This Delhi student doesn’t mind battling alone

August 31st, 2008 - 2:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) Dressed like any other college going girl in a bright printed salwar, a pair of flip flops and carrying a jhola (bag), Shahana Sheikh, who became somewhat of a celebrity after her report on public toilets in Delhi was taken seriously by the Delhi High Court, doesn’t have many friends and acquaintances who share her beliefs.”I don’t know anyone among my peers who wants to do similar work. There are some who have done internships with NGOs but that’s more because voluntary work is a value addition on their resume. I have had many arguments with them, but at the end of it I realised that everyone’s answerable to themselves and left it at that,” the 20-year-old final year student of Lady Shri Ram college told IANS over a conversation at the college café.

“I am not saying that the youth is not committed towards social work, there are many who are doing brilliant work. Anyway, I am really not bothered about who is doing what. As long as I am doing my bit, it’s okay,” she added in her quiet, matter-of-fact manner.

As long as she is doing her bit, she will leave many people happy. Sheikh’s report on the condition, or rather the lack of public toilets in slums and resettlement colonies of Delhi, had clearly impressed the high court which then asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to take note of and submit a detailed report within the next four weeks.

“When I decided to take up this subject during my internship with the Centre for Civil Society, I didn’t imagine it would become so detailed. I planned on visiting two slums and ended up visiting three slums and three resettlement colonies and the condition of the toilets were the same - pathetic,” she said.

Sharing some of her experiences, the bespectacled Economic honours student said that in one slum she found animals being bred in an unused toilet, in one the ratio of toilets to the number of women was 1:500, and in another there simply were no toilets at all.

“I was aghast as women slowly opened up and told me of cases when someone they knew was run over by a train while relieving herself on the railway track, sexual harassment cases are common since the women go to relieve themselves only in the wee hours of the day or in the dead of the night.

“In Sanjay colony, one of the resettlement colonies, people filed a Right to Information (RTI) application and it got answered saying that doors of 90 toilets are broken, scores of others not in a state to be used. In a place where the chief minister is a lady, so is the mayor, it’s shameful that they don’t understand such basic needs of a woman, who can’t even relieve themselves anywhere like a man,” Sheikh said.

In her words, Sheikh is not happy with all the accolades that have been showered on her after the report.

“Frankly I feel awkward at all the media attention. And why should I be happy? I will be happy only when the MCD does something good for these people and that too not just on paper. Let them win the case, I will be happy if at the end, those women in the slums get some benefit out of it all,” she said.

This is however not the end of the battle. The journey has just begun as Sheikh is very sure that issues like water and the Public Distribution System are some that she would want to work on.

“I don’t mean to be critical but all those people who go to the rural areas to do social work obviously must not be aware of the conditions in their own city. For the people in those slums, this café that we sit in is the “other” Delhi, we need to bridge the gap between the two,” Sheikh said, clearly signalling that she will soldier on.

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