Man caught urinating kills girl as India deals with an eternal problem

November 23, 2012

(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?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

With out providing facilities.. how can u ask to fine the people. Are you thinking Leaders and policy makers doesn’t know it? Are you thinking people have fun urinating in public places? Anyone can make allegations and anyone can condemn anything without knowing the root cause. I feel this article is a junk and your suggestion are immatured and silly.

Posted by suryavnk | Report as abusive

Thanks for reading and offering your feedback and criticism. I think that we addressed your point here:

“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.”

You will notice that we raise precisely this point. It will take more than penalties and shaming.

Having said that, there are plenty of people who have access to toilets who choose not to use them because they’re traveling, or because they decide that they just have to go. I know I’ve done it. Have you?

Thanks for reading,
Robert MacMillan
Editor, global editions

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

We can not adopt lax attitude to maintenance of public places and utilities.
Governments or local bodies can easily provide required resources for revamping the facilties that have withered away or create new, adequate ones.
They also ahve to provide infrastructure amd self-regulating effective mechanism for upkeep as well, of which penalties can only be a small, but essential, sub-set.

Posted by Ashok_Vaishnav | Report as abusive

This is a cultural problem.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

One thing the Indian municipal governments could do, immediately, is hose down areas that tend to be very ripe and regularly wash some of the stench away.

They might also adopt less costly methods of providing public facilities and use something like the “Vaspasiens” (not sure of the spellin) named for the Roman Emperor who introduced them into Rome and gave the contract for reclaiming the urine to the Tanners guild that needed it for treating leather. The Vespasiene was a simple privacy screen over a drain in the sidewalk. I saw them decades ago in Paris. You could see the man’s head and his legs from the knee down. It must have stunk something awful to live near a tannery in ancient Rome. Women’s needs are a bit more problematic. But it’s probably men, who always have their own hose, who make the biggest mess.

Pissing on sidewalks and walls in not new. Europe had the same problem until the 20th century. The US was none too sparkling clean either. Americans liked to chew tobacco, and every public building and hotel had a spittoon that was always surrounded by a spatter pattern of brown saliva stains. A former Aristocratic lady was once taken into the Palace of Versailles years after the Revolution, after the sales of the contents and the former occupants were all gone, and couldn’t recognize where she was in the building until she smelled a whiff of urine in a corridor or staircase that jogged her memory and she started to name the former occupants of the rooms.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

why is it that the first solution is always based in punishment. the ONLY solution is clean public toilets in useful numbers. I remember my husband telling me about the public toilets in some European city 30 years ago with assertive women tending them. (you didn’t make a mess there!).

Provide the toilets FIRST. Then the behavior will begin to change. Until there is a facility the behavior can not change.

Posted by Train_Ryder | Report as abusive

When was the last time anyone in the US has seen municipally maintained public rest rooms? Highway rest stops are the only facilities that seem to operate anymore. Elsewhere, in small towns and urban areas, they can only be found in some fast food restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores and usually with warnings that they are for patrons use only. The subway system in NYC has none I could ever find. There are a few in the Port Authority bus terminal. There might be one at the Times Square station and they are usually very seedy. They were notorious for being gay trysting places and may be why there are no public rest rooms. Boston has them at the major, newer MBTA stations.

No one wants to be a rest room attendant. Rest rooms here are mostly semi or completely “privatized”. And if they cost anything to use in India, I imagine many won’t.

The Indians should try something cheap and easy like the pissoir (vespasienne) that the Parisians used to use, at least for men. It’s a privacy screen and a hole in the pavement. They could be continually flushed with a low flow rinse. Or the Indians could be sensible and hose down frequently used areas at least until better methods are put in place. Women’s needs are harder to deal with but men tend to be freer with their hoses.

Cities don’t seem to do anything until it costs too much and because it costs too much to move the bureaucracies, they don’t do anything.

If the Indians start to have fully municipal controlled and maintained restrooms, they will actually be adopting a higher standard of urban comfort than applies here. Good for them, but they are also one of the more highly indebted national governments in the world. Their municipal governments may be in none to healthy condition either. Untouchables used to do the dirty work in Indian society so I suspect they will not be able to find employees willing to work at formerly “untouchable” tasks.

I have a hunch that sidewalks and walls in New Delhi are going to stink for a long time. Fines without alternatives, is just taking advantage of the situation, to make a little more tax money that may never build a single “potty”.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

I agree that this seems to be endemic. You will necessarily have to find a way to change the people’s perception of the problem.
I mean, you allow people to actually float dead bodies down the River Ganges! Some of those bodies just lie there until they rot away!
Your society is in a big need of realizing that certain practices are just no longer acceptable.
Urinating in public is something you are probably not going to address by itself without addressing many other endemic habits also.
Uplifting and helping your poorest population would probably go a long way towards addressing the issue from the bottom up.
Good luck!

Posted by arttie | Report as abusive

Another thing I’d like to mention on this article, if I may; I see a lot of this ‘fines and penalties’ talk going on. How about instead of a penalty you institute a reward system for areas or neighborhoods that can enforce their own rules in keeping the areas clean of this filth. Encourage the citizens themselves to address the problem. Educate them locally on the dangers of the bacteria spread and infection increase. It could go a long way towards giving them a sense of pride, not only in their neighborhoods, but also in a personal sense. “We did it ourselves!”

Posted by arttie | Report as abusive