Case studies

Transforming slums of Jabalpur

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Shabnam Bano, a Muslim woman living in Bagda Dafai slum in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, has overseen the construction of nearly 500 toilets, 130 in her own slum. Described as a ‘human dynamo’ she works to improve basic sanitation amenities in deprived areas, equipped with little more than determination and the support of PACS partner KSHITIJ.

Shabnam (second from right) with other women of her neighbourhood.

Addressing indignity and danger

Shabnam Bano has time and energy for anyone who comes knocking at her door – about almost any kind of problem: ration cards, water supply, electricity, toilet construction, sewerage, drains, lost jobs, attestation of government documents. You could be forgiven for thinking she was a powerful member of the legislative assembly (MLA) or someone with significant business interests. But she is simply the President of the Ekta Swasahayata Samooh self-help group (SHG). 

Shabnam has done what is considered almost impossible in these parts: she has won a hard-fought battle for the construction of toilets in her slum. 

She says: ‘The recent rape and killing of two sisters in Uttar Pradesh's Badaun has highlighted the issue; the teenage girls were abducted by the culprits when they stepped out of their home to relieve themselves in the night. I frequently cite this case to persuade families to ensure their daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers and sisters do not have to defecate in the open any more. If they do not learn from this example now, then when will the change in mindsets happen?’

Willpower and determination

She continues: ‘When I began to campaign for toilets in Bagda Dafai Basti, I had only my willpower and determination to make it succeed. The basti is densely packed and there are few places left where people can defecate in the open, let alone women or adolescent girls. This was a huge problem. So I approached Councillor Rajesh Sonkare, who was very receptive to my idea. He directed me to go to the Municipal Corporation of Jabalpur, where I met Vivek Gupta, who was working with KSHITIJ -Society for Participatory Development and Research, a PACS partner monitoring the construction of toilets. Vivek Gupta asked me to call a meeting of all beneficiaries at my house, including my SHG members and their families, so that he could speak to them and understand how he could help the effort.’

The meeting was a huge success – more people than she had anticipated turned up for the discussion, and Vivek and Shabnam took turns in explaining to them how the scheme worked. ‘Vivek told us that we had to pay a deposit of only Rs. 1,360 (10% of the total cost of toilet construction), the rest would be paid through government subsidies. I persuaded the beneficiaries by reminding people the amount was less than what many spent on liquor and mobile recharge coupons!’

As soon as the list of beneficiaries was ready, Shabnam deposited the names along with the requisite money at the Municipal Corporation office. Within two days, the material for the construction of toilets had been dropped at Shabnam’s house, including cement, gravel, sand, doors and toilet seats. ‘My home resembled a construction yard!’ she says. ‘My husband, who works as a sweeper, used to chuckle over the piles of material blocking our view of the road, but he was very supportive and even went with me on house visits. But I knew the space was not enough – where would the labourers stay? So I called the local councillor again and requested the use of the nearby community centre for putting up the labourers, to which he readily agreed.’

Shabnam stands in front of one of the toilets she has helped construct.

When a set of toilets was ready, Shabnam would personally visit the house to see if the construction quality, placement and so on were according to specified standards and norms. If there were faults in construction, she would argue with the supervisor until the faults had been rectified. Word spread about her work, and soon Shabnam was visiting and making lists of beneficiaries across several  bastis: Bagda Dafai Basti, Sanjay Nagar, Lal Kuan, Safed Kuan, Tanki Number 2 and others.

Simple, sustainable improvements

‘The indignity and humiliation – not to speak of violence - women suffer over the simple right to go to the toilet is unacceptable,’ asserts Shabnam. ‘Simple, sustainable improvements can make a world of difference. Often, people tell me “there is no space in the house; where will we construct a toilet?” to which I tell them that they need only 5 square feet of space, no more, and usually, most houses have the space to spare. Ultimately, it is about mindsets: it requires a shift in how we see our culture and in treating women with the respect that is due to them.’

As a member of the Mahila Aarogya Samiti (women’s wellness committee) under  the National Urban Health Mission, Shabnam has always given priority to sanitation related work. ‘As a woman, I knew how women in my basti have to bear the brunt of humiliation as they are teased and taunted and even stalked when they step out early in the morning or late in the evening. But building toilets was not enough. Because toilets need water and sewer lines, I went after these as well,’ she says.

For piped water connections, Shabnam leveraged the Dada Babu Rao Paranjpaye Nal-Jal Yojana (DBPSWCY), a scheme by the Jabalpur Municipal Corporation to provide water to the urban poor. The scheme subsidises both the cost of water supply connection and the user charge for the poor and also simplifies the procedures.

Addressing water supply charges

Shabnam says: ‘A major hurdle to providing individual connections to the poor was the high connection and user charges – Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 80 per month, respectively. Under this scheme, the beneficiary gets a concession by paying Rs. 300 as connection charges and Rs. 30 per month as user charges. The scheme is applicable only to those living below the poverty line. This has reduced illegal connections and non-revenue water and increased access for the poor.’

Because councillors play a key role in publicising the scheme, Shabnam has leveraged their support to bring the benefits of the scheme to the beneficiaries’ doorstep, which has benefited the councillors, the JMC and the beneficiaries alike.
Practical to the core, Shabnam has been able to manage the need for sanitation and water supply in a way that makes the toilets useable from the outset. ‘I knew that the toilets would not be used if there was no water supply,’ she says. ‘So I adopted a strategy wherein the beneficiary had a water connection during, or immediately after, the construction of a toilet in his other premises. Now no-one can complain that there is no water so they cannot use the toilet, or vice versa.’ 

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