The first of Kevin McCloud's 2 part doco "Slumming It," in which he spends a fortnight living with families in the middle of Mumbai's biggest slum, was great TV on the ABC last night. One minute appalled by the open sewer drains (full of mystery chemical sludge as well as excrement,) the visiting rats in the bedroom at night and the terrible working conditions in the mini industries in the slum, the next minute McCloud is marvelling at the apparent general happiness of the community and the high degree of social interaction of all age groups in such a place. (Well, the latter is kind of hard to avoid with things like 21 people sharing a tiny house. He also notes often that it is a million people living in about one square mile.)
As an architect, McCloud is interested in how the built environment works in a place like this. (He notes that many planners, and Prince Charles, have taken to saying that it has lessons to teach the West.) Yet the one factor he hasn't mentioned is the obvious high degree of religiosity of the people there, and the role that the degree of fatalism in the Hindu religion almost certainly has on the perception of the residents.
I also thought the show should be watched by the libertarian inclined as an object lesson in the limitations of self regulation of society. The industries there are completely unregulated and untaxed; a perfect little Randian experiment, I would have thought. And yes, the slum does show the inherent innovation and capitalist tendencies in self organised human societies. But it also shows that capitalism, at least in a culture such as India's, can be very slow to self correct for the abuses and poor treatment of its workers.
You can catch the show on the ABC’s iView still.