In its slum-free city action plan (SFCAP), the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) has stated that 22.30 per cent of the population living in 589 surveyed jhuggi-jhopri (JJ) clusters in Delhi defecate in the open. Of the 2,55,435 households, 55 per cent use community toilets.
The story of the community toilet, however, unfolds in a way that is directly related to open defecation. While hygiene is a compelling reason dissuading many slum-dwellers from using the community toilets, safety is as much a concern for women and children.
South Delhi has the highest population of slum-dwellers defecating in the open, the SFCAP claims. Tigri Camp in South Delhi, divided in two parts, is among the largest JJ clusters in the city consisting at least of 7,174 jhuggis. While one part of it is situated on land owned by the DUSIB, the other is on land owned by the DDA.
In the H block of Tigri Camp, men and women alike lament the condition of the community toilet run by the MCD. They claim it caters to over 1,000 households living in about a kilometre around the toilet.
The “complex,” as the slum-dwellers call it, has 16 toilets inside but its condition is poor and people use it only because there is nowhere else to go, they say.
Rajesh Maurya (27), who works as a gardener, has been living in Tigri Camp for 22 years.
“The complex is so dirty, there is no place to step anywhere inside. People carry rocks from outside so that they can step on the rocks to use the toilet. I have a four-year-old daughter who is never taken there. Since she is a child, we let her defecate in the open by the nallah.”
While some residents have built toilets inside their homes, a majority depend on the community toilets. Women living in the slum say the “complex” is never cleaned or manned.
“There are separate toilets for men and women but since there is no one to watch, men barge into the women’s toilet. We cannot send our teenage girls alone to the toilet. Most of these girls are accompanied by their mothers. In the night, it’s too dark and unsafe to go there. Our daughters, like their mothers, have learnt to control themselves at night but sometimes when it is unavoidable, they are forced to go out in the open,” Maya Devi (40) said.
During monsoons, there is water-logging around the community toilet. “What choice do we have? In knee-deep water, we drag ourselves to the complex. Sometimes it is so dirty inside that we just have to go outside around the complex,” Om Shri (35) said.
Bharat (26), a painter from Tigri Camp, said the residents have often complained to the MCD and the Delhi government about the terrible state the toilet is in.
However, he said, little has been done. While some residents have built toilets in their homes, the proposal is not financially viable for all.
“It’s not about space. We can create space inside the house but we cannot afford to build a toilet. So we use the complex but that also is closed between 12 noon and 4 pm on most days. If there is an emergency, we make special requests to those who have toilets in their homes,” Ramesh Goswami (33), a math tutor, said.