Updated: May 10, 2019 8:27:44 pm
Clutching onto the half water-filled plastic bottles of Bisleri, Pepsi and Aquafina, one after the other, men take their 8:30 am morning walk every day from their home in the Anna Nagar slum to the sidewalk along the railway tracks. A first-timer to this slum might not be able to guess the destination, but commuters passing the Indraprastha Metro Station have become accustomed to the sight of this morning routine.
The Anna Nagar slums near Indraprastha (IP) Metro Station houses nearly 5000 families. Literally, every corner of this locality has a public toilet, all set up in 2016, exactly a year after the Aam Aadmi Party won the Assembly elections in the national capital. But that has not prevented most residents here from continuing to defecate in the open. From long queues to giving women priority to use latrines, the men here have a variety of excuses for choosing to venture out on these ‘morning walks’.
“There are only five toilets for men in one block and they are all occupied early morning, so we rush outside,” complains 27-year-old auto driver Rajesh who needs to be on the road by 10 am.
But there could be a more natural reason. In fact, some of the older residents confess the “real relief” lies in defecating in the open. “Back in our village, we do it in the fields, in the open. It is satisfying as a closed room stinks and is suffocating. It is difficult to wait to get into toilets, it is always full,” discloses 57-year-old Manohar Sharma.
But it is clear that the slum is under the Aam Aadmi Party spell, even four years after the party won the state elections. Residents claim Kejriwal has done a lot for the ‘Aam Aadmi’. “Humaare jaise aam aadmiyo ke liye Kejriwal Sarkaar ne bohot Kuch kiya hai (The Kejriwal government has done much for the common man),” says Sharma, elaborating how the area went from one public toilet to nearly 20 toilets in the past four years.
“Hum Kejriwal ji ko matdaan denge, Bajpa ne unko pura choot diya hota toh parastithi aur behtar hoti (We will vote for Arvind Kejriwal, if BJP had given them freedom to function (statehood), conditions would have been even better),” says 32-year-old Aakash who works as a mechanic.
The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) claims to have upgraded toilets, not only by building new and better infrastructure, but also ensuring regular maintenance. Top officers say they now have an internal app which records complaints and issues alerts to respective district officers to ensure corrective actions. They say that the residents really don’t have a good reason anymore not to use public toilets here.
Cleaning utensils under the borewell pipe outside her 20*20 shanty, 15-year-old Soni, who studies at a government school, has a similar story to tell. “Until four years ago, girls and women had to go out to defecate in the open early morning before men would wake up or in the dark, which used to be quite unsafe but now the scenario has changed.”
Due to the space constraints, almost every shanty here relies on these public toilets. Earlier, menstruating women had to send male members outside the house if they had to change their blood-stained cloth or pads, Soni shares.
While MCD workers do their rounds every morning to clean the clogged drains outside the shanties, all the dump ends up in the water body on the eastern and western fringes of the slum. It might be incidental that the slum is just next door to the World Health Organization office. But then slum president N Kuppusamy sums up what that means for Anna Nagar: “(WHO) Officers came once in 2013 but since then they have not turned to look at us though they are aware of our living conditions.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.