Dharavi as we know it today has its origins in the fishing village or ‘Dharavi Koliwada’ in the late nineteenth century. It grew to become the hub for people from all over the country who came to Mumbai in search of economic prospects. Dharavi is now home to various industries and artisans engaged in the production of goods for local and global markets. This economic interdependence has allowed diverse communities to coexist. Thriving communities are the backbone of homegrown neighbourhoods - continuously evolving through collective and collaborative efforts. Can a user-driven website aid these interdependent efforts?
This is the question that a group of NYUAD students found themselves trying to answer as part of the Handstorm workshop, 2023. They learnt that a website, Dharavi.org was initiated by urbz in 2008. The idea was to build online connections between communities. The website became a platform for locals to connect with each other and people around the world. It also published articles and other content about Dharavi. The website managed to gain traction amongst the locals, and was popularly used to re-connect and make new connections. Although the website was received and used positively, it became technically challenging to continue because of numerous bots that hindered authentic communication.
Reviving Dharavi.org seemed like a great idea to the students. While brainstorming with the urbz team, they began to envision Dharavi.org as an interactive, informative website for and by the people of Dharavi. It would be a platform to share stories of people and communities and also function as a space to highlight people’s needs and strategies or solutions to problems they face. According to the students, Dharavi.org should be a space for people to celebrate Dharavi.
The students felt that the website should feature many types of media, from articles to photographs to videos. This collection of media will convey the history, statistics, and stories of Dharavi. It will also highlight ongoing initiatives within the community in case users are interested in contributing to businesses and other organisations active in Dharavi. Dharavi.org could become a database of information for people interested in learning more about the neighbourhood.
In order to capture the spirit of Dharavi, the students wanted to immerse themselves in the neighbourhood. This would help them understand the pulse of the place. It was also equally important to understand current needs and the scope of potential content contributors. Students met with several inspiring individuals who were from Dharavi or had worked within the context. Local photo-journalists, artisans and entrepreneurs working in Dharavi’s recycling and leather industries were amongst the people they met.