Dharavi has its own local economy, disorganised but thriving, observes Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit in one of the essays included in ‘India Yatra,’ edited by Neelesh Misra and Zara Murao (www.harpercollins.co.in). “There’s more to the tiny units now than the knockoff Prada and Gucci tags that look astonishingly like the originals,” she adds, looking at ‘the thousands of 8 foot by 10 foot shanties spread over 55 acres’ producing ‘bags, clothes, and shoes that are exported around the world, netting a total of $650 million a year.’
Walking through ‘the narrow, sunshine-deprived bylanes,’ the author sees “tannery workers washing animal skins. Further down is the kumbharwada, where potters are readying earthen pots in time to meet the summer demand. Next are garment manufacturers, beyond that a plastic recycling unit.” And in the outer periphery, she comes across the more presentable ‘small, glass-fronted shops’ that sell ‘the city’s most popular – and most economical – leather goods.’
The slum is the supply chain, the brand and the marketing strategy, observes Sweta. “Dharavi is a way of life. Each group of shanties is home to a little community and those communities will be destroyed if they are transferred to vertical matchboxes of living space,” a local activist tells her.
Elsewhere in the book is an essay titled ‘Small change, big difference,’ by Sunita Aron, about a microfinance experiment by a group of Dalit farmers in Ramma Khera village, 50 km north of Lucknow, in the Rae Bareli constituency.
“The men created a savings account in the bank and, every month, each member put in the kitty Rs 10. The money they collected was then available on loan to any of the members – at a negligible interest rate of 2 per cent. The farmers have loaned out thousands, and got most of it back. They have Rs 28,000 in the kitty.”
Breaking out of the moneylenders’ clutches, and not having to worry about the interest rates of banks, the group is now planning to set up a foodgrain-trading cooperative, reports Aron. “Last year, they bought 70 quintals (7,000 kg) of wheat directly from farmers to sell in the open market at higher rates.” There were teething problems – ‘rats ate some, moisture destroyed a little’ – yet the group made some profits.
According to the group’s five-year plan, by 2014, the members want to be selling ‘at the district headquarters market in Rae Bareli, one of the biggest wholesale foodgrain markets in the state.
And, in Kanker, Chhattisgarh, KumKum Dasgupta learns ‘the ABC of a whole new world.’ The nearly 70 lakh tribals who form a major part of the population there are determined that education include English, because they want their ‘children to be equipped to step out into the world.’ The local teacher uses Hindi, internalised through TV serials, as a bridge language to teach English, which ‘is as easy as listening to the radio.’
How so? “At noon, the silver-coloured two-in-one crackles to life at a government primary school. Teacher Neerja Satpute (26) takes her position near the blackboard. A half-hour programme called ‘English is Fun’ has begun on All India Radio, teaching conversational English through rhymes, songs and games.”
Activity-based teaching, trained teachers, and training materials are yielding results. “The dropout rate in Chhattisgarh has dropped to 10 per cent. And the fourth Annual Status of Education Report (Rural), released in January 2009, found that the state had fared much better than even developed states like Gujarat when it came to primary education.”