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Kamlesh Rani, 70, sits by a mud stove, which doubles as a bonfire, cooking dinner before it gets dark. Her one-room jhuggi in Jahangirpuri is filled to the brim with utensils, buckets, a bed and baskets used to store groceries, leaving no space to cook. Like her, most women at the G and H blocks cook food on mud stoves, kept on the sides of the JJ cluster’s four-feet lanes. “Nallahs are overflowing, children defecate there, and we cook food nearby.
It’s unhygienic, yes, but we don’t have an option,” she says. The cooking, though, is not her main worry — the bigger headache is what happens when women have to use the toilet. Despite the North Corporation declaring all 104 wards under its jurisdiction open defecation free on January 1, the situation at the JJ cluster shows the chasm between what’s on paper and the ground reality.
The area has just two toilet blocks, of which one is currently under renovation, while the other is filthy owing to erratic water supply and lack of maintenance. The real problem, though, arises at night. “We make do with one bathroom, which has around 16 toilet blocks, as most men here go to the bathrooms where they work. The condition might improve once the second toilet is inaugurated, but the actual is problem is at night,” she says.
While the North civic body claims to provide access to either an individual toilet or a community toilet within 500 metres from every settlement, the facilities under its jurisdiction open at 5 am and shut around 11 pm. “I once went to defecate near the Metro pillar. It was dark and I slipped and broke my hand,” she says.
“For men, it is easier. They just sit near the waste-to-energy plant. But we have to go inside the forested area… There is a fear of snakes, of teasing, but what can one do?” Sarita Devi, 40, says, “We try to adjust our routine in a way that we do not have to use the toilet at night. But it’s not always possible. Once my daughter had an upset stomach, so I accompanied her every time… you can’t let a 16-year-old go alone at night.”
When contacted, North Corporation Mayor Preeti Aggarwal said, “We will do a survey to explore the possibilities of opening toilets round-the-clock.” Around 10 km away, at a JJ cluster next to a railway line in Shalimar Bagh, stands a DUSIB toilet with boards outside proclaiming it is a 24-hour facility. Residents, however, claim the facility closes around midnight, and they have to relieve themselves near the tracks.
“There are three toilet blocks for around 1,500 women here. Going to the tracks is risky when there’s fog, but what else can we do,” says Vina Devi. The toilet’s caretaker says he is forced to shut it at night since there’s just two tubelights and no source of electricity inside the toilet blocks. “I sit here till midnight, but after that it gets so cold that I leave. Plus there’s the risk of men and women entering the wrong toilet by accident in the dark. I cannot take the risk,” he says.