Sorry state of sanitation adds to the farmers’ woes

Hope, despair and laid back government response at Tikri Border


March 20, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Sorry state of sanitation adds to the farmers’ woes

All around heaps of garbage lie scattered & every now and then one can spy men urinating in the open at the Tikri border protest site (MIG Photos/ Madan Mohan Malhotra)

As farmers camping at various borders of Delhi complete four months, living conditions at the camps resemble a refugee camp with barely any civic amenities. With summers setting in, doctors fear lack of sanitation may lead to large-scale diseases.

An intensely pungent smell greets one nose as one approaches the camps of the farmers protesting at the Tikri border on the fringes of north-western Delhi. The source of the odour becomes evident once one is inside the protest site. All around heaps of garbage lie scattered and every now and then one can spy men urinating in the open. Dozens of volunteers have little option but to cook food even as the stink hangs in the air around them.

This is what the onset of warmer temperatures has led to at the Tikri border protest site which has been home for the past four months to nearly 100,000 farmers from various states. While the camp always lacked adequate water and sanitation facilities, it was yet manageable during the winter. But with the summer setting in, these facilities would be sorely missed.

“Bathing, that is basic to our lifestyle, has become a luxury especially for women due to the absence of proper toilets and washrooms and as a result, people don’t bathe for two or three weeks,” says Subhash Solanki, a social activist.

“As summer sets in, the situation would definitely worsen as the camps already lack enough drinking water facilities and the authorities are more often than not very lethargic in their response,” says Dhanamal Goyal, state president of Medical Practitioners Association, Punjab who runs a health facility at the site.

“Cleanliness and garbage disposal are major problems on the site because only requesting for 10 days do the municipal workers pick up garbage from here,” he adds.

The farmer bodies themselves through their volunteers ensure basic medication and cleanliness at the site but they face many problems in ensuring proper garbage disposal or an adequate supply of drinking water and electricity on the site.

Women protestors especially impacted

“Till when can this continue like this, the government must do its bit,” says Dr Sakshi, a 26-year-old medical practitioner from Haryana who has been at the protest site for more than two months, serving as a medical worker on the behalf of Uzmabaithak, a voluntary organization. She says that though there are portable toilets at the site, they don’t have water and the overall water availability is also low which adds to the problem.

“Women feel extremely insecure and unsafe especially when menstruating. Moreover, open defecation is possible for men but what about women? Where can they go? It becomes extremely uncomfortable and that’s the harsh reality,” adds Sakshi.

Though there are several medical camps operated by voluntary organisations like Uzma at the protest site, they don’t have the capacity to deal with a large number of people. In case of an outbreak of a contagious disease, whose incidences rise sharply during the summers, they would be unable to manage with the numbers, they say.

“Justice must be done as soon as possible as this is not a domestic issue anymore and India’s international reputation is also at stake,” says the young doctor.

Impact on the elderly

“The elderly are the most vulnerable given the filth and lack of basic sanitation facilities like toilets and due to the prevailing Covid19 pandemic, they must be given special attention as they suffer from comorbidities,” says Hardeep Singh a 39-year-old farmer from Punjab. “About 10 to 15 persons have lost their lives at the protest site due to unavailability of certain medicines during the protest. But the local authorities are least concerned,” he adds. Moreover, the elderly persons find it really difficult to use washrooms which are unhygienic and often have long queues, given the number of people staying at the protest site.

What lies ahead?

“Government has just turned its back on the farmers and doesn’t even care about how they are living at camps which is only making farmers more agitated,” says Singh. On the future course of action, he says, “The movement is not going anywhere and the farmers are united and determined to take the fight till the end and even the absence of basic amenities and the poor response by the government cannot deter them.”

At least for the very elderly people present in the protest, the experience at Tikri would remind them of the period post-independence in 1947 when they had to struggle for survival in refugee camps without any facilities. The surrealism of the experience is perhaps enhanced due to the indifferent attitude of the present-day government which has turned a blind eye towards them and their problems, just as the colonial British government had done 75 years earlier.



  1. Garvit says:

    Very well written!!

  2. Amaan Malhotrs says:

    A Real Picture

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