Women in slums most vulnerable

They are forced to go to unsafe places at odd times, risking sexual harassment

The lack of public toilets affects women the most, particularly those living in the city’s slums and jhuggi jhopri clusters.

While the others have access to toilets at their home or workplace, women in slums are forced to defecate at railway tracks, drains and dark, dirty corners.

As if the absence of safe and hygienic toilets itself wasn’t bad enough, this also leads to sexual harassment, molestation and even rape in the slums.

“Unlike a man, a woman cannot be seen doing it in the open or in the vicinity of people known to her in the settlement. So she usually chooses the early morning hours or the night time to relieve herself.

Most cases of sexual harassment reported to us from the slums and jhuggi jhopris take place when these women are out to answer the call of nature,” says a Delhi Police inspector.

He says while there is no official study to link lack of toilets to crime against women, it certainly is an important factor, at least in the urban setting.

Poor women in rural settings happen to be more fortunate than those in urban slums, since they have the option of open spaces and agricultural fields.

While the slum and JJ department of Delhi government claims it is doing all that is required, the fact remains that about 90 percent of slums in Delhi have no toilets and dismal sanitation facilities. 

“The government may claim anything but our slum does not have a single toilet. We defecate in the open on railway tracks,” says Gopal, a resident of Anna Nagar.

When confronted with this, a slum department official says in slums — where there is a shortage of space and no piped water supply — the government does not allow building a permanent toilet complex, since it cannot be maintained and may ultimately prove to be a health hazard.

 “There is always a problem of maintaining a permanent toilet structure, so some slums have been provided with a movable community toilet complex (CTC),” says the official.

According to him, the norm is one latrine seat for 30 jhuggis. So, if a single jhuggi has a minimum of five members, one latrine seat caters to 150 people. In the case of resettlement colonies, one CTC with 20 seats for men and 20 for women is considered enough for 500 households.

Even the official agrees that this is too few toilets; and a possible cause of communicable diseases, especially for women who are more prone to infection.

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