Two days ago, as I went out to walk the dogs, the retrievers ran up the slope that we climb everyday for our morning rounds. First these two go and then goes the German Shepherd and then in case he wants to go alone, then the elderly Dachshund does, but often he goes out with the retrievers only. Of course he chooses his style on his own, depending upon his inner states or the rain or anything else that he wants. I let him decide mostly, because one has to respect his ageing process.
A young, chubby kid got up from behind a small slope- I was stunned to see him, but noticed him before he noticed me, and turned my head away. The dogs had also not seen him and only when he fully got up, Nikki and Ginger ran towards him, excitedly- the way they are, playful. Poor child, he just uttered a cry for help. I did not respond still, knowing the dogs would not go so far as him, though he did not know that. The time was between 6:15-6:30 in the morning, the usual time when I am out with the dogs first thing. Then I turned to him and said, “Don’t worry child,” whistled to the dogs, who are quite obedient, and returned to be with me immediately.
The child was performing his morning routine, let me not make anyone guess- he was just defecating- the way millions do in open spaces in India, those without access to proper toilets or having them within their homes. It was a sad thought for me, for here was a child, no matter how old, what his remaining life would be, but to ‘go to the washroom’ he has to wash his backside in an open moutaineous, rocky space, with any number of animals within close proximity. I know of kids being chased by dogs and pigs, on open garbage dumps, when they go to empty their bowels and bladders. We all know of young girls raped, and silenced for the rest of their lives, just because they need to go into dark spaces to perform these very ordinary functions of the body- its tasks of evacuation.
In this country, we are proud to go all over the world, put so many new things in order and reflection, send missions towards the space or other planets, perform complex medical procedures- yet we cannot offer the simplest basic amenities, or provide toilets to people in their homes. I recently read a case of a father and daughter who hold their bowels and bladders for 13 hours at a time- waiting for the shadows to lengthen, so they can go out and relieve themselves. Should this bother anyone? Can you imagine holding your bladdar or bowels, when you have a pressure in them?
Can anyone see this as a mental health concern? Can you imagine how the internal emotional environment be, of such a person? Have you ever experienced constipation for more than a day?
Can we as educated, urban, middle classes even imagine what could be happening to a vast number of people in our country, where every day a part of their struggle is how to defecate? Perhaps to a lot of people the word itself would be an anathema. Progressively the moved from the coarser word- ‘toilet’ to the more discrete- ‘washroom’. We cannot even utter the word without feeling a bit unclean about it, while our countrymen hold their bowels, squat on railway tracks, walk for miles with bottles of water, just to find a small patch where they can ease their humanity- release their burdens.
I am ashamed of what we have become as a country, as a human race- devoid of any regard for other humans and only too concerned that our lives should continue sans any challenges, which involve another, any sense of what their suffering could be, because at least (for the time being) it is not our’s. I am pained that NGOs become rich and richer in the name of making toilets for others and their heads keep buying and changing cars, whereas the average child, man, woman and girl- needs to wait to relieve themselves. They need to wait, because we need to awaken from our slumbers, our coma of indifference to the plight of millions who risk their lives every day to just be human.
For some reason, I come back to this theme again and again, for it makes me suffer immensely to see this suffering of my fellow human beings. There is no peace in their lives, even in the smallest of issues. These children go to schools that do not have toilets, or any public spaces where they can safely use them…I am reminded of this poem that i wrote long back- it keeps coming back to me- like a picture that haunts.
Here is what I wrote about the same issue on facebook on 31st May 2014. At that point I could not type it out, neither now. But in the light of the recent rape and murder of the two young girls I am ENRAGED. So before I write about it in other ways, i want to put this poem out, which is parts 4 and 5 of the longer poem Dawn and the Moving Train- fleeting glimpses, from 11th September 2013
These parts are written at the sight of the morning squatters, who dot both sides of rail tracks, answering the call of nature- and at that point i felt a huge sense of loss, sadness, that we in India could not even provide for toilets for a vast majority. But TODAY, I’m terribly ENRAGED…I never use this word so frequently. In the previous part, No.3, i had talked about an urchin begging at 5:30 in the morning
Not much further, on my side of the track
(for naturally enough I cannot see the other)
The track is spattered with men and women
Squatting to evacuate,
Some have their backs to the train
‘N some face it resignedly
Though none looks at the passing beast
To see if someone peeps out of the windows
I am pained-
In my aloof, middle class educated sort of a way
Or may be in my human dignity- oriented sort
I am pained-
(More so) as I see a young girl and by her side a woman
Just a fraction away
One looking down
May be waiting to squat
May be having got up from it
Waiting for the train to roll away
To carry on with their open defaecation
Publicly, openly, with hundreds passing, on a passing train
My country alas we failed thee!
Or did we?
Perhaps those who took control
Over a thousand million’s destiny
Do not have clarity
Except for self interest-
They still go on that way
While we- the majority, resignedly, helplessly
Our backs broken every single day of our miserable lives
For numerous reasons
Having been reduced to a mental slavery
Of machines, cinema, of the media
Of astrologers, cricketers, actors and politicians
Are now inured by our own reality
Unconcerned about our fellow humans
(What to mention other life forms))
live lives blinkered, chasing dreams
That celluloid advertising sells us,
We the idiots, the inhuman slaves of the market
Untouched by the indignity, the suffering
Of our own people, who squat in the open
No matter what season
what part of the nation
For the simple reason
Like us they are also human
Who need to eat and evacuate
Alas! we fail the majority
‘N this NOT THE ONLY way.
Copyrights prateeksha sharma 2013
Imagine if you have to go out and use this area as your toilet. How does it appeal? Yet this is someone’s reality.