Dharavi slum beats Taj Mahal as India’s top tourist destination

Western female tourists, with local women, soaking up Dharavi tourism. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 25 June 2019
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Dharavi slum beats Taj Mahal as India’s top tourist destination

  • The squalid district was featured in Oscar-winning movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
  • Tour groups to Dharavi normally consist of around five to six people, with visitors guided through its cramped alleys

NEW DELHI: One of the world’s biggest slums, located in Mumbai, has pipped the famous Taj Mahal to become India’s favorite tourist destination.

Dharavi, where close to 1 million people live in an area of just over 2.1 square kilometers, was named by travel website TripAdvisor.com as the 2019 top visitor experience in India and among the 10 most favorite tourist sites in Asia.

The slum has grown up on swamp land in the center of the coastal city of Mumbai over the past 150 years and has poor infrastructure and a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene facilities.

The squalid district was featured in the 2008 Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which tells the story of a Mumbai teenager accused of cheating on the Indian version of TV gameshow “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

However, in 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Katherine Boo portrayed a new side of life in the slum in her book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum,” which showed it bubbling with hope in a changing world.

The recent Bollywood movie “Gully Boy” also gives the slum a new look with a coming-of-age tale based on the lives of street rappers.

“Slum tourism started in 2003 for the first time but it picked up after the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’” said Dinesh Bhurara, who runs travel agency Mumbai Dream Tours.

“Dharavi is not like a slum, but it is a city within the city. It is well-organized and people from all communities and religions coexist together. They work very hard. When tourists come, they see a new life in the slum which they don’t see in Mumbai and outside. This connects with foreigners,” Bhurara told Arab News.

Bhurara, 24, was born and brought up in Dharavi and started his travel business three years ago after gaining experience with other tour operators.

“People have lots of misconceptions about Dharavi. Movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ stereotyped the slum by showing its poverty, underbelly and by typecasting characters. But it’s not like that. When tourists visit it’s an eye-opener for them,” he added.

Tour groups to Dharavi normally consist of around five to six people, with visitors guided through its cramped alleys, and shown around houses and businesses.

“For tourists this is an educational tour. They learn how business is done here, and how people survive with their sheer efforts and aspirations. They also go to business and industry areas,” said Bhurara.

The peak season to visit Dharavi is between November and May with travel agents recording an average of 200 foreigners touring the slum every day during the season.

Bhurara charges 700 rupees ($10) per person for a four-hour trip to Dharavi and has five partners who run the tours with him. “When we take tourists inside the slum, we not only take them into an area, but we also take them into our lives and show them how life can exist even in this space. Many get inspired and are awestruck by the sheer energy inside the slum.”

He said the tourist influx had encouraged many Dharavi youngsters to learn foreign languages as a way to earn a living and he himself had taken up Spanish.

According to Bhurara the majority of tourists are from Europe and China. “People in Dharavi are now attuned to foreigners visiting them and they really appreciate that. For youngsters it’s an extra opportunity to earn some more. So many college students pick up foreign languages to earn something extra,” he added.

Dharavi is a hub of small industries with exports of leather and recycled goods reportedly worth $1 billion a year. More than 4,000 businesses operate there alongside thousands of single-room factories where migrants workers from eastern and western India are employed.

“Many people, even in Mumbai, are not aware of this part of Dharavi,” Vinay Rawat, a tour operator, told Arab News. “In Mumbai people come to see the most expensive house of the industrialist Mukesh Ambani and they also want to see the cheapest place in Mumbai which is Dharavi.”

Rawat added that wealthy people lived in Dharavi where new high-rise buildings had been constructed. He said people had lived there for four generations but that there were fears that the prime land could fall into the hands of property developers.


Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

Updated 50 min 39 sec ago
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Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

  • Tania Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration
  • ‘It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate’ these people

WASHINGTON: Tania Joya has devoted her life to “reprogramming” extremists and reintroducing them into society — a process she understands well as a “former Islamic militant” herself.
“My aim is for them to feel a sense of remorse and to train them so that they can be good citizens once they are released from prison, so they can adjust to society,” Joya said during a visit to Washington, to present a project on preventing extremist violence.
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She radicalized at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad.
In 2004, she married an American Muslim-convert, Yahya Al-Bahrumi (born John Georgelas). She began advocating for an Islamic state, for which her three children would be soldiers.
But in 2013, her husband took her and their children against her will to northwestern Syria to join militant insurgents. Joya reported her husband to US authorities and, after three weeks, fled Syria to the United States.
Joya settled in Texas, her husband’s home state. There, she changed her life, divorced and re-married.
Yahya, her first husband, joined the Daesh group, which would soon control large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. He was in charge of the group’s English-language propaganda, and Joya said he became the “highest-ranking American” in the Daesh group.
He died in 2017 during fighting in Mayadin, in northern Syria, as the so-called Daesh “caliphate” crumbled.
However, this created a new problem — Western militants or their spouses and children wanting to come home.
Joya realized that she had something to offer. “It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate” these people, she said.
“It’s reprogramming them and giving them a sense of hope in the political process.”
It’s also important to “get them to understand the psychology and the patterns... what led them to extremism,” understanding “the rejection many in the US and Europe faced growing up there, the cultural conflict, the crisis they went through,” she said.
“Once it’s all explained to them, very logically, they will accept it just as I did.”
Joya favors repatriating foreign rebels from the Middle East so they can be judged in their countries of origin.
While that is the US policy, many European countries such as France are wary of taking in the militants.
In May and June, 11 French nationals were sentenced to die in Iraq for their affiliation to Daesh.
Joya has campaigned for the return of Shamima Begum, who joined the militant group when she was just 15 but now wants to return home to Britain. However, Begum’s lack of remorse has turned public opinion against her, and the British government stripped her of her citizenship in February.
Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria have taken in some 12,000 foreign fighters from 40 different countries, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children whose fathers are militants.
Countries with militants stranded in refugee camps “are responsible for these individuals,” said Joya. “We can’t just push them off to the Middle East, to the Kurdish people... the abuses they’re facing in these camps are only confirming their beliefs of radicalization.”
Joya is participating in the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program organized by the Clarion Program, a US non-profit dedicated to educating people “about the growing phenomenon of Islamic extremism,” according to its website.
The PVE program provides “communication models” that offer “workshops for youth so that before a child is even indoctrinated or introduced to radical ideologies, they’ve really been inoculated” against religious and ideological extremism, said national program coordinator Shireen Qudosi.
“That goes from gangs, to radical ideologies: antifa, neo-Nazi groups, Islamist extremism,” she said.