Slum Demolition in Mumbai

Slum Demolition in Lower Parel, Mumbai

Yesterday morning, the small slum opposite to Phoenix Mills, in Lower Parel, was razed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation.

Slum demolition follows a horrible, regimented protocol. The bulldozers and loaders arrive on site, unannounced. Scores of lathi-swinging policemen swarm in to inform the residents that they have an hour to evacuate belongings before their homes are torn down. The combination of surprise, force, and urgency stifles resistance. There is a resigned powerlessness that has been bred into the manual labor class, and it is as heart-rending to witness as tear-fill despair might have been.

Slum Demolition in Lower Parell, Mumbai

Most of the slum-dwellers are able to gather their things before their houses are destroyed. For others, many of their possessions must be excavated from the rubble.

Lower Parel is now a high-rent district. Once home to Bombay’s cotton mills, the area has been redeveloped in recent years to house corporate office buildings and a fancy mall. Many of the people who pass the slum demolition are well-dressed business people and shoppers. They generally approve the police action, since it is “cleaning up” a streetscape they regularly traverse.

Slum Demolition in Lower Parel, Mumbai

To me, the slum evictions are ineffably sad. These families provided the labor to build the office buildings and the mall. They erected their homes on this patch of ground — with the approval, if not legal permission, of all concerned — so that their under-paid toil could transform the neighborhood and fill the bank accounts of the developers and corrupt politicians. Typically, some vestige of the construction-period slum remains on the original site once the buildings have gone-up, with the remaining habitants serving as the maids, drivers, peons, and other underpaid labor upon which the wealthy within the new buildings have always required. In the case of Lower Parel, the wildly increased value of the land has tipped the balance against those who have contributed at the core, but been rewarded at the margins of the booming economy. Having outlived their usefulness, they are uprooted from homes they have occupied for years (this tiny slum was more than a dozen years old) without warning.

Slum Demolition in Lower Parel, Mumbai

The slum-dwellers are advised that they will be relocated to the north of the city. Perhaps there will be new jobs there, since Bombay continues to expand in that direction. In the meanwhile, their lives are uprooted. Those with so little to fall back on will have to start from scratch once more.

Slum Demolition in Lower Parel, Mumbai

I am sorry I did not have a decent camera with me to do justice to the images. Justice, it seems, was in short supply all around.

11 Responses to “Slum Demolition in Mumbai”

  1. 1 Hiren 1 May 2007 at 8:45 pm

    This problem keeps coming time and again. I don’t know why people are allowed to accumulate like this in the first place. Wonder whether there is any respite from populist politics?

    • 2 Mayank 24 September 2009 at 12:48 pm

      Hiren: I not agree on yours analysis, do you have any idea of slum , if not just go in slum and live there. you will realize that why these people are compel to live their. Its not by choice but their life made them to live there. No one wants to live in slum and everone wants to live the way TATA led his life… do think and come out from yours house and boundary

  2. 3 Pankaj 2 May 2007 at 12:22 am


    As a lawyer do you think the answer lies in formalized property rights? See I ask, because these demolitions will continue until someone can identify a legal reason why these slum dwellers should be allowed to stay. Unfortunately, I don’t think the politicians are persuaded much by ethical arguments, so I am wondering if there is another way to protect these marginalized people.

    Good luck on your journey.

  3. 4 Maju 2 May 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I think demolitions are a product of a lack of affordable housing policy in particular and a skewed development policy in general. Cities are always made by a migrant working class who are excluded once the nature of the city changes… The demolitions in Mumbai are the facts of a changing landscape which does have any space for the poor. The fight need to reclaim the city.. streets… life.

  4. 5 mbjesq 3 May 2007 at 12:43 pm


    You “don’t know why people are allowed to accumulate like this in the first place”? If you work in an office building, shop at a mall, or live in a multistory apartment building, you damned well better know! Laborers are brought in by the developers to build the building that make your life so different from theirs.

    In most developed countries, unskilled laborers live in economically depressed, if stable neighborhoods, and generally travel long distances to work. Construction workers, incidentally, do not fall into this group of marginalized laborers in Europe or the US. They are considered skilled labor, are generally unionized, and are highly paid. The men and women who sift sand for concrete, and then carry that mixed concrete on their heads, are neither well paid nor organized. They live on such little income, the thought of devoting economic resources to commute to a job site (even the few rupees for a bus ticket) is out of the question. So the developers bring them to the construction site where they set up temporary dwellings. When the work concludes, most move to the next opportunity, erecting their shanties at the new work venue.

    Some, however, stay on. Perhaps they have been living there for many years by the time the work concludes, and feel entrenched. Usually, family members have found menial work as the new neighborhoods have come up. Perhaps your servants do not live in a nearby slum, Hiren; but it is a very common pattern in Mumbai for the slums that first housed the construction workers to later house the maids, cooks, drivers, and peons who support the lifestyle of the affluent people who take occupancy of the new buildings.

    You complain of “populist politics.” Tell me how this issue works out in terms of populism in India. I’ve never quite been able to figure it out. Is there a populist position on slum demolitions? The issue is generally one that affects the relatively well-off and, of course, the slum dwellers — not the vast middle class. And the issue is, at the very least, ambiguous for the affluent. On the one hand, they do not want to lose their servants; on the other, the slums are an eyesore.

    The rise, maturing, and demolition of slums in urban India is a fascinating cluster of issues — not one that yields smartly to your get-these-poor-people-out-of-my-line-of-sight point-of-view.


  5. 6 All Blogs 16 May 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Very Nice Blog , God Bless:)

  6. 7 AM 31 October 2007 at 11:27 pm

    hey – i agree that it is sad.

    but what about the rights of all the other citizens of mumbai? do we not have a right to live in a city with pavements free of slums? do we not have a right to drive on roads free of people sleeping on teh sides of the roads?

    when you and i pay taxes which go into building housing for rehabilitation and the next day there are new people in the place of the old slums… how do you think that makes me feel? am i to slog my entire life and support every new immigrant who comes into town??

    i don’t think so.

  7. 8 mbjesq 1 November 2007 at 12:20 am


    It is a difficult social problem. And I am not completely blind to your position. I simply feel that, on balance, it carries less moral weight.

    In salient ways, it is like the anti-immigrant backlash in countries like France. The old French say, Why should we support all these newcomers? The answer in their case is: you colonized their countries, making them a part of your empire; and this gives these folks entitlement, by all that is fair and just, to immigrate. There are many mistakes that countries, just like individuals would love to undo but cannot, or might have avoided if they could only have seen the long-term ramifications.

    The same is true for communities. The fact is, Indian metros are built with almost immorally inexpensive labor, taking advantage of the enormous underclass population and the intense competition for steady employment. Having attracted the poor to work on the development of the modern city, the first practical question is: where are they going to live? These are not a class of laborers who can afford to commute long distances to work each day. So proto-slums are born. And as new urban development continues the slums correspondingly grow and mature. Once the buildings are completed, and occupied by the affluent classes, some portion of the now-local slum population remains to fill the emerging menial positions. Again, these are not a class of workers who can afford standard housing in a city as expensive as Bombay; nor can they afford lengthy (and getting ever-lengthier) commutes from more affordable locales. In this way, the slums become entrenched.

    To get back to my analogy, the use of cheap labor to build and serve affluent Mumbai is not unlike the colonization. Having exploited what was there for the taking, the community finds itself faced with some unsatisfactory consequences down the road. And yet, it has only itself to blame.

    There are two interesting differences between India and America or Europe that strike me concerning the process of urban slum development I have (admittedly simplistically) outlined above. The first is the class and wage disparity of people in the construction trades. Even unskilled construction site laborers in America and Europe are well-paid, lower middle-class, unionized workers. As a consequence, they do not live on the streets or in slums near their places of employment. They travel to their jobsites from more affordable, but pokka neighborhoods. Second, the use of domestic servants is simply not common in America and Europe, as it is in India.

    If these large subsets of the urban working poor were to be eliminated — and by that I mean, economically elevated beyond mere subsistence or near-poverty — much of the problem of new urban slums and pavement dwelling would gradually take care of itself; and the more affirmative measures taken by the community to eliminate the existing slums would have a stronger moral footing.



  8. 9 Proletarian Revolutionary 15 December 2007 at 9:57 am

    AM wrote:
    >>but what about the rights of all the other citizens of mumbai? do we not have a right to live in a city with pavements free of slums? do we not have a right to drive on roads free of people sleeping on teh sides of the roads?>>

    Rich and middle class business people also encroach roads. In my town, authorities took more than 10 years of time to widen one of the main roads because house of former MLA is located near the road. Other high class people also didn’t like to allow partial demolition of their properties. All these people tried to prevent widening of the road with political support and also tried to bring stay from court.

  9. 10 amogh 18 April 2008 at 5:25 am

    guys the issue is, we people are quite adjustable kind… when the migrants come in flocs to our places we keep a blind eye coz they works for us… but when it becomes troublesome to us what we do demolish their homes… i agree its wrong to live in slums- just think do they live with their own choice?? no… still they are allowed to form slums… at that moment where do these HUMAN RIGHT public FUCK around… at that time all these people take their DICKS in mouth… after when slum demolitiors acquires the place HUMAN RIGHTS public starts shouting like hell…
    seriously guys we all are IRRESPONSIBLE TO OUR OWN RIGHTS-DUTIES- RESPONSIBLITIES… we hardly care… then why just to blog around just for sack to show our tech savvy vocablory???

  10. 11 SixSigma 17 October 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Wish crazy sonia hadn’t butted in 2006. Mumbai would have been slum free

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