Sushma Devi, 65, goes to the nearby doctor every second day of the week. The doctor gives her medicines that do not seem to have any effect on her. She is diagnosed with intestinal worm infection and diarrhoea. Although, she does not understand all the medical terms, she knows that her health is deteriorating. The doctor has advised her to
use cleaner toilets.
Despite her condition, she does not have an option but to defecate in the open. Entering Devi’s makeshift home, there is a distinct smell of medicines. Living alone, she finds it difficult to keep count of the medicines that she takes each day for her condition. Many other women in the area suffer from intestinal and worm infections, extreme diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and vaginal infections, mostly caused due to defecating in the open. Out of four public toilets in the area, only one functions. That is, for every 500 women living in the area of Kusumpur Pahari, there is just one toilet seat.
Kusumpur Pahari is the largest slum cluster situated alongside the remnants of the endangered Delhi Ridge Area around Vasant Vihar. With a population of more than 20,000, the settlement came into being almost 35 to 40 years ago.
The only functional toilet located in Block D is mostly inaccessible for many. “That is very far from where we live in Savitri Camp of the area,” says Savita Devi, a dweller in the area. These people are migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
Located in Vasant Vihar, one of the most high-profile areas in Delhi, this slum is in stark contrast to the area’s posh bungalows. A majority of the slum residents are servants, drivers and sweepers who work in the nearby bungalows.
Manoj Kumar, 35, a car driver by profession, built a toilet in his home two years ago so that his wife did not have to visit the nearby ‘jungle’ to relieve herself. “It cost me Rs 15,000 but it was necessary to stay away from squatting in the open,” Kumar tells Metrolife. “Where would we go for that much money?” asks Raju who lives in a six by six feet kutchha jhuggi in the neighbourhood and cannot afford a private toilet. “Is there something known as a public toilet?” asks Rani Kumari, a ragpicker.
The safety of women, or rather lack of it, becomes glaring considering the many cases of assault that occur. “But many choose to not report,” says Mathangi Ravindran, police constable in the R K Puram area. Due to under-reporting, it is hard to determine accurate figures for sexual violence against women in Delhi, particularly from government statistics.
The most published and retweeted image at the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) was that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sweeping the ground. One of the prominent highlights of the mass programme is its emphasis to end open defecation by 2019. Recently, it was announced by the Government of India that 480 public toilet seats will be installed at 80 different locations in Delhi in the next three months.
Can the slums manage to get public toilets? The problem deepens when the government does not recognise clusters like these and “does not provide even the basic facilities,” Bindeshwar Pathak, social activist and head of Sulabh International toilet chain tells Metrolife.
He adds, “Sulabh cannot directly set up and maintain the toilets without the government’s and Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s approval.”
Meanwhile the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is yet to come out with the list of specified locations for building public toilets. With 675 slum clusters in Delhi, according to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), “the ill-facilities and non-availability of toilets along with people’s habits are, infact, reasons for sheer underdevelopment and incurable diseases,” says Pancratius Minj, project officer, DUSIB.
The unavailability of public toilets and the unhygienic conditions, not only make the people vulnerable to diseases but expose girls and women to many underlying issues in society. “It is food for thought for a society which claims to make it secure for every woman. What I abhor is that shame, guilt and honour become cusswords,” sums up social activist Barkha Shukla Singh.