Right to a toilet

For the health, dignity and safety of women in slums, a comprehensive policy for the maintenance and construction of public toilets is needed.

Written by Shaina N.C. | Published:February 9, 2016 12:02 am
The BMC study revealed that 58 per cent of community toilets in slums have no electricity. The BMC study revealed that 58 per cent of community toilets in slums have no electricity.

Living in a slum in Bandra West close to the railway station, Vijaya wakes up every morning to anxiety over the trek she and her daughter must take into the open, carrying water cans, to answer nature’s call. They could use the community toilet nearby, but it’s in terrible shape and it’s simply easier to head into the open, despite the daily trauma.

Open defecation poses a serious threat to the health of children in India and is the main reason why India reports the highest diarrhoeal deaths among children under five. Additionally, in women, it is linked to other health problems, such as urinary tract infections, kidney and bladder malfunctions due to prolonged retention periods. According to the latest UNICEF report, open defecation puts at risk the dignity of women in India and they are constrained to relieve themselves only under the cover of dark for reasons of privacy.

This reality is faced by over 20 per cent of Mumbai’s residents — alarming because, according to Census 2011, over nine million people live in the slums of Mumbai. According to a six-month intensive study on slum toilets in Mumbai by Payal Tiwari of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), defecating in the open is a compulsion, not a choice. “If we had proper toilets in our home or close by, would I allow my daughter to risk her life to go in the open?” questions Vijaya. The fact, endorsed by a recent study by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), is that toilets in slums are in a deplorable state. The BMC study revealed that 58 per cent of community toilets in slums have no electricity, 78 per cent have no water or proper sewerage connection. Countless such toilets, many constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) or the BMC, don’t have doors, latches or proper ventilation.

My own interactions with slum residents led me to discover more reasons why they prefer to defecate in the open. The slum toilets that I entered have been filthy. Apart from the unbearable stench, there are cockroaches, lizards, rats and even maggots around the toilet complexes. In many places, women squat with the doors ajar, for ventilation. Further, the men’s and women’s sections are often not segregated properly, leading to safety issues for women.

One slum resident pointed out to me that it’s easier for her to defecate in the open than to wait in the painfully long queues. There are fewer toilet seats for women than for men. There is also the recurring problem of used sanitary pads strewn around or stuffed down toilets or in the toilet windows, blocking ventilation. Why cannot women who use them dispose of them properly? This is something residents can control.

Children almost always defecate in the open. According to Tiwari, “Children are often shooed away from toilet queues because they take too much time. Also, it is easier for children to squat anywhere.” Open defecation as a practice is inculcated in children when they are young, making the act acceptable to them. This is an outcome of the lack of infrastructure and the lack of motivation to put an end to the practice.

According to the ORF report, at the Jai Santoshi Mata Nagar slum in Sahargaon, Andheri East, there’s only a handful of toilets for the thousands of slum residents. These toilets are in such despicable condition that residents prefer to defecate along both sides of the road, either early in the morning or after dark, using umbrellas to cover themselves.

In the Ambujwadi slum in Malvani, there’s not a single toilet, so residents have no choice but to defecate in the forested area nearby. An area has been designated as the community toilet and men’s and women’s sections identified. But it’s the women who suffer the most, protecting their dignity from Peeping Toms with cameras. The women speak of men with their pants down making lewd gestures at them. In the monsoon, the area becomes slushy, leading to accidents, especially among the elderly women. In one incident, a girl was abducted when she went to defecate. Another time, a woman was saved by her alert mother-in-law before she could be dragged away by men. Women here also have to keep a lookout for wild pigs. Disturbingly, to avoid going to the jungle, some women, especially pregnant women, use a designated sari to defecate in.

There’s a wide gap between demand and supply. Did you know that in Mumbai, currently, there’s only one toilet seat per 1,800 women and that there’s a shortfall of over 65,000 public toilet seats? As I see it, the root of the problem lies in the lack of willingness to address public issues. A comprehensive and uniform policy for the maintenance and construction of public toilets is what we need. Hollow election-time promises will only compound the problems for women.

Prashant Patil, deputy municipal commissioner, says pay-and-use toilets are better because they are maintained better. The reality, however, is that all toilets in slums are overused, under-cleaned and insufficient for the population. Vijaya points out that the public toilet close to her home was constructed by a local politician years ago. The politician gave them locks to keep the toilet complex safe, but the latches were soon broken by those who came from the railway station nearby to use the toilet. Now, the drains are perpetually choked. “In the monsoon, the gutters right outside our homes overflow and the stench is unbearable,” says Vijaya. She brings things into perspective. She points out that politicians only repair or construct toilets when it’s election time. Soon after elections, the people are forgotten.

From the recommendations in the ORF report and my own investigation, I believe sanitation in Mumbai’s slums is a top priority. Building a minimum of 1,00,000 new toilet seats before the end of 2016 is a must. These toilets must be useable, connected to the sewerage system and electrified. I recommended that new legislation be brought in to make the UN-endorsed right to safe water and sanitation a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. I propose the creation of a single, empowered and apex-level Mumbai sanitation and cleanliness authority under the BMC that does away with multiple agencies. I also propose looking into bio-toilets.

This is really the need of the hour and I cannot stress enough the importance of adequate, improved and safe sanitation for the city of Mumbai.

The writer is a fashion designer and BJP politician

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  1. P
    Prasarak Mandal
    Feb 9, 2016 at 4:49 am
    MNREGA needs to be reviewed. Need holistic grameen vikaas plan - based on Ralegan Siddhi , Deendayal Upadhyaya's Integral Humanism as shown by Nanaji Deshmukh in 6 districts ! 6 new IIT's not required, but each IIT requires a 'Tech for rural Dev' school eg as in IITD and IITB . We need 2 more IRMA's - same as in Anand ( and 25% seats for rural students in them for next 5 years ) ! Why slum is there - think ? Manage potion growth !
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    1. I
      IndianWellWisher
      Feb 9, 2016 at 12:33 am
      Like Jaggi Vasudev said, India needs more toilets per street than places of worship. Unless Basic Education and Primary Healthcare is ured, no amount of reservations or freebies from govt can help India.
      Reply
      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Feb 9, 2016 at 11:18 am
        The problem of open drainage and defecation was pointed out by hi in many of his speeches and writings. This is not a new issue. All the previous governments overlooked the gravity of the situation and the present is faring no better except raising the issue from time to time so as to divert from other pressing issues of caste and communal discrimination.
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        1. A
          Arun Sharma
          Feb 9, 2016 at 5:22 am
          Like smart city, hold compeion for providing enough toilets, dustbins and other such facilities to all. Right to sanitation is required. Mumbai with such a huge budget and tax collection should build enough pay and use toilets run by NGOs or private agencies. Local ward officer should keep a check on sanitation and proper maintenance of the toilets. Slum dwellers earn enough to pay for minimum usage charges of toilets water and electricity
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          1. R
            Rajesh
            Feb 9, 2016 at 10:30 am
            Once again, we are forced to ask what did these CONgi thieves do during their 7 decades in power? The money looted during Bofors, 2G, CWG, Adarsh or any other scam is more than enough to build a toilet for every Indian. Instead they keep making their criminal family richer.
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            1. d
              dv1936
              Feb 9, 2016 at 4:38 am
              An eye opener, this is area where congress has failed miserably, BJP should attend to this issue on a war footing.
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              1. G
                G M
                Feb 9, 2016 at 7:19 am
                "NA KHAUNGA AUR NA KHANE DUNGA-MODI" is implemented .Due to soaring price public is starving. So from here on minimal use of toilets.So new slogan is " NA KHAI GA INDIA TO KAHAN JAIGA INDIA".
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                1. H
                  Harsh
                  Feb 9, 2016 at 12:43 pm
                  Toilets are not only essential for women, but for everyone and it is not locality centric. Poor maintenance of toilets is our common disease, which is everywhere from our five star hotels to railway station. Basically it is not the problem of toilets, but of our culture that prevents us to pay the due share of others from our prosperity. Slum developed because we pay very marginal for any labour, what we pay that may not be even sufficient to eat two time meal for a family then how they will construct and maintain the toilets. On the other hand we stack millions of millions tons of gold and wealth as black money at the religious places and at our safe tax havens that remains as it is from generation to generation, but we hesitate to pay due share to them who help us to generate this wealth. Why not any our civil society or organization that comes under charity never build and maintain toilets wherever required and left to do everything on government. Because we have rusted mentality that only thinks self enlightenment and in bargain kills humanity and creates slums.
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                  1. L
                    Lakshmi
                    Feb 9, 2016 at 6:59 am
                    Funny how this issue was never discussed by all these columnists until Modiji had the humanity and compion to do, not just talk, about it. Still there are so called educated Indians who want to vote Cong. Until and unless the run of the mill Indian politicians, the administrative and foreign service Brown Sahibs and the affluent and elite focus in uplifting honestly the street and slum dwellers and those that are discriminated to drain their life blood for the sins of their ancestors, it is laughable and vainglorious, not to mention a pipedream to seek seat in UNSC or even superpower status.
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                    1. M
                      Murthy Suppusamy
                      Feb 10, 2016 at 12:59 pm
                      I agree partially. I would like to see solution though.
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                      1. M
                        Murthy Suppusamy
                        Feb 9, 2016 at 10:18 pm
                        I lived in America for over 25 years. Indians still don't get it. 97% adult Americans pay income tax. In India, only 3% of the potion pays income tax. Don't you get it now? I have seen 1000s of article on this subject for over 30 years on every news paper and every magazine. First collect income tax from everyone who owes taxes, enforcing income tax law. Then you will have enough money to maintain public toilets! And India will have enough money to put toilets on Mars and maintain it for future visitors. All these articles are wrong prescriptions for right diagnostics.
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                        1. p
                          p.kumar
                          Feb 9, 2016 at 3:59 am
                          Till we find better ways to solve, on a long term, this gruesome and insulting problem, the local female leaders in a community can help improve the situation by finding local short-term solutions to the problem, site-specific. This includes compelling any visiting politician to use the toilet in the locality.
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                            Praveen R
                            Feb 9, 2016 at 7:11 am
                            I think MNS rather than opposing the helmet rule should rather look into people's problem. After all they always flaunt "Mumbaikars" in their campaign, the reality looks far from it.
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                              appu
                              Feb 9, 2016 at 2:43 am
                              Shainaji, You are in the government now, take action immediately. All of us know the problems and shortages. What we should be reading is the progress you are making to resolve the problem.
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                              1. R
                                Ravi
                                Feb 9, 2016 at 6:26 am
                                Thanks to IE. To end open defecation we need to break the silence and give coverage to these issues in mainstream media. Our PM deserves credit to bring this issue to fore. Sad that we still wasting time discussing who is intolerant , anti-national ,Pro-BJP, Anti-KJ.
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                                1. S
                                  SP
                                  Feb 9, 2016 at 6:38 am
                                  Encouraging construction of slums with no proper access to water, what else do you expect? So far no plan for affordable housing has worked in India. Increasing influx keeps wages low or excessive demand makes issues harder. Moving certain activities out of the city is the only option.
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                                  1. T
                                    Thomas George
                                    Feb 10, 2016 at 2:29 am
                                    "Even more ic is the helmet law that is aimed to protect a brain that is working so poorly that it is not even trying to protect the cracking of the skull that it is in. -- Jerry Seinfeld. " That said, the right thing to do is treat all non-helmet accident deaths as suicides and withhold life insurance payouts. People who love their families and have life insurance will wear one then.
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                                    1. T
                                      Thomas George
                                      Feb 10, 2016 at 2:20 am
                                      In the USA, caste based discrimination did not become a major problem because the black potion is less than 20% of the potion. The poor and discriminated are unfortunately the majority potion in India. A few toilets will not change that situation either.
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                                      1. T
                                        Thomas George
                                        Feb 10, 2016 at 2:17 am
                                        It is directly connected to education and productivity. Most of rural India is not productive enough to even afford food, forget about income tax. It is a blow back from a period when the Zamindars and upper castes used the caste system to create a pool of bonded labor; they were prohibited from learning, and were socially segregated. Unfortunately for us, they form the majority of our potion. Our success or failure will depend on the willingness and ability of the privileged society to educate and nurture the next generation of these people who were discriminated against.
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                                          Thomas George
                                          Feb 10, 2016 at 2:23 am
                                          With all that money, they must be richest people in the world now. I understand the politics, but there is no need to keep bringing irrelevant points into a serious discussion. Blame will not solve our problems, thinking about what to do next will.
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                                            Thomas George
                                            Feb 10, 2016 at 2:26 am
                                            Yeah. There are many who voted for Modi who is regretting that now. It is mostly because of s like you who run around abusing people because you think that an electoral win in a democracy gives you that right. Modi can't do anything because he is in the grip of the same vote bank fear -- fear of losing core supporters who it turns out are bigots of the highest degree. Pathetic!
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