Mumbai: Fifteen Norwegians, former drug addicts and convicts for whom yoga has brought a new outlook on life after rehab, have spent the last one month in Mumbai building toilets exclusively for women near Mumbai Central railway station.
Led by Alexander Medin, a yoga teacher who runs Oslo-based Back in the Ring (BITR), a project to empower people struggling with drug addiction and get their life back through yoga and voluntary work, says that this initiative came out of observing how there were barely any toilets for women in this city. His group had earlier done voluntary work of building houses and school for the poor in Karnataka and Goa.
“The right to sanitation is equal for all, but unfortunately among all the public toilets here, most are for men. It is a disgrace for all the women who travel forth and back to work, the poor who don’t have any toilets and all the other women who feel unsafe going to the normal public toilets,” Medin told Gulf News.
“Toilets for women here are disgusting and anyone will faint with the stench,” he says.
It is estimated that there is just one public toilet for 6,000 women in Mumbai, he added.
Whilst the group collected Rs1.6 million (Dh89,290) from Norway to build the toilets, another Rs1 million came from the JSW Group, the sponsors who will handle the maintenance in the long-run after the block of nine toilets is entirely completed with water and electricity provided by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in a month’s time.
There will be both Indian and Western type of toilets as well as a changing room for babies. An attendant will be present at all times.
Even as Medin was busy winding up the monthlong construction, (the group is all set to return to Norway today), he emphasised how “this selfless work has been a humbling experience for all. If you work, do things without expecting any reward in return, great things can happen.” But the project had its challenges and “it was like managing more than a dozen wild horses running in different directions — with one member even being tempted by a drug peddler on the streets of Mumbai Central. But we took action to see it did not happen again.”
The dust, heat, pollution, mosquitos, crowds and discomfort at hotels did test their determination but “it was all worth it,” he says.
“It’s been great being part of this project that will make a difference to women in this city,” says Siv Lovland. After struggling with heroin addiction for 27 years and then undergoing rehabilitation, she met Medin and joined BITR. But one condition was she had to do yoga, something absolutely new for one “who only knew of handball and football as a kid. Now I want to live again, even though my youth has gone.”
The “selfless service” of these volunteers has made an impression on everyone working with them and a BMC officer coordinating with them told this paper, “This is a unique concept of constructing toilets only for women. If foreigners can do this, why can’t people of this city and country emulate them.”
The BMC, often deride for inefficiency, went out to provide the land free for toilet construction and hopes more such volunteers will come forward to build toilets with their own funds.