Wearing her pink floral night dress, 46-year-old Surekha Aalder stands outside the community toilet at Jai Hind Nagar slums in Mankhurd, pulling women aside as they step into the toilet, to speak in hushed tones. Sometimes there is a group of women listening to her attentively, all being counselled by her on menstrual hygeine. “Throw the sanitary napkin in the dustbins. We have kept the dustbin inside so that nobody sees you throwing it,” she says.
In Cheeta Camp, Trombay, community based organisation (CBO) officer Abdul Malik has pasted notices inside men’s toilets, asking them to refrain from throwing empty liquor bottles into the pot. He has even caught hold of a few young boys himself to counsel them. The counseling programme is intensifying across slums in Mumbai after sanitary inspectors found an interesting field observation — 20 per cent of the community toilets are clogged due to sanitary napkins in women toilets and liquor bottles in men’s.
According to slum sanitation program officials, a septic tank that would ideally be cleaned twice a year has to be cleaned three to four times. A cesspool vehicle to suck the sewage has to be arranged everytime. Just a week ago, Aalder had to get the choked drainage line cleaned in Mankhurd after used pads and bottles blocked the sewage line spilling dirt on ground. “Can’t understand why men drink inside toilets,” she says.
For about 2,000 small and big slum pockets in Mumbai, there are 750 BMC toilet blocks and over 5,500 toilets constructed by MMRDA. These toilets support a population of an estimated 53 lakh slum dwellers in the city.
“One toilet block caters to 2,000 to 3,000 people. Recently, when we cleaned the septic tank, we found a lot of sanitary napkins despite there being dustbins,” said Abdul Sattar, a CBO officer at Kamla Nehru Nagar in Govandi. On discussion, it was found that women were shy about disclosing that they were menstruating and preferred throwing used pads inside the cubicle itself. With no flush facility, Sattar said the bottles and pads would clog the drain while some would start depositing in septic tank. “Every day we find at least two empty bottles behind toilet doors,” he added.
Yogesh Welkar, sanitary inspector, spoke to several men to understand the issue. “Several are not allowed to drink or smoke up at home. They either go out of the slum to drink or carry a bottle to the toilet. With no awareness on the consequences of clogging drainage, they find it easy to dispose off bottles in toilets,” he said.
According to Smriti Keriyar, attached with Jatan, 450 women from different slums were sensitised about menstrual hygeine and how to safely dispose off sanitary napkins. “In urban slums, the resources are limited. Several now use ready-made pads which has plastic which is both, bad for body and does not decompose easily,” she said. In her sensitisation session, she advocated the use of home made cotton pads which can be washed and prevent civic sanitation issues.