(Ms. Afsana Rasheed, 29, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")
Manual scavaenging still part of valley's rural sanitation
Srinagar, April 30: Despite the presence of modern day toilet facilities, manual scavenging continues in some of the rural areas in Kashmir valley. Over the years the practice of cleaning human excreta has been carried out and this job is mostly discharged by the women folk.
Dry latrines are common in the valley whereas in other parts of India open air defecation is more common. Cleaning dry latrines is the worst form of “violence” being faced by the women-folk. Adding insult to the injury they have to clean night soil with their hands and few tools and the same is later carried by them to the fields.
A woman married to villager in Khan Sahib Block of Budgam district while sharing her views on this issue says, “Open air defecation is better than dry latrines. In the former case it decomposes naturally, but in the latter case it has to be cleaned manually.”
Giving her expert opinion, Ezabir Ali, Field Officer Rural Sanitation Programme (RSP) Kashmir says that in many rural areas old structures (dry latrines) continue despite the presence of sanitary latrines. “The people living in the rural areas look towards the dry latrines as a source of manure that could be used in the fields. It was indeed shocking and I asked them to dismantle those structures,” she added.
With changes taking place in every day life the younger generation clearly refuses to do this job, but the older ones have no choice, but to oblige.
Ezabir says that since the younger generation attends schools, consequently awareness is there and they consider it “a dirty job”. “Some women feel bad about the job, but then they say that they have no alternative,” she said.
The Field Officer says that during her interaction with the women she came to know that men in the family insist women to do the job as it is easily available manure for the fields. “It is really unhygienic that they handle dirt with their hands. At some places, children refuse to eat from their mother’s hands. Women handling night soil simply take a bath and consider they are clean. But the fact is that it has several health hazards,” she said.
Cleaning dry latrines for the family is the duty of my mother. I do pity her, but then that is her job and she has to do it, says a young girl in Budgam. When asked what the family does in case her mother is not at home, she aptly replied, “They wait for her, but the job will be done by her only.”
Ezabir says that there are some examples where the men are seen handling the human excreta, but the job is generally done by the women. She adds that despite alternatives being available to them the women continue with this practice and that at the cost of health implications associated with such a job.
“I do not like this, but there is no other alternative. Men in the family insist women to do it. My grand mother, mother has been doing this now it is my turn how can I revolt. I have to follow the tradition. Tomorrow my daughter will have to do it,” says Zoona, a middle aged woman in Pulwama. “It gives me a dirty feeling but I have no other choice,” she adds.
The women after cleaning these latrines have to carry the excreta in their baskets over their heads to the open fields where it is used as manure.“
It is used as manure in their fields and this is one of the reasons why they continue on with this practice. They even consider constructing sanitary latrine as a waste of their land. Even the dry latrines are constructed in a corner in their compounds or towards the street or water point (nallah), thus polluting water bodies. The water from these water bodies is later used for bathing, drinking, washing and various other purposes. This gives birth to various diseases like diahorrea, skin and fungal infections, worm infestations and others,” said the Field Officer.
Abdul Rahim, a villager says that they do not over-burden their women; it is only on alternate days that they are asked to clean these latrines. “This is not her regular job. It is just on alternate days that she has to do this,” he said.