Dispatches From Delhi: A Shocking Look at Life Without Sanitation

The 'TakePart Live' crew is in India producing an hour-long special on sanitation. Herewith, entry 2 of a diary of its adventures.

A resident of Masoodpur, a village in southwestern Delhi, stands near a hole slated to be used as a latrine pit. (Photo: Mitchell Koss)

Mar 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Yoonj Kim is an independent journalist and producer in Los Angeles.

As my producer Mitchell Koss and I entered Masoodpur, a village in southwestern Delhi adjacent to a Domino’s Pizza and a KFC, small mounds of human feces dotted the pathway like breadcrumbs; swarms of flies flew everywhere. Residents here, like 650 million Indians across the country, are forced to practice open defecation every day.

Our guide through the village, home to about 5,000 residents, was Amulya, a talkative guy in gold Ray-Bans sent to help us by Sulabh International, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak's toilet and sanitation organization.

The air reeked of shit the moment I set foot near the path, but after a while you get used to it. Hard as it may be to believe, even pervasive poop didn’t diminish my affection for this charming town and its people. My favorite part was the bazaar, a block of stalls selling the typical market fare (fish, meat, and live chickens).

We met a village leader, a smiling, portly guy who had installed nine toilets for the locals and was in the process of digging pits for more. Through Amulya's translation we learned he was a social entrepreneur. He showed us two areas being dug out for sanitation pits, about 40 feet by 15 feet each. He also runs a recycling operation, directing the village ragpickers, as the folks who scavenge for recyclable materials in the unofficial garbage dump next to the town are known. The entire business garners him around $3,000 a month, which pretty much makes him a one-percenter in India.

From the outskirts of the slum we could see all the roofs in the village—rows and rows of them, all tin or wood, with a satellite dish perched on nearly every one. I had heard that more people have cell phones than toilets in India. Seeing the high-tech adornments of Masoodpur’s roofs, following my experience entering the village, hammered home the dichotomy that seems so strange to foreigners. Why these two situations can coexist, and how to remedy the sanitation problem, is what we’ll be exploring in our special episode of TakePart Live next month.

For dinner we had the juiciest tandoori chicken I've ever tasted at Dhaba, a restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel. I was slowly falling sleep in my bed, succumbing to the food coma, and caught a whiff of a putrid smell. It came from my boots, lying next to my bed where I'd kicked them off earlier. The waste from the slums had followed me, as it must, I now understood, for everyone in this beautiful but troubled country.