“We treat that toilet like it is our own house. If we don’t, how will the people who live around it even be able to eat food?”—Arvind Jadhav, a resident of Janta Chawl, who uses a four-stall toilet which the community has taken the initiative to keep in very good condition - hiring a private cleaner, collecting money for cleaning supplies, distributing keys to locked stalls to houses in the neighborhood, and so on - speaking about the community’s perception of their shared toilet facility.
“Urban slums are like the space between the sea and the land - a transient space that doesn’t belong anywhere. At times it’s covered by the sea and then the sea withdraws. It’s the same with urban slums - there is no real ownership and identity with several stakeholders making claims on it”—In conversation with Prof.M.P.Ranjan, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
We first noticed this feature in GP Block, Pitampura, Delhi where here is a ‘nala’ (drainage canal) running through the lane and there are houses on either side, such that houses on one side have a space of about 2-3 ft in front of the house.
We then saw a similar feature in Ashwathpura Slum, Peenya. Where amongst the basically soft earth land there are thick granite slabs that act as a sort of multi-purpose space:
A slum is characterised and defined by its origin, what it is situated next to and what it is comprised of. Represented here are different slum typologies observed at research locations and in large urban Indian cities in general.
A sanitation facility can be charaterised and defined by its management, method of payment, usage with respect to the broader community, and land ownership. Represented here are different sanitation profiles observed at research locations in urban Indian cities in general.
So we are almost done wrapping up the synthesis from our first research visit. This can only mean one thing - Come Monday we start preparation for the next research trip.
Doing design research with an almost new kind of user group (in our case low income households) specially on taboo topics like sanitation, hygiene and health is always tricky as we are not dealing with a very articulate research audience.
Which is why we sometimes need to rely on visual aids (charts, magazines, scenario storyboards etc.) to a.) Explain what we are researching/what we want to talk about and why ; b.) make the Q&A session interesting for the participants and c.) help them make connections about various topics using proxies.
E.g. asking the woman of the household to make a water map to understand her context better.
The final city we visited while scouting locations for our research was Bangalore. Bangalore is located in the state of Karnataka, and is the third-largest city in India, and the largest city in South India. We decided to visit Bangalore in order to investigate potential regional diversities in behaviors and attitudes towards sanitation in India. Most residents in Bangalore are from Karanataka itself, or from other southern states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andra Pradesh. The recent IT boom the city has experienced has brought an influx of migrants to the city, and the urban infrastructure has become strained due to the growing population.
It is likely due to the rapidly expanding population in Bangalore that we found some of the types of locations we did on our last visit. In Mathikere, for instance, we found a temporary slum that had been built by the government to house people they had to relocate when they built a flyover within the city. The location of the slum? Directly under the new flyover. The people living in Mathikere had no sense of community, nor any sense of permanence or connection to their homes. This was the only location we found that had been created for the people, not by the people, and hence it will be a place we give special attention to over the course of our project.
For more information of all of the locations we visited in Bangalore, please visit the links below:
Delhi, being one of the largest urban centers in India, has its fair share of slums and poor populations. Some of the locations we visited around Delhi were quite unique, compared to other cities we visited throughout the country. One location that stood out was Zamrudhpur, a “vertical slum” located in residential South Delhi. This was the only slum of its kind we visited over the course of our initial visits. Here there are several high-rise buildings, usually around five to six stories, with multiple rooms to a floor. There are often whole families living in a single room, and each floor - of up to a hundred-plus people - shares just two toilets. The extremely close proximity of these individuals, packed so many into such a tight space, and the effect this type of living arrangement has on the local sanitation situation makes Zamrudhpur a particularly interesting location for us to return in upcoming visits.
Being one of the biggest cities in India, Delhi also attracts a fair number of migrants from all parts of India. We met individuals from places ranging from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the north, to Tamil Nadu and West Bengal in the south and east. Migration can pose an interesting situation when it comes to sanitation, as newer migrants may live in less secure structures or locations. Migration can also impact communities, influencing communal solidarity or affecting the impact of initiatives that may occur within the location. Community cohesiveness is one factor we’ll be looking at throughout the course of our study.
You can read more about the locations we visited in Delhi at the links below:
Ahmedabad has had a tumultuous history, with bouts of communal violence occurring throughout the city over the last few decades. Even today, religious and social tensions can flare up into disputes of various degrees. The issues that exist in strongly mixed/heterogeneous communities were apparent during our first few visits: in Mirzapur, for instance, there’s a equal mix of Muslims and Hindus. But despite there being pay and use toilets with caretakers as well as free-to-use corporation toilets in this location, this was one of the worst areas we visited in terms of the sanitation situation. (You can read more about our experience in Mirzapur here). Were the dire sanitation conditions we saw directly correlated with the communal tensions in Mirzapur? We can’t make a conclusion yet, but it’s definitely an issue we’ll be exploring in our future visits.
In addition, it’s interesting to analyze the situation in Ahmedabad from a comparative perspective. Gujarat, the state in which Ahmedabad is located, is considered to be one of the most forward states in India, at least in terms of the state government’s ability to provide amenities and services to its citizens. It is also the wealthiest state in India. Does this wealth trickle down to the poorest of the poor in the state? From what we’ve seen thus far, it does not.
You can read more about the locations we’ve visited in Ahmedabad at the links below:
Zamrudpur came up on our radar when an independent researcher found the locaton through her house-help who lives there. It is like a slum township. There are multistory structures usually 6 to 7 floors with about 8 to 10 rooms per floor, where 6-7 people live in a tiny single room in very tough conditions. These buildings are situated near a plush residential area. The residents of this area are the ones who have built these buildings, the legal tenure of these buildings is questionable. There is no running water in these buildings where they have a single tap on the ground floor from where all the residents have to fill up as much as they can in the 1 hour that the water is running in the morning.
After two days of visiting sites in Bangalore, we started seeing a pattern emerge, and so we decided to see a location that was on the outskirts of Bangalore, hoping for some change in the housing and sanitation landscape. This led us to the industrial layout of Peenya where we were met with a very unique situation.
This was a 30-year-old, 400 household settlement that has never had a toilet. The people who were staying here had always had only an open field for defecation. Earlier they used to defecate in a space where there was some green cover, such that there was a natural demarcation - men in the open, women and children where there is cover. But recently, the land (which is privately owned) has been fenced off and there are some families who have been kept there to chase the residents who come for defecation away. The large pond adjacent to the plot which was the alternate space for defecation has, at the same time, come under the radar of the BBMP for development into a larger pond (to improve drainage) and the residents are very worried that there will be a public park built there and they will not have any space left for defecation. The 400 odd households currently defecate in this open space, and because there is no green cover, women have to defecate either pre-dawn or at night when it is dark, leading to accidents.
Mumbai is notorious for being home to some of the largest slums in the world. This presents a challenge to us as researchers: where to begin, in a city with such vast expanses of slum land and millions upon millions of people living in squalid conditions? While the task seemed challenging, with the guidance and advice of a few NGOs and individuals, we ended up narrowing down and visiting the locations we’ve shared below. An interesting thing we noticed about the locations we visited in Mumbai on our initial trip was the wide range of sanitation experiences that exist in the city. Some locations we visited, like Janta Chawl, have a sense of ownership over their community toilets. In this location, each family in the community having a key to access one stall in the shared toilet. This unique set-up was the result of a community-led intervention. Other locations we visited, such as Gautam Nagar, have toilets being set up by local organizations, but without much involvement of the local residents. The range of community dynamics we witnessed, as well as the differences in the sense of ownership of shared community facilities felt by individuals, will provide some interesting case studies from Mumbai:
Our trip to Pune coincided with copious amounts of monsoon rains, though the cool temperatures and green landscape were a welcome change from our dry Delhi summer. Pune is a unique city out of all the ones we’ve visited, in that there are many active NGO initiatives working in sanitation across the city. Most of the locations we visited had a community toilet built by Sulabh, one of the largest NGOs working in the field of sanitation in India, if not the world. Despite the presence of these community toilets, however, challenges still remain. Many of the toilets we visited - whether built by an NGO or the local municipal corporation, and whether pay-and-use or free toilets - were in poor condition. Though several of the toilets had caretakers, the high volume of usage of many of these toilets makes constant upkeep quite difficult. We saw feces left in toilet basins, dogs living within the toilet complexes, dirt and water on the floor, trash in unused toilet stalls, and so on. We also witnessed open defecation by children in a few locations (Ram Tekdi in particular), despite the availability of toilet facilities.
Despite the issues we witnessed, there is still much positive work being done in the field of sanitation in Pune. Pune is also unique in the level of initiative we saw being taken by women. One of the earliest Mahila Milans (women’s self-help collectives) was started in Pune, and it maintains an active presence throughout the city. We also met an active female councilor (local leader) in Ram Tekdi, and several women “vigilantes” who have been appointed by the local government. In addition, Pune was the only city in which we met a female toilet caretaker, in Kashiwadi.
You can read more about all of the distinct locations we visited in Pune in the location profiles we have linked below: