Manthra Koliyer and Mariah Dins
(to be edited)
Washrooms with no lights, sanitary napkins all over the shelves, on the sides above their head, buzzing mosquitoes and the stench that doesn’t leave even after one exits.
Mrs. James religiously sits on the entrance of her house everyday between 3pm to 6pm. Loudly calling out children with their names, she keeps telling them, ‘go elsewhere’.
Karpagam, 50, is a housewife now. Her house faces one of the three public toilets that were built by the government for the 6000 families that housesaround 10,000 people in Indira Gandhi Nagar slum. 5000 people among the ones mentioned are unauthorized slum dwellers.
She was 22 when her husband, who is a plumber, got married to another woman whom he had an affair with. She was left to fend all alone for her daughter and son.
Talking about 9a.m. in the morning, she covered her nose with her saree pallu to indicate how uncomfortable it is every day.
The washrooms are only cleaned once in a week. Almost every person belonging to the slum has to look for other public places early in the morning to defecate.
MLA Shekarbabu is the man the entire slum trusts in. Karpagam and her neighbourscuss at the men who work with the Chennai Corporation and are responsible for cleaning the toilets. The washrooms are only maintained when their MLA comes to visit them. She says, the “men clean and put some white powder before Shekharanna comes”.
Otherwise they have to use the pay and use washrooms. To use the government washroom that is somewhat maintained, they have to pay 2 rupees every time.
Karpagam,a house maid few years ago is now at home taking care of her grandson.
The open space opposite to her house, right outside the public toilet has visitors throughout the day. Children of all ages sit right outside making it uncomfortable for people that pass by. She only worries that her infant grandson shouldn’t contract any diseases due to the open-defecation that has already caused illness to many.
The water that they use to clean themselves has millions of mosquitoes breeding on them. They are forced to come home and clean themselves.
Karpagam emphasized on the problems she used to face while menstruating. The only washroom that is clean enough to use is also shut between 10pm to 4-5am in the morning. She complains of how difficult it is when a person is sick or suffers from loose motions.
She recalls the night when she latched her door and went to use the washroom, onlyto find valuables and 1000 rupees missing from the cupboard. Her children were fast asleep when the local boys stole everything she had saved up to that time.
Karpagam asks or a better living. She requests that the government provide them with good sanitation. She says, “Hot boxes, fans and televisions from the government will never answer our problems. Help us get a better living”.
In the long line of auto rickshaws parked outside the Indira Nagar slum near Park Town station at Chennai Central, forty year old Gunavati sat inside her auto waiting for her next ride.
Her dark lean face and tired eyes looks out expectantly at every person who walks by her auto.
Gunavati, another resident of the Indira Nagar slum is a woman driving auto rickshaw for a living. Hailing from Vilupuram district in Tamil Nadu, she shifted to the slum after her marriage to Selvaraj who was a construction worker.
Gunavati studied till standard eight and got married at the age of 18. She has two daughters studying in standard 8 and 10. Since her sister died, she has to look after her sister’s daughter as well.
“My family did not approve of girls getting educated. My parents used to tell me that woman should only learn how to look after her family and do her chores. Therefore after standard 8 I quit school and stayed with my family doing house chores,” she said.
Shesays that what happened with her should not happen to her daughters and therefore she will work hard in order to fund for their education.
The entire responsibility of looking after the family is to Gunavati as Selvaraj stopped going to work and started consuming alcohol everyday.
“My husband consume alcohol everyday and does not go for any job. I am the one who has to earn money and look after my whole family. He demands money from me everyday to buy alcohol, and I get severely beaten up if I refuse to give him money,” said Gunavati
She says that just like her husband there are many men in the slum who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. It is the teenagers that are seen consuming these more than the others.
Gunavati said that the lack of basic amenities is a major issue in the Indira Nagar slum. The public toilets are not properly maintained and some of them have been locked up for a long time.
“The electricity goes off for days and the water supply to the slum is also not frequent. We have to buy big cans of water at times. Life here is very difficult,” she says.
Four years ago, Gunavati was diagnosed with throat cancer and is undergoing radiation therapy at Adyar Cancer Centre.
“I know that only have a few more years to live, I am not afraid to die but is only concerned about my two daughters. They need to study and get good jobs to live a happy life. I will work and earn as much as I can in order to achieve it,” Gunavati says her eyes slowly starting to tear up.