Urbanising cities in the global south struggle to be inclusive of settlements inhabited by poor communities that cannot afford market based ownership or rental properties. In India, they have to negotiate occupancy rights politically, a negotiation that places them in a state of uncertainty as legitimate citizens and deprives them of access to basic civic infrastructure. Their homes are referred to as slums, a label that implies informality and contrasts with the “legitimate formal” city. Their struggle manifests itself most acutely in daily life - often in the form of accessing basic necessities, especially water supply.
Dharavi in Mumbai, India, is popularly known as “Asia’s largest slum”, a moniker that belies the more nuanced reality of its residents. We coined the phrase “homegrown settlements” to describe such neighbourhoods that are built from within by people who live and work in them. Dharavi emerged around a fishing village of the aboriginal fisherfolk of Mumbai - the Koli’s, whose settlements - Koliwadas - dotted the coast of pre-colonial Mumbai. The Kolis of Dharavi inhabit a delta landscape on the banks of the Mithi River and depend on it to farm fish; they negotiate the urban river to continue these traditional activities. Dharavi Koliwada has been coping with annual water logging, making the community vulnerable yet most primed to adapt to the vagaries of climate change. While officially classified as urban villages, Dharavi Koliwada, like other Koliwadas were and still get treated as slums. Their life continues to be an attempt at bridging the gap between illegality and legality, formality and informality.