Less than an hour’s drive from the bright lights of Connaught Place in the heart of India’s capital, 184 children were raped last year — a rape every alternate day — most of them because they had no access to a functioning or safe public toilet.
Delhi, like many other Indian cities, has been outraged by the rape and hanging from a tree of two girls in Badaun in Uttar Pradesh under similar circumstances, but the horror is a lot closer home.
The shocking number of children sexually abused in areas such as Shahbad Dairy, Nangloi, Samaipur Badli, Jahangirpuri and Haiderpur has come to light as a result of a Right to Information (RTI) petition filed by CRY (Child Rights and You).
Though Delhi’s civic agencies have built public toilets in these areas, most of them either do not function or are unsafe and badly lit, or locked up. So children — like the girls in Badaun — often have to venture out after dark to relieve themselves in the open.
That is usually when rapists strike. In Shahbad Dairy, her parents still curse the day in April when their nine-year-old daughter came home in tears and told them what the man had done to her. A five-year old from the same area was abducted while she was waiting for her mother who was using a public toilet. Her kidnappers tried to rape her, but she managed to give them the slip.
HT spoke to victims and their relatives, and most blame a lack of security at the public toilets and poor maintenance as the main reason for what happened.
“My four-and-a-half-year old daughter was kidnapped from a bus stop and taken to a public toilet in the area. These public toilets have become a den of crime. A number of anti-social elements take over these structures and play cards and drink alcohol there. She was looking for a place to relieve herself; they took her inside and raped her there,” said one victim’s father.
CRY has partnered with local NGOs including Saksham, which works in some of worst areas and says that it has raised the issue of toilets several times with the authorities.
“The seriousness of the issue needs to be acknowledged by the state government and stakeholders responsible for protecting the safety of the child,” said Soha Moitra, regional director, north, CRY.
“The social-economic condition of the area also adds to the gravity of the situation; both the parents are required to earn to sustain the family and thus the child falls out of the safety net,” Moitra added.
“The only option left is to train the kids. We have started training them on how to react in such situation. Even shouting at the right time is important. Recently, a girl was taken to a public toilet but during a rape bid she bit the hand of accused and managed to escape,” said Sant Lal, an official at Saksham.
The number of attacks is horrifying, but what is worse is that there may be many more cases that go unreported.
Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which manages a number of public toilets, admits that lack of toilets is a major cause of concern and security is another major area. “Considering the toilets are in a bad shape we suspect that cases of sexual assault do take place but somehow they are not getting reported,” said a senior Delhi government official.
“Security is a big concern for community toilets and systematically we are taking it up. We want to end open defecation by the end of this year by having safe community toilets in every area. We are aware of the fact that vulnerable groups such as women and children do have apprehension in using the public toilets and we are trying to address the issue,” said a DUSIB official.
Delhi has 413 public toilets out of which 176 managed by Delhi Urban Improvement Shelter Board (DUSIB), 174 by Municipal Corporations of Delhi and 63 by Delhi Development Authority and New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).
Badaun has brought the problem into the headlines, and DUSIB wants to quadruple the budget for toilets to Rs 15-16 crore from as little as Rs 3-4 crore earlier.