Sanjay Colony is a slum area in Okhla Industrial Area – Phase II. Presently, the slum area
has a population of about 40,000 people. There are two CTCs in the area, which were built 10 years back when the population living in the area was 10,000. Each of them has one area marked for men and one for women. Currently, there is only one set of toilets for men which is being run by a private contractor. The remaining sets of toilets are stinking, have so much filth all around that they are not accessible (they have been like this for the past 3 years).
The only ‘functional’ set of men’s toilets is used by both men and women. Most of the cubicles have broken doors and there is no water supply and so, the ‘caretaker’ and his family fill up water from the bore well. Each person who visits the toilet, and needs water, has to fill it in a jerry can (with capacity of only 1 to 2 litres). The caretaker charges Rs 2 for each toilet usage and Rs 3 for bathing or for washing clothes. The caretaker claims that earlier the Councillor, Giriraj Singh had given him a contract and ever since then he and his family have been living there and running the toilet.
Given the fact that there is a charge for every usage and that the contractor is unable to maintain the cleanliness of the toilet, most people use the neighbouring forest area. It is safe for the men to go whenever they like, but for the women, the only time of the day when they can go alone is from 6 am to 8 am; at all other times they don’t have the courage to go alone and generally make a group of about 4 to 5 women to go together. There is an unwritten rule that one side of the forest is for the women to go and the other, the men. But, after 8 am, there are always men who loitre around on the women’s side and trying to find ways to trouble women – there are several cases of sexual harassment. Recently, a newly wedded woman who had come from the village, and had no idea about the ‘toilet system’ in Sanjay Colony, ventured into the forest as she realised that the actual ‘toilet’ was non-existent, she was gang raped and was left unconscious for hours before other women could find her and get her hospitalized.
A few women said: “It is very difficult for us. Imagine using the same toilet area where men also use the toilet with most of the doors broken. Then, given the filth, we have to not only clean our own filth, but we have also to clean the filth created by the person who used the latrine seat before us. Most people end up going to the forest only as there is no choice. Girls and ladies just cannot go alone to the toilet. Especially in the rains the problem only gets heightened, because, firstly, it is definite that the filth will stick to your foot when you go to the toilet in the forest area and also, the forest becomes even denser and there are ‘gundas’ (goons) who hide in the forest area, on the women’s side.”
Even when the toilet complexes were ‘functional’, there were times when men would jump into the cubicles meant for women. This leads to the question whether a ‘closed’ space or an open space is safer for women. One woman told me “…Betho ho jungal mein, aur koi aadmi dikhai deta hai toh jaan bachaane ke liye bhaag toh saktein hain, darwaaza bandh ho aur sitkani lagi ho, toh kya karego?” – which translates to : “..You tell me, if you are squatting in the forest and you see a man, then at least you can run to save your life. But if the door is latched and he jumps from above, then what will you do?”
When I entered the forest area, I noticed people going to the forest with bottles and jerry cans filled with water, and people coming back from the forest with their empty bottles or jerry cans. The entrance of the forest had excreta all over the place and it was not possible to walk around easily, without the filth getting stuck on your footwear. There were people who were trying to look for dense areas to squat and hide. There were groups of women and children together and men were alone. I saw groups of young boys roaming around – they were (probably) ones who were harassing the girls and women going to the toilet in the forest area.
The men in the area feel that the issue of toilets affects women far more. One said: “Auraton ke liye toh stithi bahut kharaab hai, mujhe dar lagta hai jab meri patni aur ladkiyaan jaati hain jangal mein” – which translates to: “The circumstances are very bad for women; I am scared when my wife and daughters go to the jungle (to go to the toilet)”. Another man said: “Mujhe sharm aati hai yeh sochte hue ki jahaan mein chal rahaan hoon, wahaan se kuch dus meter door meri ma baitheen hain, toilet kar raheen hain” – which translates to: “I feel extremely shameful to think, that my mother is sitting and going to the toilet just ten metres away from where I am walking.”
The residents of Sanjay Colony, including members of the Lok Raj Samiti – a people’s group formed by the initiative of the Lok Raj Sangathan and the Mahila Mandal have been putting in consistent efforts to make the authorities answerable to them regarding the situation of public toilets in their area. They have approached the Chief Minister, the area Councillor(s) and the MLA(s).
Response of the Chief Minister
The residents (members of the Lok Raj Samiti – a people’s group in the area which is an initiative of the Lok Raj Sangathan, and Mahila Mandal) wrote a letter to Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister, regarding the toilets in this area. They had requested that the Delhi Government may please repair the existing toilets and construct more toilets. (Since the toilets built earlier – non-functional now, were built as per a population estimate of 10,000; but at present, the population is about 40,000). The letter was accompanied by 500 signatures of residents of Sanjay Colony. Copies of this letter were sent to Sajjan Kumar, the then MP, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, the then MLA, Sunil Bidhuri, the then Councillor and the MCD Lajpat Nagar office (Central Zone).
On their first visit to the Chief Minister office, the Secretary told them that this was a matter that could not be handled by this office and it was under the MCD. Varun Kumar, Deputy Secretary, Department of Public Grievance, Chief Minister’s Office then wrote a letter, dated 22 August 2006, to the MCD Lajpat Nagar office (Central Zone) which requested the MCD officials to carry out an investigation into the issue of public toilets in Sanjay Colony.
Upon their second visit Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister met the representatives and said that this was not under her purview and that she would write letters to the MCD and the work would be done within a fortnight.
The residents wrote another letter to the Chief Minister on the 14 February 2008, which again mentioned the history of the public toilets in Sanjay Colony and said that the residents demand two things: opening of the existing public toilet complexes and the construction of 4 new public toilet complexes, in accordance with the present population size. The letter also mentioned that in case there would be no action taken within a month’s time, then the women and children of the area (the ones who are effected most due to the non provision of public toilets) would be compelled to come to the Chief Minister’s residence in protest. The Chief Minister said that she would make sure that the issue would be addressed within a month. Nothing happened within the month, so a group of women went to the Chief Minister’s office on 28 March 2008 (The document released by the residents of Sanjay Colony on 28 March 2008 is attached in Annexure 11). There is no change in the situation till now.
Responses of the Councillors and the MLAs
When the representatives of Sanjay Colony had first approached the MCD, Lajpat Nagar office, it was suggested that they go and speak to Sunil Bidhuri, their then Councillor, regarding the issue; he said that the problem of no water supply at the toilets was to be discussed with DJB. DJB said that they were unable to provide any water supply unless MCD ‘requested’ them to do so – of course, the people of the area could not ‘force’ MCD to write a request letter.
Under pressure from the people, Giriraj Singh, the new Councillor, wrote a letter (dated 22 July 2007) to the Chief Engineer of the DJB requesting him to restore the water connections in the public toilets in Sanjay Colony. The Councillor further explained to the representatives of Sanjay Colony, that he had spent Rs 30 lakhs on his election campaign and had won only because of this expenditure and NOT due to the support of the residents of Sanjay Colony. He claimed that his family was starving and his priority was to first get the Rs 30 lakhs from the Councillor’s fund which was allocated to him for his tenure and feed his family and only after that he could think of the residents of Sanjay Colony.
Members of the Lok Raj Samiti and 15 women of the Mahila Mandal from Sanjay Colony visited, Rambir Singh Bhiduri, MLA of the area who is also a part of the DJB. He said he knew about the water connection problem but was unable to do anything to help the situation. He further asked why women of the slum areas even need a toilet. On hearing this, members of the Lok Raj Samiti said that it was his responsibility to take up this issue and he is answerable to his constituency. The MLA lashed out at them and said that he knows his job and does not want to be lectured and told what he is ‘supposed to do’. He then tore the representation which the group had given to the MLA regarding the public toilet.
There is a political reason why the MLAs have not been responding to the needs of a public toilet. Earlier Sanjay Colony was a part of the Badarpur constituency so the representatives met, Rambir Singh Bhiduri, MLA of the area. Now, Sanjay Colony has become a part of the Tughlaqabad constituency, the new MLA of this constituency has no incentive to look into the needs of the people of Sanjay Colony because according to the Delhi Government this slum will be shifted out by 2010. Hence, by the next round of Vidhan Sabha elections, Sanjay Colony will no longer be a part of his constituency.
RTI applications and responses
Amarjeet Kumar, President, Lok Raj Samiti, filed an RTI, and subsequently filed an appeal (dated 26 November 2007). Consequently, the MCD came and put up a notice near the toilets stating that the toilets had been closed because there was no water connection and the new Councillor of the area sent his men who physically threatened the president of the Lok Raj Samiti.
A reply given by the Zonal Revenue Officer (dated 15 December 2007) stated that there is no DJB water connection in the Lavoratory Block, Sanjay Colony, Okhla Industrial Area – II.
Another reply given by the Pubic Information Officer, Slum and JJ Department, MCD (dated 31 December 2007) stated that the requested information does not fall under his jurisdiction.
In response to the RTI application, information was given by the Deputy Commissioner of Central Zone, MCD, Lajpat Nagar (dated 2 January 2008). Regarding the status of the toilet complexes the reply said: “There are 2 toilet complexes in Sanjay Colony area, both of which are closed at present. In each of the toilet complexes, there are 59 latrine seats for men and 35 latrine seats for women. About 90 doors are broken. There is no electricity connection. There is only one bore well in Sanjay Colony which has not been working since the time the toilets were handed over to the MCD. The water supply is to be provided by the DJB.”
Regarding the history of the toilet complexes, the response said: “The maintenance of the toilet complexes was being done earlier by Sulabh International – at that time, there was a facility for both, toilet and bathing. The toilet complex has been under the MCD for the past one and a half years and it was received from Sulabh International in a locked state.”
Regarding the norms pertaining to public toilets, the response said: “Toilet facility should be provided at a distance of 200 to 300 metres from slum dwellings. One toilet complex should be there for a population size of 1000. The toilets are provided by the MCD for free.”
The response ended with one line “It is a policy matter.”
Dharmender Kumar, a resident of Sanjay Colony, filed an RTI (dated 27 May 2008) regarding the toilet facility, the cleanliness, the MCD Councillor of the area and the MCD in the Harkesh Nagar Ward (Sanjay Colony is a part of Harkesh Nagar Ward). According to the reply given by the Assistant Commissioner, Central Zone, MCD, Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi (dated 9 June 2008): “There are 12 CTCs in the entire ward, of which only 5 are functional.” (It clearly mentioned that both the toilet complexes of Sanjay Colony are not functional). It mentioned that “The zonal office of MCD at Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi, is responsible for running the CTCs.” About the broken doors, it said: “50% of the doors in these CTCs are broken. The responsibility to get them repaired is that of the Slum Department, MCD. Nothing is known about earlier repairs, as the toilets were only handed over to the MCD 2 years back.”
Regarding the amount of funds allocated for the CTCs, the reply said: “Nothing is known about the money involved and the budgeting.” It clearly mentioned that there is a proposal to construct two new toilet complexes in Sanjay Colony. Further, “The Slum Department, MCD is responsible for constructing the toilets and the maintenance is a responsibility of the Department of Environment Management Services (DEMS).” And that “The ‘policy matter’ should be discussed with the Slum Department, MCD.”
Another reply given by the Superintendent Engineer (dated 12 June 2008) said: “No funds of the MCD have been spent on the maintenance of the community toilet complexes in Sanjay Colony. There is no information regarding any proposal by the Councillor for expenditure on the maintenance of the CTCs for this year. There is no proposal for the construction of new CTCs in the area.”
Additional issue of the Metro
Approaching the forest area from Sanjay Colony, we first passed a dumping area, which had lots of garbage and cows and buffaloes sitting around. Before entering the forest area, we noticed the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) boards, where the DMRC pillars are being erected. This DMRC construction work has not only hampered the accessibility to the forest area, but has also reduced the dense forest cover causing a bigger problem for women. The reduced forest cover is “ok” for men to go to the toilet, but for women it would be considered “uncultured”. Consequently, women must go deeper, in search of denser forest areas hence increasing the chances of sexual harassment.
Further, presently the Metro construction work is only on the surface so the people from the slum area are still able to cross that stretch and reach the forest area when they want to relieve themselves. But soon, digging will start and this will only increase the inaccessibility and the possibility of accidents. One woman told me: “Socho kya hoga jab sab khuda pada hoga, pata nahin kitne bal bache marenge, socho agar kisi ko dast lag jaye tab toh bahut badi aafat hogi. Yeh Metro hamari bhalayii ke liye nahin hai, agar yahaan we log shauchalay theek kar dete tab theek reheta. Metro sirf un bade logon ke liye hai” – which translates into: “Think of what will happen when everything will be dug up, I don’t know how many children will die each day, wonder what will happen if someone gets a stomach upset. This Metro is not for our good. It would have been ok if they would have opened and maintained the public toilets. The Metro is only for the rich.”
She further pointed out that there are three pipes that open up just next to the toilets and are often overflowing with water (there is a large pool of filthy water, in shades of brown and green which is there in front of the CTCs) and also that those involved with Metro construction work are using a large amount of water, so why can’t some water be diverted to the public toilets since CTCs have a notice saying that they are lying shut because there is no water connection.
People are losing hope
Despite the repeated attempts of the Mahila Mandal and the Lok Raj Sangathan to ‘get the authorities’ to be accountable, nothing has happened. One woman, almost in tears, looked at me and said: “Hum sabse baat kar chuke hain iss mudde ke baare mein – parshad, vidhaayak, mukhyamantri. Par kissi ko parvah nahin hai. Humein lagta hai ki ab hum kuch nahin kar saktein hain iss ko baladne ke liye” – which translates to – “We have gone to everyone with this issue – the Councillor, the MLA, the Chief Minister. But, no one cares about this issue. We feel powerless; it seems that there is nothing that we can do to change this.”
Another woman told me “Sunaate sunaate zabaan thak gayii, hum kya karein, hum gareebon ki sunne wala koi nahin hai, koi sunvayii nahin hai. Metro aane ke kaaran ab mushkilein barh gayii hai, par kya karein?” with translates to – “Talking about this issue and explaining to people about our sad state, my tongue is tired, what do we do? No one listens to us, poor people. Due to the coming of the Metro, our problems have increased, but what do we do?”
People are now getting discouraged to fight for the cause. Women who were not a part of the protest or a part of visits to a ‘person in power’ are making efforts to discourage those women who want to fight for the cause. There is also a large opportunity cost that is involved, when anyone goes on a protest or a visit to a ‘person in power’, he/she often loses his/her salary for the day.
(The above article is written by Shahana Sheikh who worked on a research paper titled: “Public Toilets in Delhi: an emphasis on the facilities for Women in Slum and Resettlement Colonies” during her Summer Research Internship 2008 at Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi. Field visits were conducted by Shahana on 1 June 2008 and 21 June 2008. She thanks Birju Nayak, Renu Nayak and Dharmendra from Lok Raj Sangathan for their help)