Dharavi, often described as the largest slum in Asia, is a 427 acre triangular stretch of land in central Mumbai, housing more than 600,000 slum dwellers; the unofficial number can go near a million. It is a conglomeration of continuous settlements, separated by a small road or sometimes a wall - constructed hastily at times of conflict. Dharavi is literally sandwiched between the Western and Central suburban railway lines with Mahim and
Bandra to its west, Mithi River to the north and Sion and Matunga to its east and south respectively. Mahim, Matunga and Sion railway stations mark its three corners.
Dharavi has had settlements since the beginning of the 18th century, which comprised Kolis or the fisher folk, who lived at the edge of the creek that came in from the Arabian Sea. The Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island in 1909 had mentioned Dharavi as one of the 'six great Koliwadas of Bombay'. It is thought that the present day Dharavi also includes the land obtained by the accidental drying up of the creek that happened over a period of time.
Dharavi’s emergence is closely associated with the migratory patterns that had marked the city of Mumbai. The migrants who made Dharavi their home are the Maharashtrians from the Konkan coast, the Gujarati community, the Muslim tanners from Tamil Nadu and artisans from Uttar Pradesh. As their illegal settlements in South Mumbai grew, they were literally pushed by the authorities to the then the edge of the city, the present Dharavi. Post 19th century, as the population of Mumbai grew, the city started expanding into the hinterland and Dharavi became more and more to the center of Mumbai. Ironically, this heart shaped settlement now virtually is at the heart of Mumbai.
An overview of Dharavi indicates declining standards in basic infrastructure such as sanitation and health care. But there is a silver lining as well; a thriving leather trade and garment industry exist here - air conditioned leather showrooms on the main road which display every conceivable designer label is indicative of this fact. Statistics tells that its industries account for an annual turnout of Rs 3000 crores. Now Dharavi is on the path of a makeover, the draft of the plan has been approved by the central government and it is only a matter of time before Dharavi emerges from its shady image to that of a modern township.