#19 When accessing public toilets becomes a struggle

Rashmi Taylor

In June, in continuation of the team’s efforts to provide relief to families, the team has been facilitating direct monetary assistance for the procurement of groceries to some families who they have been following up with. Recently, a social worker from the Sentinel team contacted Nazma’s (name changed) mother to inquire about her well-being and to check if she needs any assistance. Nazma is a victim rescued from commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, was rescued at the age of 13. She was restored to her family in December 2019 and currently lives with her mother and two younger sisters. 

During the call, Nazma’s mother shared that besides procuring ration, their major concern was being able to use the pay-and-use public toilet as they lived in an urban slum where they did not have a toilet attached in their house. Another concern was paying the landlord for their water connection. Additionally, Nazma had gotten sick with a stomach infection and her mother did not have enough money to even take her to the doctor. Prior to the COVID-19 imposed lockdown, Nazma’s mother had just begun working as a helper at a catering agency where she would earn on a daily basis based on the number of orders received. However, with the lockdown, the orders stopped coming, and so had her income. Previously, she had lost her job due to regular periods of absence as she would often have to visit the police station and the court for Nazma’s case.

In the initial months of the lockdown, the family had received assistance from Prerana and another community-based organization to procure essential grocery items. They were able to manage their other expenses such as paying the water bill and availing services of the public toilet through their savings. During the social worker’s conversation with Nazma’s mother, she shared,  “After nearly three months of the lockdown, all my savings have depleted. Now I cannot even afford to let my girls use the public toilet where we need to pay Rs. 2/visit. What should I do? How do I ask them to refrain from using the toilet especially during their days of menstruation? To add to this, even our landlord has asked us to pay the water bill, else the connection would be stopped. The burden of looking after three children without any support, the stress of Nazma’s rescue, and now the troubles faced due to the lockdown – when will all this end?” 

The social worker listened to Nazma’s mother’s ordeal and then helped her calm down. Her immediate needs were listed down and the social worker shared that they would try to work on them together. The priority at the time was to ensure that Nazma’s health got better. She needed medical assistance so the organization assisted financially for facilitating the visit to a doctor. The social worker then linked the family to an organization providing financial assistance to families in need and Rs 3000 was transferred by the next day. The social worker also spoke to Nazma’s mother about looking for a new job. She agreed and the case was discussed with an NGO that could help her gain an employment opportunity. The representatives of this NGO shared that they would try to look for a job for Nazma’s mother.

This case brought to light the shift in the needs of the people we work with since the imposition of the lockdown. Initially, the concern was arranging ration supplies as they were able to manage other expenses through their meager savings. However, more than three months into the lockdown, the families have exhausted their savings. Along with groceries and medications, their needs also include basic necessities such as sanitation and water. Free for use public toilets are essential amidst the pandemic to ensure the health and hygiene of people from low-income backgrounds living in urban slum communities. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has made access to public toilets free but as this case highlights, the implementation is yet to be seen, causing extreme distress to the families.

Prerana has started a petition seeking that Public Toilets be made free in Maharashtra during the COVID19 pandemic. You can find the petition here.


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