Even as real estate developers and conservationists debate the need to protect the city’s architectural heritage following the civic body’s proposed heritage list, students and young professionals from Girangaon and Dharavi have documented the vanishing communities and cultural heritage in their localities.
Participants have displayed their photo essays at local Ganpati pandals to reach out to residents, as part of a project called Mythologies of Mumbai, organised by Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR) and supported by the Ford Foundation.
The project was launched in 2008, when volunteers began documenting the areas’ structural heritage and live heritage — which includes people, culture, art, socio-economic ethos and history.
“The demography of the area changed after the erstwhile mills in Girangaon were forcibly shut down,” said Shrutika Shitole, a Girangaon resident. “Over the years, chawls have been replaced with high-rises and vast mill lands have turned into shopping malls. As a result, several communities — including the popular bhangi (sweeper) community — have been completely wiped out.”
The data was compiled through a series of photographs, interviews and profiles along with longitudinal case studies of families, GPS (Global Positioning Systems) tracking and GIS (Geographical Information Systems) tracking.
Volunteers found that barely 5% of the once-abundant leather tanneries in Dharavi functioned today and several locals have migrated, fearing redevelopment. “The emergence of leather tanneries severely impacted the Koli fishing community, the area’s original inhabitants. Subsequently, even the number of tanneries reduced as workers shifted to south India,” said Reshma Lubde, a research associate for the project.
Sonia Srinivasan, the project’s media manager added, “Both Dharavi and Girangaon are historically important locations that have access to infrastructure and transport, making them two of the most contested spaces in the city.”