Delhi slum where open defecation killed 50 in 10 years
Alok K N Mishra
New Delhi: The Bheem Nagar jhuggi cluster in Nangloi, west Delhi, makes a mockery of PM Modi’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission. Not only are slum dwellers here forced to defecate in the open, locals claim more than 50 people have lost their lives in the process.
These people were run over by trains while crossing railway tracks to answer nature’s call in the last 10 years. Bheem Nagar is part of an eight-odd km stretch between Langoi and Sakur Basti railway stations, which officials say has claimed over 100 lives in 10 years, including 35 in 2016.
Scores have lost their limbs to onrushing trains on the Delhi-Bathinda section of northern railways. The slum is just 10 metres away from the tracks. Around 100 passenger and goods trains pass through every day.
There’s a single toilet complex with 30 cubicles for the 5,000-odd residents of the slum, forcing a majority of them to defecate near the tracks. Most of the deaths have taken place between 5am to 9am and 4pm to 9pm, when visibility is often low.
‘Not every death linked to open defecation’
The recent death took place barely a month ago. Ashok Mistry, a 40-year-old carpenter, left his house at 8.30pm in the first week of December, telling his family he would narrate an interesting tale after answering nature’s call. But what the family got was a grim news.
“A neighbour came to tell us that his head was severed after a train hit him,” says his 13-year-old son Mohit Sharma with tears rolling down his eyes. The family got no compensation and Ashok’s widow now works as a maid’s job to feed her two kids.
Such tragic tales abound in the slum. The stomach of a pregnant woman was ripped open and the unborn baby fell out after she was hit by a train in 2007, say locals. Both died on the spot. “Nobody in the slum could eat their meals that day,” says Deepak Kumar, a neighbour.
Three years ago, Ganpat Mahto, who walks with a limp, and his half-blind wife lost their only son Pramod Kumar while he was crossing the tracks around 6am three years back. Now, there’s no one to help the ageing couple when they fall sick, which is quite often.
Lali Kumari, 15, lost her mother in the tracks when she was five. Her father has since re-married but the loss still haunts the child.
Locals say people often fail to judge the actual speed of an approaching train and get hit. In foggy days, trains are not visible till it’s too late. Because it is a not a restricted zone, trains do not blow horn while passing through this slum cluster at full speed.
Shahzad Ali, a tailor whose shop overlooks the killer tracks, has seen several people die on 500-metre stretch of the railway line. “Nowhere in the world would so many people have died while defecating,” says Mausin Khan, a local.
While gory tales of death are on everybody’s lips in the slum, children still play near the tracks and often cross over to the other side for urinating.
Some slum residents such as Baby Singh blame evil spirits for the deaths. “At night, white-clothed men walk on the tracks. They suck people under the trains,” says she. Children listen to such stories with rapt attention and promptly return to resume their play.
There is, however, less emotion on view as railway officials at Langoi station share data on deaths on the tracks. Says Milan Kumar, superintendent of Langoi, “Every year, 10 to 15 deaths are reported on railway tracks between Langoi railway station and Sakur Basti railway station.
According to official reports, 35 people died on this stretch in 2016.” Other officials say the number is higher, but do not give figures. A railway official says not every death at the tracks is linked to open defecation. “Some have committed suicide, some other were drunk,” he says.
This claim is contradicted by local BJP leader Vinod Shokeen. “Nobody was drunk and nobody committed suicide. Some people have died while going to meet friends in neighboring areas but 90% were killed while crossing the tracks for defecation,” Shokeen says.
Daulat Ram, a BJP member living in the slum for the past 25 years, says he once saved a woman from being hit by a train. “The number of deaths of people going to relieve themselves in such a small stretch of railway tracks is unprecedented in the country,” he says.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari, who visited the slum on January 3, has promised to take up the matter with the authorities. Local AAP MLA Raghuvinder Shokeen says he recently inaugurated a 90-cubicle toilet complex next to the railway tracks.
Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board is constructing that toilet complex, says B K Chauhan, an assistant engineer in the board. “The railways has got the construction work stopped because it owns the land,” says contractor Rakesh Garg.
Meanwhile, the locals are praying that the railways allows the toilet to come up. “If the shelter board submits the design of the proposed toilet complex, railways can examine it,” said Northern railways spokesperson Niraj Sharma.Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board is constructing that toilet complex, says B K Chauhan, an assistant engineer in the board. “The railways has got the construction work stopped because it owns the land,” says contractor Rakesh Garg.
Meanwhile, the locals are praying that the railways allows the toilet to come up. “If the shelter board submits the design of the proposed toilet complex, railways can examine it,” said Northern railways spokesperson Niraj Sharma.
(Source: Times of India)