Death in the slum in India
Posted by Tomski on April 7, 2020, 7:52 pm
A series of coronavirus deaths in India’s biggest slum has panicked authorities and raised a difficult question: how can the government stop a virulent illness in the most vulnerable of neighborhoods?
The alarm was raised on Wednesday following the death of a 56-year-old man. The man was not a prominent official or local celebrity. Indeed, he was a simple garment seller. But he happened to live in one of Asia’s biggest slums, Dharavi, which houses one million people in little over two square kilometers.
Situated on the outskirts of Mumbai, Dharavi packs nearly five times as many people into each square kilometer than the most densely populated district in New York City. Only in Dharavi, they live ten to a hut, and 80 people share a public toilet.
When a street sweeper fell ill with the virus on Thursday, the authorities took action.
A team of doctors and volunteers descended upon the area, with police in tow. They fanned out and stayed till midnight. Families were isolated. Some 2,500 neighbours were stamped for quarantine. The deceased man’s movements during the last two weeks were retraced with the help of his acquaintances. A list of his contacts was compiled and the people on it alerted. His shop, and some 100 others, including the nearby 330 flats, were cordoned off. Common spaces between the buildings were sprayed with hydrochloric acid. A posse of policemen now guards the area to enforce no violation.
The Unknown Dharavi
The story was picked up by the world’s media, whose headlines referred to Dharavi as a “ticking time bomb.” Unlike many of the world’s slums, this one is not unknown in the West. Dharavi was made famous in 2008’s Oscar-winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ a coming-of-age tale set amid the faeces, open sewers, violence and murder of Dharavi.
The world knows little more about Dharavi. Even most Indians don’t know that half of Mumbai’s waste is recycled in this slum. Few know that, as slums go, Dharavi is a relatively egalitarian one. Homelessness is low, and people of different castes and creeds live together in its narrow alleys and crumbling shacks. Mosques, temples, and churches share boundaries.
A magnet for transient laborers, Dharavi accepts everyone; and in turn supplies Mumbai with an army of faceless workers and helpers.This warren of small factories, pottery, plastic, textile, bakery industries etc, generate an annual turnover of $1 billion, 30% of which is paid as taxes.
And the area is in demand. A 600 sq foot apartment costs half a million dollars in Dharavi.
A breeding ground for infection
But that’s not to say that Dharavi isn’t a potential coronavirus hotspot. It has a long history of epidemics. It was devastated by an 1896 plague which killed half of Mumbai’s population, and recurrent plagues would characterise the area for the next quarter of a century, all with high mortality rates.
Dysentery, cholera, typhoid, leprosy, polio have dropped its residents like flies, with Dharavi’s high population density and poor sanitation hastening their spread. In 1986, a cholera epidemic showed up most of its victims hailing from Dharavi. Those who survive the epidemics aren’t out of the woods either. Fires and floods are recurrent in the slum, and a 2013 inferno gutted more than 800 buildings.