dangerous living conditions of a fictional slum outside Mumbai. Though Slumdog had a fairytale Hollywood happy ending, the unfortunate truth is that the harsh life in shantytowns for 22% of Indian urban dwellers. This accounts for 6 million children up to age 6.

In Mumbai alone, over half of the urban population lives in slums that account for barely 13% of the city’s total land area. This fact is representative of the cramped conditions which slum dwellers abide. Slums are regularly razed without warning, leaving thousands of people homeless overnight. Municipal provision of water and other utilities is basically non-existent in the slums, although some enterprising individuals tap local supplies for the benefit of the slum’s “neighborhood.” The uncontrolled nature of slums allows for gang and druglord control, and human rights abuses such as human trafficking are rampant.

Instead of attempting to aid slum dwellers, most city governments adopt a position favoring demolition, and refuse to deal with slum leadership or better living conditions. International humanitarian efforts on behalf of the UN and others failed to address the scale of the problem. As seen with both resettlement and rehabilitation aims, the reach of these programs barely extends to the tens of thousands. Funding and outreach are seemingly impossible without coordination from slum leaders, municipal officials, and international and other nongovernmental organizations.

Slums arise mainly due to the rapid and unregulated nature of urbanization in the Indian subcontinent. Although they are not unique to India, the large population and growing economy there makes Indian slums among the most notorious in the world. If India wishes to continue its dynamic economic transition, it cannot continue to ignore the abhorrent circumstances in which many of its citizens live.

Sanitary conditions inside the slums are poor.

Sanitary conditions inside the slums are poor.