Where railways tracks are toilets

Raviya has been staying apart from her daughter since she was three as she doesn’t want her to face the struggle each morning brings. Raviya wakes up early to go to the bushes or the railway tracks nearby and relieves herself there as there is no toilet at her home.

“I got married 21 years ago and when my daughter was just three years old, there was an incident in which a 20-year-old girl was raped when she went out early morning to attend the call of nature. I had then decided that my daughter will not stay here,” she says.

The place where Raviya lives is not a village but is in the heart of the national capital, which is a contender for the smart city tag. Her slum, Anna Nagar, situated at Indraprastha is very close to Delhi Secretariat and just on the periphery of World Health Organisation’s office. Around 4,000 households here are a representative of urban poverty, lack of sanitation facilities like so many other unregistered colonies and clusters in Delhi.

Raviya’s daughter is now 18 years old and preparing for her college entrance exam in Aligarh in a ‘pucca’ house. “I sent her to my mother’s home in Aligarh. Though education is better here, there are other things such as basic sanitation facilities and safety which are more important than education,” she says, adding, “All my relatives opposed this decision back then, but I did not budge.”

The Anna Nagar slum dwellers have the option of either defecating in the open or using the toilets built near a small dispensary located just at the end of the slum area. The community toilets have 25 seats.

“The toilets are very dirty. I feel pukey, so I prefer not to go there. Plus, sometimes water is not available, so we have to carry our buckets,” says Sheila Devi.
“You tell me, are 25 toilets enough for around 4,000 people,” she asks.

The toilet complex gives off a strong stench. The toilets are as small in size as they can get, there is just enough space to squat.  Kuku Swami, pradhan of the slum, says new toilets are being constructed near the old ones. However, there is just one person to clean them.

While the fee of Rs 2 to use the toilet facility looks reasonable, many households in the slum are a family of six or seven, with just one earning hand, and say they can’t afford to spend so much..

“A toilet facility should be inside or just next to somebody’s home. Here, even if we have space, constructing a toilet is not allowed because there is no drainage, sewerage system, or septic tanks here. We have to use the community toilets only. First, they are so dirty that nobody wants to use them. Second, why should we pay? This colony is around 50 years old. We have heard so many promises till date, but nothing has happened,” says 19-year-old Rakesh. According to slum dwellers, every year there are at least two cases of people being killed by speeding trains while relieving themselves on the tracks or while crossing them.

Though the pradhan says that Railway police have prohibited the use of tracks for defecating after the accidents, people confess that 90 per cent of the slum population still use them.

Also, there were a lot of incidents relating to safety of women while defecating in the open, after which the areas for defecation have been demarcated for men and women.
According to a latest report released by an Indian NGO, Child Rights and You(CRY), 52 per cent of the children living in Delhi slums and unauthorised colonies defecate in the open.
Anna Nagar is just one of the many slums in Delhi which lack basic sanitation facilities.

Out of the 690 slum clusters in Delhi, 272 clusters do not have community toilet complexes.  In a third of the clusters which have the complexes, the state of the facility suffers from poor maintenance, according to figures from Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

No wonder, the municipal corporations of Delhi secured an abominable ranking, 398 of the total 476 cities surveyed, in a Ministry of Urban Development’s pan-India sanitation survey recently.

Delhi’s slums house people whose work makes the lives of its citizens easier but they themselves offer the worst of living conditions.

Another slum

Like Anna Nagar, Indira Camp in Kalyanpuri is another address which lacks basic facilities like toilets. In block no. 21 of Indira Camp there are 700 households, out of which 60% don’t have a toilet.

Lack of toilet is an age-old issue for the slum dwellers of Indira Camp. Politicians use it for their benefit but once the election season is over, such issues fade into the background.
“Before elections, politicians promise the dwellers toilets, safe drinking water and electricity. But once the elections are over all the promises vanish in thin air,” says Vijendra Kumar, a local resident.

Lack of toilet is not only about health and hygiene; it is also a matter of a person’s dignity and security.  People complain of robberies and snatchings when they go out to relieve themselves.  Women prefer not to go alone.

“Gangs of thieves operate here. We can’t let our children alone. If our husbands are not around and we have to relieve ourselves, we are an open target for them,” says, 23-year-old Mamata.

The main victims of having a toilet-less household are women and children. Having been compelled to relieve themselves in the open –especially during the dark– they may have to stave off attacks from sexual predators lurking there.

Thirty-five-year old Chanu Devi recalls one such incident where she was almost raped but because of her then seven-year-old daughter’s bravery she managed to save herself.
“Six-seven years back, I went outside with my daughter to relieve myself near the pond. It would be around 9 pm when a group of four-five boys encircled me. Sensing danger, my daughter started shouting for help, and then they ran away,” says Chanu.

Police response is also lax. They take the complaints very casually, say slum dwellers.
“Policemen don’t care. When we call them they arrive not before 30 minutes by that time often the incident finishes,’’ says Vijendra.

According to the people at Indira Camp, earlier there were some public toilets nearby but once they got damaged, no new ones were built.  The ward councillor, who gets Rs 50 lakh per annum for the maintenance of public services under his area, has promised to make two 80-seat toilet complexes in the area within one year.

“This year we didn’t get a single rupee from the MCD. But work on two toilet complexes is going on. Hopefully by the end of this year we will get rid of the problem of open defecation,’’ says Raj Kumar Dhillon, councillor, Kalyanpuri.

The slum dwellers, however, treat his claims with skepticism.  “These toilets have been in the making for the last three years. One day some people at night stole the building material and since then the work has stopped,” says  local resident Mandeep.

“Even if they are made, two toilet complexes are not enough for the population of the entire area,” he adds. On paper, at least, there are plans to address the problem. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board hopes to construct two lakh public toilets public toilets across the city, and out of these 1.5 lakh will be in the slums.

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