LRS: Hello, Bobby! Thank you for agreeing to meet us and tell us about the spirited and well-planned movement in Sanjay Colony by your local Samiti. We have seen that it has been a resounding success because of which a sewer line is now being laid in your area.
Bobby: It is my pleasure to talk with you and I am happy that I am a part of LRS which always participates in, spearheads and supports people’s struggles.
LRS: Can you tell us about the backdrop to the struggle?
Bobby: I have lived in Sanjay Colony since I was a child. As far back as I can remember, everyone in the area including women, children, pregnant women and the elderly have had to go out in the forest behind the colony and defecate in the open. This is such a terrible thing that we have to face daily. It has become a part of our lives and causes so many problems. We women get up early in the morning and start the morning chores and ready our children for school. Before doing all this, like all human beings, we too have to go and do our business first. This means that we have to get up 20 minutes earlier so that we can walk to the forest area, defecate and then return. The area is so dirty and there is such a foul smell. When I was pregnant, my morning sickness was always aggravated by the smell. I also suffer from piles as do many women in our area. There are so many germs in the air around the area that we always feel sick and disgusted. But what can we do? We only go twice in the day, in the morning and in the evening. In the afternoon, vagabond boys roam the area to harass any women who may visit for defecation so we prefer not to go at that time.
LRS: Does everyone in the colony have to go in the open and defecate?
Bobby: The overwhelming majority do have to. Sanjay Colony is a vast area. Only the houses on the perimeter of the colony which are near the public toilets that have been built can avoid going for open defecation.
LRS: What you narrate is so stark and really makes us wonder about the farce of the “Great Indian Democracy”. In this day and age, with big promises being made in the light of the upcoming elections, the reality is that working people in the capital of our country who contribute to this nation have to go and defecate in the open in an unsanitary and undignified condition! Could you tell us more about how the movement to have a sewer line installed in the area began?
Bobby: In September, our local Lok Raj Samiti consisting of LRS members from the community and socially conscious citizens met to discuss the upcoming elections. We were talking about the glaring problems in our area and the issue of sanitation came up. In 2005, local Samiti members and LRS members had taken the struggle to Sheila Dikshit. They had presented a demand to her which had been endorsed by people from our area. She tore it up in front of them. In light of that, we concluded that it is futile to expect anything from the politicians who promise the stars but deliver us tears. Instead we decided to mobilise people in our area and get the job done ourselves! After that, things started rolling.
The local LRS Samiti called an open meeting of people in the area. Lokesh from Sanjay Colony who is also an LRS member called a meeting. He proposed that the sewer line could be a rallying point for the elections. A team was formed in that meeting. The team consisted of women and men as well. Each team member was responsible for mobilizing the people in their area/lane. They went from house to house and spoke to people about the issue and asked for donations. Many people responded positively and contributed.
The LRS Samiti had already decided that all accounts would be maintained in a disciplined manner and every contributor was given a receipt for their contribution and a counterfoil (on carbon copy) was kept with the team. This is absolutely necessary to foster trust among people since then it becomes difficult for mischief makers to turn around later and say that they did not receive any proof of donation. Each household contributed Rs. 2500/- and with a total of 150 such households, we collected Rs. 3,75,000/-.
We decided that we had enough money to begin construction. We also decided that households that wanted to join in later would have to pay double the amount. Some families did not contribute but instead started protesting about the whole initiative saying that it would cause noise, disruption etc. We went and spoke to those families as well and reasoned with them.
LRS: This is a story of people striving against all odds. What kept all of you going?
Bobby: We are in LRS and we have drawn so much strength from that. We collectively decided to take up the struggle since it is a question of people actively fighting for their rights. Our success will show everyone that when people come together and discuss and take collective action, the results are always good while politicians make tall promises and lie to the people but do not deliver. We will try to use the momentum gained from this struggle to mobilise more people in the area to become active members of local Samiti. With elections coming up, everyone needs to be more socially conscious and critically look at the track record of the Indian state which has always had an anti-people policy no matter which party has been in power. They have kept the working people in deliberate suffering and exploited them fully. But when people recognise that they need to take action, change will happen.
LRS: Bobby, hearing the story of your Samiti’s initiative is inspiring. We congratulate all of you and wish you the best in your future work in transforming society through collective action!