Dharavi in Mumbai is acclaimed as one of the world’s largest slums, and is recognized as Asia’s biggest. With 520 acres to its credit, and an estimated population of anywhere between 7 to 10 lakh people, the slum is a bombshell waiting to explode in case a communicable disease with a high infection rate spreads. The same, many fear, is about to happen with the COVID-19 exposure which the area has recently received.
The first person to be tested positive for the disease was a 56-year old garment unit owner, who died on 1st April. Two other cases have been reported from Dharavi ever since. However, how did the disease make its way into the densely populated slum? The patient had no travel history and how he got the disease was a mystery sparking fears of community transmission taking place in Mumbai, India.
However, It has now been found that the first patient is believed to have come in contact with Tablighi Jamaati’s who were heading to Kerala from Nizamuddin and stayed for two days (March 22-24) at a house owned by the man in Dharavi. Out of the ten individuals, the man is believed to have come in direct contact with four of them, police investigation revealed.
On March 24, the Jamaati’s left for Kerala. An official from the Shahu Nagar police station said, “Prima facie, the man was infected by one of his visitors. We have informed the Kerala government to trace, isolate and test them.” The man’s family members have tested negative, while a list of 15 other high-risk targets has been made by the Police.
The Tablighi Jamaat link becomes absolutely clear in the face of these revelations, and a potential outbreak of the disease in the clustered area of Mumbai will prove to be a death-knell for many. Already, two more cases have been reported from the slum. It is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that it would be next to impossible for the authorities to arrest the spread of Coronavirus, if the numbers were to further increase in the coming days.
Dharavi is estimated to have a population density of a whooping 869,565 people per square mile. This leaves no doubt in the minds of anyone, that a spread of the disease in the area would be a disaster that perhaps Mumbai has not seen in a long time. History is testimony to the fact that communicable diseases spread like wildfire in Dharavi, and from Dharavi, to the entire region.
The first plague to devastate Dharavi, along with other settlements of Mumbai, was in 1896, when nearly half of the population died. A series of plagues and other epidemics continued to affect Dharavi, and Mumbai in general, for the next 25 years, with high rates of mortality. Dysentery epidemics have been common throughout the years and explained by the high population density of Dharavi. Polio, amoebiasis, typhoid, cholera and leprosy are among the other diseases to have devastated the area.
Dharavi, however, was doing just fine till the time the ten Jamaati’s from Nizamuddin did not show up. If an uncontrollable outbreak does occur, who will be held responsible? Dharavi is not a singular case in point where the fight against Coronavirus has been compromised due to the Tablighi Jamaat. Assam, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, among others, serve as a glaring example of how a congregation in Delhi derailed the fights of these states against the disease. The members of the Jamaat, almost jumping from one part of the country to the other before the lockdown was put in place is the main reason why the numbers are stacking up so rapidly in the past few days.