Little Squares

The minute I walked in, I lost myself in Dharavi. The smells came in waves of punches. The stores lined with pastries, chicken, woven clothes, the barber shops, the living areas, the leather and plastic factories all filled my once slumbering nostrils. The tour had led me through toxic workplaces and wet darkness in passageways to the housing. I saw too much and not enough. I saw children sitting by doorsteps braiding each others hair. I saw people and people’s lives. In a way, I was expecting to see slums and masses of people, but not the people in the slums.

The tour company that led us, Reality Tours, aimed to redefine to way we think about slums, highlighting its strengths and showing its challenges and community. I walked away with many stories to tell, such as its youth empowerment programs, clinics and satellite dishes on many homes. However, I can’t shake the tendency to dehumanize the people living in Dharavi in my mind. It scares me that I have an underlying darkness, that I have to make myself see people as people sometimes.

On the tour, I learned that high-rises apartments were built by the government to remove the people from the slums. Because of many factors, this did not work. Perhaps if we could work with the people, instead of give them something they would not even want, a better change could be made between the government and the people. The difference between making change and fixing is embedded in the action of working with versus working at. The latter makes the assumption that the people being helped are not evolved enough to know what they want, or what is best for them.

The four-day Riverside project, where we tried to bring change to a school, helped me understand the importance of humanization. Nothing good comes from dehumanization, even if it produces immediate beneficial results. Gandhi had once said that there is no wall between the means and the end. The government attempt to move masses of people to apartments had failed, because they did not converse the people that they were trying to “help.”

In our fast-paced lives, we often think of ends as greater than means. However, we may lose a chance to accomplish something greater if we overlook our means.