Women Protesters Struggle as Sanitation Facilities Take a Hit at Tikri Border

Particularly when they are menstruating, protesting farmers say the lack of clean, private toilets creates a big issue.

New Delhi: It has been nearly 25 days since a large group of farmers began their agitation against the new farm laws at Delhi’s Tikri border, stopped by the police from going further into the national capital. Lakhs of farmers are at the protest site day and night, with news groups joining everyday.

As the number of protesters increase, the issue of sanitation is becoming more and more serious. This is even more of an issue for the thousands of women who have joined the farmers’ agitation. Not only do they have to deal with daily hygiene concerns, menstruation increases their need for clean sanitation facilities and water. Activists and others supporting the farmers have raised complaints on this with the Delhi government and the municipal corporation.

It is difficult for women to use the few mobile toilets installed at the protest site because of privacy concerns. Navkiran Kaur, the daughter of the well-known woman farmers’ leader Jasbir Kaur, said they were aware of this issue from the very start, when the protesters were stopped at the border. “Now, the mobile toilets are in an even worse conditions, and there is no cleaning whatsoever. The waste from the toilet and other waste is mixing, which is also making it hard to access to the toilets,” she told The Wire.

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As the sanitation facilities deteriorate, female protesters are being forced to spend only short amounts of time at the protest sites. There are very few mobile toilets available. While some locals are willing to help, they are also hesitant because of the threat of COVID-19. “Some shopkeepers are helping us; sometimes we also go to the metro station and use the loo. There is also a storehouse which allows women to use the washrooms,” Navkiran said. “But now people are also shutting their doors on us – and we cannot blame them, they are not obliged to help.”

Jagroop, a leader from the Kirti Kisan Union, is also facing similar issues. “When we came on November 26, we used the toilet at a shoe factory for some time. But that was only possible for a limited amount of time; after that, there was a hygiene crisis, especially for women and young girls.”

“It is also a problem when you are menstruating,” Jagroop said. “There is no privacy and because of the unhygienic conditions, some girls got infections too.”

Khalsa Aid, a voluntary organisation, has been trying to solve this problem. Members are providing medicines to anyone who needs them. At every kilometre mark, approximately, there is a small health camp set up by the local people and protesters from Rohtak and adjacent cities.

“At the beginning, women were a little awkward, but we went around and talked to them. We are trying our best to help,” said Jagmeet, a Khalsa Aid volunteer.

Dr Svaiman Singh, a cardiologist from the US, is also helping people on the ground. “We have a team of people who are providing medical aid and sanitary napkins, but the issue of washrooms remains unsolved. Where can they go? These people are taxpayers and the government should help them. Many citizens are also donating medicines and other essentials.”

Some women also spoke of the stigma surrounding menstruation, and how protesters are breaking the taboo. At the protest, people are mindful of these things and help each other, they said. A 23-year-old protester, Gurleen Kaur, said, “There is a stigma around menstruation but we are happy to see the sanitary napkins are not packed in bags. Protesters are taking care of the women here. We didn’t see people trying to silence the issue.”

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Protesting women farmers have also slammed the Aam Admi Party government for not maintaining adequate sanitation facilities in the area. Kiranjeet Kaur, who has been at Tikri border since the protest began, said, “On the one hand, the AAP government is saying that we are with the farmers; on the other hand, they are not providing us with basic sanitation facilities. If they are with the farmers, then they should help the people here. We are adjusting to the situation, but we will not go back.”

As winter in Delhi reaches its peak, the days are tough and the nights tougher. Even though women are facing challenges at the Tikri border, they say they have no plans of going back until the BJP government repeals the new laws.

Aafreen Khan is a journalism student from MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.