Inside Dharavi: Amid virus, those in India's largest slum help one another

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​Dharavi
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​Dharavi

There are no secrets in the tightly packed lanes of Dharavi, India's largest slum. Everyone knows when an alcoholic husband turns violent, when children are scolded, or when a family has its television turned up too loud.


Dharavi has had more than 1,800 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and is among Mumbai's most affected pockets. The caseload in Mumbai city has been rising day by day and has overwhelmed the under-funded health system.

​City of dreams turns into a nightmare
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​City of dreams turns into a nightmare

Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra state in central India account for the largest share of the country's confirmed infections.

At 2,710 deaths, Maharashtra has the highest toll in the country. The death count in Mumbai is now close to 1,500.

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​Someone stood up
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​Someone stood up

Born and bred in Dharavi, Kunal Kanase watched authorities ignore everyday disasters, like overflowing sewers and domestic violence. He knew better than to wait for help.



The 31-year-old student and community activist hounded government helplines trying to get authorities to quarantine the neighbor's family. Unable to get through, he tweeted at the Mumbai police, who quickly came to take the man's family to a quarantine center.

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​A place in ruins
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​A place in ruins

Kanase would watch as health workers scrambled to stem the outbreak, suiting up to disinfect the squalid lanes and flying drones over the shantytown to surveil people's movements.



``I used to teach his two children and felt good for the family since they were relatively safer now,'' he said from the tiny two-room apartment he shares with his parents and younger brother.

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​Maddening mazes, labyrinthine lanes
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​Maddening mazes, labyrinthine lanes

Set between busy train tracks and the heavily polluted Mithi River, which separates the slum from Mumbai's modern skyscrapers, the neighborhood is a maze of tiny alleys, each one full of scores of people, many living in tin shacks.


Families or groups of migrant workers often pile into a single room. Hardly anyone has a private bathroom.



Without reliable running water, the most worrying concern is sanitation. The neighborhood was able to avoid another disaster this week when it was spared damage from a cyclone that hit the city.

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​Volunteers save the day
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​Volunteers save the day

Kanase and his team at Dharavi Diary, a group of young leaders who work to improve conditions in the slum, have been working to help those affected by the pandemic, handing out bags of rice, flour, cooking oil and sugar- enough to feed a family for two weeks. But they lack the resources to provide for everyone and often must filter out the needy from the neediest.



Each day the slum's poorest _ often migrant workers originally from elsewhere in the country _ line the main street waiting for food handouts from Dharavi Diary and other volunteers, groups and government agencies.

AP

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