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The impossible task of keeping Dharavi locked down

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  • Tip Bones

MUMBAI: Taxi drivers, vada pav sellers, power loom workers, cooks, barbers... a chunk of the working class men and women who drive the economic engine of Mumbai in the 21st century live in 19th century Dickensian conditions in the heart of the metropolis. It’s a situation Mumbai and the rest of the country had come to accept —until now, that is. Compelled to enforce a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus infection, the government is faced with the impossible task of keeping Dharavi’s teeming residents confined to their airless and congested dwellings. With nearly a million packed into a 2.5 sq km area – the population density here is three lakh per square km – all attempts at social distancing may prove futile in one of Asia’s biggest slums. Already, the area has notched up about 180 cases till April 22 and the death toll has climbed to 12. Reports by civic authorities reveal that in some of the most infected slum clusters, up to 25% of samples tested have come positive.

For Mumbai to get a grip on the pandemic, much will depend on containment strategies in shanty settlements, the biggest being Dharavi. But here’s the catch – the economic hardships of its settlers are bound to worsen. Abdul, a cabbie who pays a rent of ₹1,000 and has a family of four daughters and a son to support, says, “My children may end up on the streets unless I find a way to get behind the wheel soon.”

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