Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 09:13 UK

Indian slum hit by New York woes

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Mumbai

Name it and they have it, from high quality shoes to vanity boxes.

It is a small air-conditioned store, where leather jackets, belts and high quality leather bags are on display.

Stores like this are an inescapable feature of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum quarters.

The store spills over with leather goods.

But it's quiet. There are no buyers. The phone has stopped ringing.

The showroom owner, Abul Lais Sheikh, is wondering where the next order will come from.

"No new orders. It's zero. We are sitting here, in the hope that perhaps we might get some orders in the New Year," he says.

Sophisticated items

Mr Sheikh was referring to the orders he used to receive from the West before the global financial crisis set in.

When the West catches a cold, Dharavi sneezes. It lies in the middle of Mumbai. It is crowded, in fact over-crowded, bustling with activity.

Its narrow lanes and side streets hide away more than 15,000 single-room factories, which churn out remarkably sophisticated goods that end up in shopping malls and branded showrooms in the US and Europe.

shoes for sale
Timberland, Woodland, you can see them rest here before reaching the branded stores

So, if you go to Macy's or Marks and Spencer and buy a leather jacket the chances are that it might have been manufactured here in this one room factory in Dharavi.

It exports leather items, jewellery, accessories and textile largely to the US, Europe and the Middle East. But the current credit crunch crisis has nearly crippled the $1bn (577.8m) industry.

One exporter, called "Danish", says the American financial meltdown has hit them hard. He adds ''We are getting half the orders from America and European countries since the economic turmoil began.''

Festive sales?

Sayeed Bhai is a god of small things - a leading maker and supplier of buckles, used in belts, shoes and bags.

In his tiny, dingy, dimly-lit factory, work is going on in full swing to meet the orders from the US. But these orders were received before the financial crisis hit the Western world.

All type of outlets have seen demand slow
''Since the crisis began, we haven't received a single order" he says.

But exporters of leather related goods are not the only ones to have been affected badly by the global financial meltdown.

Dharavi manufactures embroidered garments, artificial gem and jewellery and textile meant for exports to the western world.

In these industries too, the gloss is wearing off.

We have laid off loads of our workers, our salaried employees have not been paid for some time
Abul Lais Sheikh, store owner, Dharavi
The repercussions have been devastating. Thousands of skilled labourers have been laid off.

"We have laid off loads of our workers, our salaried employees have not been paid for some time," says Mr Sheikh.

"This is a festive season, which is usually an important time for exports, but we are compelled to send our workers home.''

Many factories here are working at less than full capacity. The production has slowed. The average income in Dharavi has fallen.

Other options

The exporters now face an unpredictable future.

Mr Shiekh says: "We are sitting here in the hope that perhaps we might get some orders in the New Year."

For factory workers and businessmen in Dharavi, working in abysmal conditions is a part of their daily lives.

But they fear that this time around the losses will be hard to bear.

That's why they are exploring other markets, as Danish explains, "I'm searching for buyers around the globe. The orders from Europe have been on the decline and I'm searching for new countries".

Others are thinking of spreading their businesses in the domestic markets.

The machines in Dharavi are still purring. But for how long? No one seems to have an answer.


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