Mumbai is a dichotomous reality. While there is immense wealth and luxury there is extreme poverty and the state of sanitation is glaring example of this chasm. A walk through the sanitation facilities in this ‘other’ Mumbai — be it the slums, railways, public hospitals and public toilets makes one thing clear to me the underlying consistent problem is the cleanliness of our public toilets. The staggering number of people who live in slums and/or use public transport and its numerous utilities is an indication of the severity of the issue we have on our hands.
It is unfathomable how the same problem has bred itself like an infestation consistently throughout the city, from one settlement to the other, from one horrendous public toilet to the next, from one railway station to the next, without already having a sustainable solution. The reason which is possibly the underlying root cause of a majority of the issues we face today is simply apathy. There is a consistent and intrinsic disregard for any standard of life from both the authorities and the public. We take too much for granted without placing any value on life or public property failing to look outside our own myopic viewpoints. This is further reinforced by our disturbing tendency to roll with the punches and not take a serious stance on issues.
This is true even if the concern and issues are linked directly to us. Even as I write this millions across Mumbai are using the city’s fast-depleting open spaces as a toilet. Why do they need to do this?
Because our city currently has bad public toilets and lacks over a 100,000 public toilets and basic sanitation. If we hope to eradicate open defecation by the end of 2016, we need to start working towards building good toilets and maintaining them for keeps. This is not a concern only for the poor who lack access to basic sanitation but is also gravely concerning to the other much more wealthy Mumbai that lives in what is supposed to be the commercial capital of India. We cannot consider ourselves a global cosmopolis that is clinking glasses with its other globally glam sister cities when at the heart of reality we are no different than any small town or village of India where people rampantly continue to defecate on main roads and throughways. The lack of sanitation accounts for higher incidences in diarrheal diseases including diarrhea, dysentery and other water-borne diseases like typhoid. Decomposing and open human waste causes bacterial infection in the stomach leading to hook worms, round worms and severe diarrhoea. The World Health Organization has estimated that one gram of feces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs. Disease doesn’t differentiate due to wealth and affects us all.
For women and girls in this city, the implications of bad sanitation and unclean toilets are even bigger. Besides serious implications to their safety and dignity is also strongly effects menstrual hygiene which is a very important part of a woman’s health. The majority of women and girls who I have met who have no choice but to access either community toilets or defecate in the open have reiterated the same thing: that the quality of their lives are in dismal shape because of the despicable state our toilets and public sanitation are in. When I hear women telling me that they have to hold their bladders for over 12 hours and have ‘trained’ themselves to go to the toilet only at a certain time of the day, I get angry. I am angry at my own complacency to do something about it.
Sanitation in our city needs urgent attention. The only way we will get anywhere close to our goal of Swachh Bharat is by providing a toilet in every household. For this, we must work together and make this a movement. To those living in beautiful homes with access to good toilets and proper sanitation I say – your toilet might be clean but your city is filthy so join the fight to make Mumbai open-defecation free and abundant with proper sanitation and good toilets. To those who do not have adequate sanitation and toilets I say – you must fight for your right and I am with you in this fight.
I want to hear your thoughts and suggestions of how we can collectively work together to transform Mumbai’s railways. Write in to me at email@example.com or tweet @shainaNC