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Bob Moon: How’s this for a vacation destination? A squatter settlement in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai. It’s often called the biggest slum in Asia. Around a million people live and work there, amid sewage and industrial waste. Now the slum has another claim to fame: As Miranda Kennedy tells us, it’s the hub for “poorism,” India’s newest tourist trend.
Krishna Poojari: So we don’t stop everywhere. If you see something interesting just let me know
Miranda Kennedy: Krishna Poojari is a Reality Tour guide. He’s prepping a group of MBA students from the University of Washington, who are on a two-week trip to India.
They’ve paid $7 a head for a three-hour tour into India’s urban slums. He cautions them not to take pictures.
Krishna also tells his group to dress modestly and wear covered shoes, because they will be stepping over raw sewage. Just minutes into the tour, student Michael Fuller says nothing could have prepared him for the sight, sounds and smell of the slum.
Michael Fuller: You get to a point when you feel like a little overwhelmed. So many people and disorganization and it’s hard to believe things are actually functioning and working in this kind of an environment.
Things do function here. Thousands of small factories churn out everything from leather to pottery in Dharavi’s alleyways and generate some $600 million of profit a year.
Chris Way started the tour business about a year ago to show the industriousness of the slum to tourists.
Chris Way: We show how enterprising and hardworking people are, despite the poverty. As opposed to focusing on the poverty.
The MBA students stop at a dimly lit warehouse where grease-stained laborers toil over massive oil drums.
Woody Moore: Krishna, are these guys . . what are they doing with the barrels, cleaning?
Woody Moore, another student in the group, points out that not a single worker is wearing protective gear. He’s amazed at the lack of regulation.
It’s terrible because it’s their entire reality. You know, they go to bed and wake up in the same spot.
It’s a reality that plenty of Indians don’t want foreigners to see. Chris has gotten used to defending himself against accusations that he’s profiting from voyeurism.
Way: I think its easy to say, oh these rich westerners come and stare at these poor people and feel great about themselves. But anyway, I don’t think people wanting to understand is such a bad thing.
He’s quick to tell his critics they give 80 percent of their profits back to the slum. That is, they plan to, if selling slum tours ever actually turns a profit.
In Mumbai, I’m Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.