Man caught urinating kills girl as India deals with an eternal problem
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Thomson Reuters)
Indians don’t like it, but they live with it: the daily sight of people urinating, defecating and spitting in public. Most of us cringe and look away.
One woman who didn’t was Sadmani Khan, who scolded her neighbour Javed for urinating on the stairs of their home. Javed, according to an interview with Sadmani’s husband Aslam Khan, was “drunk stiff” when he relieved himself, according to an interview in the New York Times.
She argued with the man, who threatened to kill her, according to media reports. He came back with a gun and shot her and her 17-year-old daughter Binno in their home. The daughter died.
Such a tragedy is not the outcome of most of these encounters. But you can be sure that people will think about the possibility the next time they walk the streets of their towns and cities.
In the evening, when I step out of the office for a chai break a stone’s throw from Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi, my colleagues and I can’t ignore the nausea-inducing stench of human urine in the air.
The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) website says there is a fine of 50 rupees, 90 cents in the United States, for urinating in public – an insignificant amount for all but the poorest people. But penalties are just one side of the story. Enforcement remains the bigger problem.
The Delhi Metro, for example, stands out as a result of what happens when high standards of cleanliness are enforced. Getting to the station platform through security might feel a bit like going through the patdown before an international flight, but the results of the heavy security presence are apparent. The metro stations are as clean as the best in the world, if not more so. You would think twice before spitting at the very least.
The penalties are stringent too. Defacing the metro stations and trains can get you six months in jail, and the fines are up to 1,000 rupees, or $18. But most people, no matter how much they make, consider that fine too steep to pay.
How can we adopt those measures to the common spaces of Delhi? How can we make it easier for people to get access to toilets instead of using train tracks, open sewers, boundary walls and the street?
We cannot forget that poor people living in slums and homes without sanitation facilities, running water and so on, don’t have much of a choice about where to void themselves. Public facilities that do exist often are unusable because they are filthy.
What if the government and other civic agenices hired volunteers who could use cameras and go on foot patrols? They could call the nearest police station and offer photographic evidence. It would put people to work, though the logistics would require some serious work.
Another option is public shaming, like MTV’s Cyrus Broacha once did as part of his Bakra series. Or, we can follow what a Rajasthan district is planning to do – a musical embarrassment by playing drums behind the back of people who are urinating. Maybe there’s a way to institutionalize this kind of operation.
Civic bodies should impose heavy fines and come up with various campaigns to make sure that people understand these penalties. The police did that to deter drunk driving in 2012, and the results are impressive — nearly every third person caught driving drunk in Delhi has served jail time. That’s 5,093 people, according to the Times of India.
Delhi’s authorities, not to mention civic bodies throughout India, must work to fix this problem. There is often a lot of talk about it, especially when an incident makes the news. And once they have done that, perhaps it’s time to revisit the real tragedy in the story of Binno Khan: guns. Why did Javed have one? Why did he think that it was OK to use it? What can we do about that?