From what seems like a month since I wrote for the blog, I finally decided to go back to a few memory lanes- to the ‘galis’ (gully) of Delhi. Reminiscing the reason that brought me to Habitat, I write about an experience that defined a life long purpose for me.
The Sunday afternoon, seemed like the perfect time, in years, when I could go out there and witness for myself, the conditions that several millions in a groomed city like Delhi, live in. For us, those living in apartments, houses, mansions, etc of our own, sanitation has always been a given. One can not even come down to imagining a situation where we would not be able to enjoy such luxuries. For those living in the Sonia Gandhi Camp, RK Puram, New Delhi, it is an everyday battle!
Situated in the heart of the city, surrounded by posh colonies, like Vasant Vihar and Anandniketan, bang opposite the grand Nivedita Apartments, the Sonia Gandhi Camp is perfect example of a City’s bias. Housing about 400 juggis (slums), this camp consists of primarily kachha makans (shanty homes). The galis in the camp are just about wide enough for a single individual to walk through, a situation that is common to most slums.
Sonia Gandhi Camp, population: 400 juggis
We started out our visit to the slum, by entering one such gali in the hustle bustle of the afternoon. For starters, we asked the local residents of the camp, whether there was a each juggi had a separate toilet facility or not. The answer was a blatant ‘no’, in accordance with what we could see for ourselves. The houses were merely one room accommodations, with a small gas burner, in some, or a chulah (stove) in one corner, and the rest of the space being shared by 2-3 members of the family.
Toilet Facilities: The camp had one community toilet. All the residents of the juggis in the camp were expected to use the same facility. Located in one corner of the camp, the community toilet was in a deplorable condition.
Community Toilet: The toilet was constructed by the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi), by was run and ‘maintained’ by the local thekedars (contractors). Rs 2/- was charged from all women, men and even children to use the facilities. They also told us that the facilities remained closed to them every afternoon as the person in charge of the maintenance would put a lock on the tank and leave.
To take a closer look at the faculty, we entered the grounds, only to be left aghast! The section meant for women, had excreta leaking out of everywhere!
On taking a closer look one could see that the main drainage pipe, which collects the excreta from all the cubicles was broken.
The toilet had reached an inhuman condition for usage. Since there was limited choice, all residents would use the same facility. Frankly it was difficult get past the mind numbing smell of the excreta, and to take a closer at the condition of each cubicle.
Later, we were candidly told that by a young girl living in the camp, that at night, most of the women preferred to use the pavements to defecate. Where the pavement on the left side of the camp was used by men, the right side was meant for the women and children.
Maintenance: We were told that a cleaner would come 2-3 times a week to clean the toilet. He had been deputed for the job by the thekedars (local contractors) itself and received his salary from them . According to a few of the residents, the cleaner has visited and apparently cleaned the toilet, just the day before.
Boring water Facility: On inquiring about water facility in the camp, we were told by many of the residents that kachcha water (hard water) was meant to wash clothes was available in the bounds of the community itself. This water came from the boring underground and was switched on by the maintenance guy, every morning 6am to 9am. This water would be used in the same space as the toilet to wash clothes and take a bath.
Every afternoon, he would put a lock on the tank and shut off all boring water outflow. The same would be switched on again in the evening from 4pm to 8pm.
Drinking Water Facility: The camp had a single tap situated at one end; with sparing amount of water trickling down from it, every now and then. We were told by the locals that the situation was terrifying every morning from 4am to 8am, when the MCD would open lines for drinking water. Every one raced to get a bucket of water filled and the sometimes the fight for water would last for hours. The rest of the day, the water would just trickle down in a minimal flow.
The lines would open again, every evening from 4pm to 8pm.
Later we were told by the youngsters from the camp that the nearby Jal Board (Water Authority) officer would often allow them to fill buckets and cans from the main outlet.
The residents of the camp would carry along with them a number of buckets to Jal Board main outlet of water, situated right across the camp. They would then fill up the buckets and carry them back to the camp on a regular basis. This they would get done for free.
We also spoke to the Pradhan (head) of the Camp, who was very approachable and did not object us inquiring about any of the details. He expressed his grievances as transparently as he could as seemed genuinely perturbed with the condition of the community toilet. Scared, yet concerned the pradhan expressed what a nuisance the local contractors were and how inspite of complaining a number of times the situation remained grim.
As a run up to the World Urban forum, where I shall be participating in the Youth Assembly, I really want to highlight the issue of Urban Water and Sanitation. From what it seems, right now is the time, when all of us need to engage, in whatever way possible, in matters that concern sanitation.
Not trying to undermine, other aspects of health, but defecation is a daily part of our lives but the impact that most slum dwellers have because of a lack in facilities, can be disastrous.