By Maya Palit
Two young girls (a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old) living in Rohini, Delhi, were raped on Monday in a vacant plot. They had visited it to relieve themselves because there weren’t any working toilets where they lived, and were later found there by their anxious parents. They were badly injured, and later admitted to Baba Saheb Ambedkar hospital in Rohini, where they’re still recovering. One of the girls is in a critical condition.
According to reports, the women and others in the area were well aware of the dangers of frequenting the empty plot. But they had submitted several complaints to their local councillors about the lack of functional toilets, but no-one paid much attention. A similar incident in Uttar Pradesh three years ago, where two Dalit girls were raped on their way to defecate in the fields, had sparked an uproar. Discussions about open defecation (which more than 600 million people are forced to do in the country) contributes to diarrheal deaths and intestinal diseases were somewhat eclipsed by the issue of sexual violence, as the absence of privacy clearly presents serious safety hazards for women. Since then, other reports have emerged about how palpable the threat of violence is for women defecating in the open.
In the meantime, local governments have tried to put in place stringent — and at times, more than absurd — strategies to prevent open defecation, including the Haryana government’s plan last year that drones would be brought in to monitor anyone going to relieve themselves in the fields. But often, as was the case with the women from Rohini, attempts to put in place a toilet are overlooked, and perhaps that’s the point at which these discussions about community initiatives to discourage open defecation should begin.