‘Slumdog’: Don’t just watch, do something

_45501962_slumdogkids_afp226bLong after the Oscar parties fade into tomorrow’s hangover, the reality of the suffering portrayed in “Slumdog Millionaire” will persist.  If the film moved you and you want to know, “Why isn’t anyone DOING anything about this horrible situation?” … well, maybe someone is. And maybe that someone could be you.  Read on for scenes from the movie, the corresponding reality, and what’s being done about it.


movie: Jamal rescues a pre-teen Latika from a brothel where she is forced to dance for older men.

reality: Hundreds of thousands of girls are trafficked into prostitution in India, with Mumbai’s red-light district being one of the largest and most brutal in the world.  I give to the Global Fund for Women, an amazing U.S.-based foundation that funds grassroots groups for girls and women around the world, with a special focus on trafficking issues.  The groups they fund work to free girls from prostitution; give them options for physical, emotional, and economic recovery; and prevent girls from being sold or kidnapped into the trade in the first place.  Learn more about traffickingdonate now or shop your values.


movie:  Poor children hustle to make ends meet, work for unscrupulous characters, and don’t go to school.

reality:  Elimination of child labor is tough organizing work that has to be done child by child, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community.  Moving children from hustling, begging, and informal labour  into schools also requires empowering their caretakers through programs such as micro-loans supporting small-scale entrepreneurialism by women.  Hand in Hand is an India-based non-profit that works to end child labor in rural Tamil Nadu and “aims at building self-reliance of disadvantaged groups by alleviating poverty through sustained income generating programmes.”  Read a BBC article about the work of Hand in Hand or  visit the organization’s website.

movie:  Poop scene, women washing clothes in public pool.
reality: Yep, sewage and water are not sexy issues but they are huge.  Informal settlements such as Dharavi, though they are often referred to as slums, are larger than most cities in the world — yet basic services are lacking. Lack of access to clean water and sewage leads to poor health outcomes for children and adults.  The Society for Human and Environmental Development (SHED) works on these important issues in Dharavi; the writing on the website is a bit random and hard to wade through, but here’s a much better article on their work.

movie:  People climb on  garbage heaps, picking through refuse and living there.
reality:  Yes, this is how some of the poorest Indians eke out a living.  ACORN International’s Dharavi Project is working to organize rag pickers and waste collectors (those children climbing the garbage piles in the movie) in Dharavi.  The international wing of ACORN is affiliated with the U.S. ACORN “community organizers” who were subject of a manufactured controversy during the Obama campaign. Both ACORNs do amazing, from-the-ground-up community organizing that aims to empower the disempowered to advocate for their own rights and make needed changes in their own community, rather than take a top-down “charity” approach.

movie:  Children of the Dharavi slum go through all kinds of shit, no adults help them.

reality: yeah, children of Dharavi go through all kinds of shit.  The adults and organizations around them are severely under-funded to meet the need. Maybe that’s where we in the privileged West can make a contribution, if we educate ourselves a little bit. So in addition to the organizations above, here are few more groups and resources:

SNEHA, the Society of Nutrition, Education & Health Action, was formed in 1999 “by a group of concerned doctors and social workers to address the special needs of women and children in urban slums.” Here’s an article about their Kishori Project in Dharavi: “In Asia’s largest slum, the Kishori project is introducing young girls to reproductive healthcare, pregnancy care, HIV/AIDS and more. As added inducement, low cost trainings in computers and tailoring are drawing them to the centre for a chance to earn and save money.”
“Slumdog Millionaire” actor and Bollywood star Anil Kapoor has donated his entire fee from the movie to a children’s charity called Plan India.  Article here, Plan India website here.

Dharavi.org is a multimedia wiki website designed to gather information, images, and ideas on Dharavi in Mumbai. Specifically, it offers a space to discuss the Dharavi Redevelopment Project and its alternatives.


*DO YOU KNOW of an organization, site, or resource that should be on this list?  Please post a comment on the blog, or email me and I’ll update the list.

**PLEASE NOTE that this list is not vetted thoroughly; you should always check out organizations to your own satisfaction before transferring funds, especially internationally.

23 thoughts on “‘Slumdog’: Don’t just watch, do something

  1. Pingback: Best Picture? Slumdog Millionaire Sparks Heated Debate Among Indians About Their Country’s Image: News Analysis From FI2W | Feet in 2 Worlds, immigration news

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  4. Thank you Minal for a very well written compassionate article on the subject with a list of organizations people can get involved with. Mumbai slums (and all the slums on the planet) are not just India’s problem, they are our problem, because they are all our neighbors, no matter where we live.

    One organization that I would like you to consider adding to the list is: Shabana Azmi’s “Nivara Hakk” (The Right to Shelter). A recent article about Shabana and her work may be accessed at: http://living.scotsman.com/travel/Nominated-for-the-Burns-Humanitarian.4938617.jp

    Thanks again. May God bless us all with love, because only love can deliver social justice, peace and freedom.


  5. Another organization worth mentioning is The George Foundation. Their mission is to alleviate poverty in rural India and their main project is a school called Shanti Bhavan. The school provides a free world-class boarding school education to the untouchable children in rural India. For more info and to donate: http://www.shantibhavanonline.org. It is a wonderful example of an organization that is ‘doing something’ and has been since 1997.

  6. Another great organization is The George Foundation. They built a boarding school outside of Bangalore that provides a free boarding school education to the untouchable children outside of Bangalore. It is a wonderful example of an organization that is doing something to help alleviate poverty and have been since 1997. For more information about the organization and to donate to this worthy cause, visit: http://www.shantibhavanonline.org

  7. Thank you for the information, if all the people who saw the movie will donate to one or more of the organisations you have listed, these children will benefit.

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  10. this blog makes a very good dinner table discussion or cocktail discussion. You will surely get “thumps up” for this. Purpose achieved???? away from reality, fence sitting attitute and tryingto be a moral police for the society…. Do something, dear. quietly, gracefully… i think we dont movies like this to reminded… may be be people who are away from reality need reminders like this.!!!!

  11. Thanks everyone, especially Andy and Yesha for adding those organizations! They sound great. Yesha, I really like your blog postings about Down to Earth and the work they do.

    Just a reminder to everyone: **PLEASE NOTE that this list is not vetted thoroughly; you should always check out organizations to your own satisfaction before transferring funds, especially internationally.**

    all best,

  12. Hello Minal,
    Because of all the debate regarding Slumdog, I’ve been thinking a lot about my time spent with the Down to Earth folks last August, in a slum area in the (otherwise wealthy) Cuffe Parade neighborhood of Mumbai…

    check out these blog links:
    Day 1 Down to Earth in Mumbai – http://yeshaji.blogspot.com/2008/08/down-to-earth.html

    Day 2 Down to Earth – revisited – http://yeshaji.blogspot.com/2008/08/down-to-earth-revisited.html (has photos)

    The Down to Earth folks do not (as of yet) have a website, but one can contact them at dteindia (AT) gmail … Up to this point they have not accepted donations per se, but that policy may be changing soon, so do email them if you are looking for ways in which you may help.

    Another organization I learned of recently is Manzil, based in Delhi. Manzil is a youth empowerment center working with youth from the ages of “7 to 27” according to its founder, Ravi Gulati. I had the honor of hearing Ravi speak last week, and I loved his philosophy of not just top-down giving or teaching, but youth being empowered to help themselves and their peers as well. For more information on this noteworthy and unique organization, go to their website: http://manzil.in/.

  13. A worthy contender for inclusion in your listing is the Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) founded by eminent French journalist and Indophile Francois Gautier that highlights the plight of victims of terrorism on the Indian sub-continent.
    Check it out at http://www.factusa.org/

  14. Great info. Hope the movie doesnt just romanticize poverty, but spurs on people to make actual changes in the lives of these millions of kids. Kudos to Minal in compiling the list of organizations which can help. Will do my part monetarily and also forward this to as many people as I can.

  15. Minal, thank you so much for all of your thoughtful posts about this film, especially this one. I saw it only a few days before it won a host of Oscars, and what really struck me was the use of a very simple Holly/Bollywood plotline (boy in impossible situation gets money AND girl) set on an exoticized stage. And then, how very very well that worked for the filmmakers. Like you, the whole thing made me say, hmmm. So it’s incredibly satisfying to read this post–real suggestions for what to do with all that hmmm-ing.

  16. ! thanks!! I was thinking about finding out how I and other people could do something toward improving conditions for the poor of Bombay – I am so glad to see a list of trusted organizations as it would be hard for me to collect this kind of info. I’ll put this on my Facebook page and hope it spreads that way.

  17. Thank you Minalji for rasing awareness. I think Govt did try to bulldoze zuggis and move the residents away to a better place, however the activists protested. Hence, no progress. I also think that we need model satellite towns built between big cities where rail is accecible for easy commute. Blind criticism does not make sense. If we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves. This issue is created by man, man can solve it. Money only does not change things, a good heart with iron will would. Jai Ho.

  18. Minal,

    What a novel and wonderful approach! I will be looking into your suggestions this week. For desi-borns like me, the human tragedy seems immense and also in many ways permanent. It’s nice to be reminded that there are a lot of wonderful organizations and people changing things and that i can too.

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