Green Left Weekly's $250,000 Fighting Fund: Bollywood and the world's richest man


In addition to being the home of Bollywood, the Indian city of Mumbai can boast having Asia's biggest slum, Dharavi. One million residents are crammed into a square mile of low-rise wood, concrete and rusted iron, reported the December 19 Economist.

The article described the daily jostle for water as there is only one tap for every ten houses — roughly 100 people.

"All along the street, water is gushing into blue plastic tanks and aluminium tubs, washing sticky breakfast dishes clean. It flows down the street in a rippling sheet. Bisecting it is an open drain, which gushes torrentially, flushing away the detritus of the previous day.

"From the stink of this, it includes a lot of human excrement — which tiny naked children, squatting with their backsides jutting over the torrent, are busy adding to. In fact, it is not supposed to be used for this purpose. The locals are instead supposed to take their turn at a block of 16 public latrines, serving 300 hutments (or 3,000 people). It costs a rupee a visit — or 30 rupees (75 cents) for a monthly family ticket."

But Mumbai is also home to the richest man in the world, Mukesh Ambani. Ambani (worth US$63.2 billion) displaced Bill Gates (worth $62.3 billion) on the basis of revaluations of stock exchange values.

According to US ABC News online on January , Ambani is currently building a $1 billion residential building, Antilia, in Mumbai for his family. He recently gave his wife Nita a jet plane worth $6 million as a birthday present.

For his 50th birthday, Nita gave her husband a special gift. She roped in filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra to make biopic on Ambani. Mehra, famous for Rang De Basanti, shot a 40-minute film on how Ambani successfully took over and managed the Ambani Group after the death of his father Dhirubhai Ambani.

Meanwhile, almost one in every two children under three years of age in India is hungry. "This is the invisible half of our population, people who disappear from our consciousness until they die in large numbers", explained Kalpana Sharma on the India Together website (<>).

"Such hunger and poverty in the shadow of a metropolis like Mumbai with plenty is an obscenity. Equally disturbing is the fact that most of the women and many of the young girls were completely unlettered. A girl of around 18 said she had never been to school. Her mother too could not read."

The December 2007 issue Indian socialist magazine Liberation captures the contradiction: "The Sensex [the Mumbai Stock Exchange index] which had apparently taken 15 years to grow from 1,000 to 10,000 has leaped from 10,000 to 20,000 in just twenty months. This has reportedly made Mukesh Ambani the richest individual of the world ... and if the wealth of both Mukesh and Anil Ambani are added, it will make them the richest family in the world with over $100 billion between the two ...

"At the other end of the spectrum we have this study about India's unorganised sector workers by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector. The NCEUS puts the size of the unorganised sector workers at 394.9 million, which is 86% of India's working population. Of these 395 million, as many as 316 million workers live on less than Rs. 20 [60 Australian cents] a day. In fact in 2004-05, a total of 836 million people (77% of India's total population) had an income below Rs. 20 a day. But as of 2002-03, the unorganised sector's contribution to overall GDP was 56.7 per cent. These are the real people behind much of the productive sectors of the Indian economy, yet the gains of economic growth are pocketed almost exclusively by the top 15 or 20% of the population."

In the countryside the situation is even worse than in the slum-infested cities. Tens of thousands of poor farmers have suicided in desperation in recent years.

This is a snapshot of show-case capitalist "development" in the Third World. A picture of life in those parts of the world that are not being developed under 21st century capitalism is even more horrific.

Bollywood movies are all the rage in the well-off West. But a peek behind the glitter would make anyone with a conscience want to join the fight to break from this rich man's system. Green Left Weekly is an important part of this struggle. But we rely on the support of our readers to keep going.

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