Acting Without Sanitation: Open Defecation
In 2006, Mumbai saw the legislation of the Cleanliness and Sanitation Bye-laws which introduced punitive measures against practices such as cooking, bathing, spitting, urinating and defecating in public spaces. The byelaws are aimed at disciplining all urban residents and elevating people's 'civic consciousness', but many of these punitive measures are based on an elite politics which gathers upper-class concerns around aesthetics, leisure and health under broader discourses of environmental quality of life that clash with the basic rights of the poor. In introducing disciplinary action against open defecation in a city in which over two million residents are forced to regularly resort to open defecation because they do not have access to a toilet, the byelaws pitted a basic human need against the right to a clean and sanitary urban environment.
In Rafinagar, the profound inadequacy of toilets leads many men, women and children, particularly in Part 2, to turn to open defecation. However, this does not mean that people defecate anywhere in the open. Rather, different people use different spaces in ways deemed most proper and safe. Children often use spaces nearer the settlement, like the "road," "garden," "maidan" and "kabrastan," that is, the space allocated for a graveyard. Most men went at least a bit further away from the road in order to be less visible, while women try to find even less visible spaces. The nearby Deonar garbage dump is an important space for men and women to answer nature‟s call. Here too, men and women use different parts of the ground. In Khotwadi, while the extent of open defecation is lower, many men living in areas with less access to toilets resort to the nearby railway tracks.
Practices of open defecation also deepen social inequalities in various ways, especially for women and children. Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) working in Rafinagar noted the high incidence of diarrhoea, dysentery, and worms. In Rafinagar, open spaces used for defecation are some of the only open spaces for children to play (for example, the "garden," "maidan" and "kabrastan") and are also spaces where many adults and children spend long hours working as rag-pickers (in the Deonar garbage dump for instance). Women and girls often suffer sexual harassment in their search for privacy. Salma explained:
"Our sons and husbands understand that our mothers and sisters go [to the garbage area to defecate]. But [men] come from outside and harass us…They [drink] alcohol; they do charas, ganja, solution4… Many rapes have happened. Some parents don‟t bring it out in the open to protect their honour; they are scared."
Women often tried to go in groups but this was not always possible. Often they also waited until cover of darkness, a wait that exacerbates health problems and can also bring its own vulnerabilities to attack.
Moreover, in November 2009, the municipal government handed over the Deonar garbage dump to a private company for its closure. This had repercussions for the use of this open space for defecation. Explaining how women's experiences had changed with the private company working on the site, Salma explained:
"The vehicles start to run at 6-7 a.m. They run the entire day. Till seven in the evening. Even at night sometimes… The road [on which the vehicles run] is high. Everything can be seen from above if someone is sitting below… First the [garbage] trucks used to come 'time to time' [i.e., at specific times]. Ever since it has become private there is more harassment. No matter where you look there is a vehicle."
For some women in Rafinagar Part-2, the only option on some days was to go to one of the pay-and-use toilet blocks since the area‟s public toilet blocks were not accessible to them. Many of these women were part of households whose monthly income came from rag-picking and was rarely greater than Rs.3000. Their use of the pay-and-use toilet block was not a result of their willingness to pay for better sanitation but because of a narrowing of options and increasing concerns around privacy and safety.
4 Ganja, charas and solution refer to different intoxicants.