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YOU ARE HERE : Home » Columnists »Backbone COLUMNISTS RAISE A STINK OVER THE STINK Sunday, 13 July 2014 | CHANDRA BHAN PRASAD | in Backbone 1 2 3 4 5 0 Dalits prefer to live in slums because the relatively cleaner countryside is a social hell. Given opportunities, all Dalits would want to settle down in cities As I argue, a generation of Dalits will have to pass through slums. Filled with filth and stink, it is so difficult to spend a night at a hut in a slum. Still, one could make it through a night just to gain experience. Have your dinner and spend the night in a hut. Winters are good because you wouldn’t need ACs, coolers or fans. Leave early in the morning and rush to the nearby hotel to relieve yourself. What turns slum dwellers into sub-humans are the conditions of toilet facilities. Newly set up slums are unlikely to have public toilets around. Slum dwellers therefore go out in open fields to defecate. I am at a loss for words to describe the condition of women and children. The old slums have makeshift toilets that municipalities provide. Some have concrete toilets that are described as public toilets. To pen this column, I entered a few public toilets and couldn’t stand there even for a few seconds. It is beyond comprehension as to how such a strong stink is produced. Crushed into sub-human conditions, slum dwellers get used to it. Why then do people live in slums when the living conditions are so pathetic? Generally, slums are made by immigrants from the countryside. While there is no imperial study to cite, one can easily guess that most slums have substantial Dalit population. I come from the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh that has witnessed huge migration of Dalits to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Pune and Nagpur. The previous year, I was visiting Assam and Nagpur, where I saw a good number of workers from Bihar. Coming to my own experience; I have many relatives who have migrated to cities. While Dalits with good education get into Government jobs, thanks to the State’s affirmative action policies, the illiterate and school dropouts rush to cities to escape the totalitarianism of the caste order. Dalits, therefore, prefer to live in slums with stink all over just because the relatively cleaner countryside is a social hell. Given opportunities, all Dalits would want to settle down in cities which offer them social freedom. Apart from Dalits, other lower castes and Muslims too become a part of slums as they are attracted by the opportunities cities offer. The trend is changing as some upper caste youths too are headed to slums because of lack of opportunities in the countryside. In my own judgement, farming is becoming unpopular in the countryside. Being a kisan no more a higher social marker. It probably never was except landlords rejoiced the profession. Ironically, landlords themselves did not work on their farms but would venerate farming. Forget the social character of slums for the time being. What is clear is that the slums are inhabited by India’s underclass. A significant number of slum dwellers serve the middle class as maids, drivers, security guards, plumbers, electricians, peons and taxi, auto drivers. Many work in factories and thus help the economy grow. Don’t they deserve the kind of hygienic conditions that the middle class in the cities enjoys? If India can build Metro trains — sometimes beneath the earth and sometimes in the skies — why can’t it build world-class toilets? Aren’t Metro trains in Delhi world class? The ISRO is a world-class organisation that is launching satellites for great nations such as France and Japan. Then why can’t India build world-class public toilets? By any reckoning, India’s public toilets are living hell. Forget about the quality of toilets built for the underclass, go to the ones in Delhi’s Connaught Place, Civil Lines or South Extension. Forget even that and visit toilets in Delhi’s AIIMS or upscale Shatabdi trains. Has India been cursed by some evil spirit — the institution I don’t believe in to remain forever with stink? Or is there something else. Is it like asking Shah Rukh Khan to sing? The Indian State has no capacity to cook food and build and maintain public toilets. Is Sulabh International bigger than the Indian State? Or is Sulabh International bigger that the municipal council of Delhi? How does Sulabh International build and run cleaner toilets than the municipal corporations? Visit washrooms of private hospitals like Max and Fortis and compare them with the ones in any Government hospital. The fact that Sulabh International and private hospitals can build and maintain stink-free toilets is proof that India can indeed build world-class public toilets. Given some State support, Sulabh International too can make its toilets world class. The answer is clear — privatise public toilet systems and the municipal corporations to make Indian cities world class.
Posted on: Sun, 13 Jul 2014 11:48:06 +0000

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