Outsourced: part three

One student's journey across the world

Olivia Griffin, News Editor

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Deep inside Mumbai is Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia (and second-largest slum in the world). It’s practically a city within a city. Slums are literally built right up to the barbed wire fencing next to the airport and next to the pile of garbage and human waste. While not every slum dweller resides in these dire conditions, some of its citizens know this place as home.

The slums in Mumbai are an area of extreme poverty.

The slums in Mumbai are an area of extreme poverty.

One of the first sights that we came across was a large complex known locally as “The Laundry”, where thousands of people would come to hand wash their clothes (some of the residents only owned one or two sets of clothing), sheets, and, in some instances, towels and sheets from hotels and hospitals in the area. In one section of the slum, houses were shoved up against the barbed wire fencing of the airport, and children were running not one hundred feet from where planes were taking off. There were so many openings where a small child could slip underneath the fence and escape out onto the runway. Even the families who managed to keep their children off of the tarmacs ended up with permanent hearing damage from living directly next to a large, international airport where large planes were taking off and departing from on a daily basis.

Within the slums, we passed by a medical clinic – though I hesitate to define it as such, given that it was so far below our standards of healthcare, with nothing but a dirt floor, a table, and the occasional rusty medical device here and there. This was where the slum dwellers received their medical care, if any at all. For middle- and upper-class Indian citizens and expatriates, there were many high-quality private hospitals within the city of Mumbai, however, these centers were far too expensive for most slum dwellers to even consider.

I was informed that there were government-operated hospitals where patients could receive care for a low fee or for free, however, basically, these were a last resort where people went to die, because it was easier for a somewhat alive person to walk or limp to the hospital than to have to arrange for several people to carry the corpse, which is also considered incredibly unclean in many of the religions practiced in India, and arrange for cremation of the body (very few of the deceased are buried in India). It could be days before a deceased individual could be removed from the slums, which creates a major health risk for the inhabitants, so therefore the hospital is a better place to die. So, essentially, checking into a government-run hospital in India is like climbing into your own coffin.

The risk of disease in the slums is high, and death tolls can spike during epidemics that make their ways through slums. Some of the homes have poor ventilation, and population density is high. Pesticides are frequently used within the slums, which particularly affects children, who do not have the antibodies to fight off the pesticide, and as a result, these pesticides cause the children to become extremely ill, permanently disabled, or even die. Within the slums, there are many stray dogs, which is a major public health issue, because, according to statistics, a slum dweller is bitten by a dog every two seconds, and, in many cases, the person bitten ends up dropping dead within the hour from rabies or some other horrible disease spread by dog bites. According to some of Dharavi’s residents, it is a conspiracy by the Indian government to reduce the number of slum dwellers so that they can build over the land.

The people are extremely tightly packed in the Dharavi slums.

The people are extremely tightly packed in the Dharavi slums.

Due to inadequate medical care, the intentional handicapping of people for the purposes of gaining more money from begging, or simple bad luck, there are many handicapped individuals living inside the slums, and in desperate and heartbreaking situations due to their inability to join the workforce and earn a living to provide for themselves, and, in some cases, their families. At one point in the trip, there was a man with an amputated lower leg, who, due to an inability to afford crutches or assistive devices with an amputated lower leg, was basically crab-walking on his hands and one good leg through the streets of the city and the slum, and through unsanitary, disgusting ground conditions that I wouldn’t even dare put my shoes in.

Ironically enough, the slum dwellers were considered better off than many others. The poorest of the poor, the “street sleepers”, as they are known, are a very visible demographic group in the cities, particularly in Mumbai. I only saw the street sleepers a few times, because, for safety reasons, the only time that we would journey out late at night was after arriving in at about 1 a.m. from our flight. In that time, I could see women, children, elderly lying on the hard concrete floor, sometimes without a pillow, blanket, or cushion between them, quietly sleeping on the streets of the city. Each night, I would look across the street from my hotel to see a woman sleeping on the concrete with a toddler. The woman appeared to be pregnant, and there was no one to watch over them and make sure that they were safe. While India has come a long way compared to other nations, it is still a dangerous place to be, particularly if you are a woman, particularly if you are alone, and particularly at night.

Another struggle facing the impoverished in India is the practice of parents killing their own children to spare them from a life of poverty and struggle. Unable to afford to feed another mouth, desperation leads otherwise kind, devoted parents to kill their own children, considered a sympathetic act in some regards. I do not think that I will ever understand what circumstances could cause a parent to kill their own child, what horrendous and dire conditions that are considered worse than having to live through the death of your own child. Parents, desperate for any kind of income to provide for themselves and their families, will sometimes even sell their own children’s dead bodies so that their organs can be sold on the black market. Crimes such as these don’t come from sociopaths with broken childhoods, mafia bosses who organize robberies and murders, or from developing a violent personality from playing too many video games. As I was once told by a very wise mentor of mine, there is only crime where there is desperation, where legal and safe means of providing for oneself fail and people have no choice but to turn to committing horrendous acts such as murdering their own child and selling their organs on the black market or pimping their own daughters out in the Red Light district downtown.

There are many challenges facing India presently, however, there is also improvement happening on a daily basis. Within the next twenty years, India will develop an even stronger middle class and become a major actor on the global political and economic stage. However, India is not so far behind the United States as far as standards of living. In our community, we are in a bubble of fortune and prosperity, but travel down to certain parts of Dallas or cities such as Detroit that have been hit hard by the recent recession and I assure you that you will find conditions quite similar to those of India. After all, we really aren’t all that different from each other.

Click here to read Outsourced: part one

Click here to read Outsourced: part two

Click here to read Outsourced: part four