Tourists are being offered a night’s stay in a Mumbai slum to experience the “reality” of life in India’s financial capital, including using a public toilet shared by more than 50 other families.
The scheme is being run by David Bijl, 32, a Dutch citizen who works for a Mumbai NGO in conjunction with a local resident, Ravi Sansi. He argues that slums are “part of the reality of Mumbai – not the only part, but a part” and anyone who wishes to understand the inequalities of the city needs to understand slum life. Other tours of Mumbai slums, he said, can often be “superficial”.
“Visitors come in, take a few snapshots for their Facebook page and go off without really understanding anything,” he said. “I have worked in many slums and I know there is a positive impact for both sides when an outsider takes an interest in slum dwellers’ lives and how they cope by connecting with them.”
Sansi’s family home will be available for tourists to stay in. It includes a new “loft” which has been equipped with a flatscreen television, an air conditioner and a new mattress – all of which are considered luxuries for the majority of residents.
Bijl says the entire 2,000 rupee (£22) rate for one night’s stay will go to the host family. “I am already getting a lot of interest from [other] slum families who want to invite guests to stay,” he said.
Around 60% of Mumbai’s 20 million residents live in slums, giving rise to the city’s moniker “Slumbai”. Housing is scarce and so expensive that even the wealthiest residents grumble over rents and purchase prices.
Tours of Mumbai’s slums are not new, but remain controversial. Supporters say they offer a window into the true nature of poverty, arguing that both sides benefit from the interaction, particularly if the proceeds go to residents.
But critics decry what they see as “poverty tourism”, which they claim is exploitative and demeaning.
Asim Shaikh, manager of Reality Tours and Travels, has been taking foreign tourists into Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, which sprawls over more than 160 hectares, for the past 11 years. He claims the trips are “a way to dispel the negative image of life in the slums as dirty and crime-infested, and of seeing normal people going about their lives”.
“It also shows how slum-dwellers manage diversity – Indians of every faith and every corner of the country live in Dharavi,’ said Shaikh.
However, Jockin Arputham, president of the advocacy group Slum Dwellers International, criticised the plans.
“These tours are meaningless and a stay for a night will be meaningless. These are not objects in a museum or animals in a zoo. It is a community, real people living their lives. Staying the night helps neither the visitor nor the family,” he said.
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