Promoting Child Rights

Photo: SK Enamul Haq

Privacy passed over

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Upashana Salam

Pointing towards an open space in front of her family’s room, Khadija informs that this is where she takes her shower along with other women and girls of her slum.
The 15-year old Khadija lives with her family in a five-room slum house  which they share with five other families in Bosilla.

Photo: SK Enamul Haq

Each room in this house is so small that it only has space to fit in a small shelf to accommodate the family’s kitchen utensils, clothes and all other possessions.
There is not enough space to even lay down a small mattress on the floor and so all four members of Khadija’s family, including her parents and older brother, have to share the only bed, cramping to make space for all of them to squeeze in.

“This is the life I’ve known since my birth,” says Khadija, in a matter of fact manner.
“I am so used to this by now that I don’t think I can adjust to a room of my own,” she jokes.
Growing up in a crowded family with her parents and two siblings, Nasrin, another teenager of the same slum, says that she escapes to her cousin’s house in another part of the town whenever she thinks she has had enough of the smothering nature of her overcrowded house.
And when, such slams are situated at the bottom of high rises, the word privacy just can’t be conceived at all. It’s  all under the curious peek.
“It’s the same in my cousin’s place as well but at least I don’t have to see the same faces again and again,” she says.
At the vulnerable age of 14, Nasrin says that she sometimes thinks she will go crazy if she doesn’t get out of this crowded atmosphere where every body is always aware about what the other person is up to.
The rickety tin-roofed house that the girl lives in stands on wooden planks that can easily give way to the dump yard below if enough attention is not paid.
There is a tiny washroom with only a squat toilet used by all 24 inhabitants of the slum.
A small hole in front of the washroom, serves as a toilet for small kids living in the slum.
“The toilet’s in a despicable condition but we are not half as bothered about that as the complete lack of privacy that the girls and women face when taking a shower,” said Tasnoor, a recently married 18-year old.
“We have to take a shower with all their clothes on so as to retain the little privacy that we can,” she added.
Sharing the same bed with their father and brothers also serves as a source of embarrassment for the adolescent girls, who crave for a bit of space all to themselves.
“My husband and I often need some privacy to ourselves. We can ask the younger kids to get out of the room and play but it feels extremely awkward to say the same thing to our older daughter as we can’t formulate it in a proper sentence,” says Nasrin’s mother.
The same problems are faced by girls of another slum behind the Martyred Intellectuals Memorial in Mohammadpur.
Here again the slum house has five rooms, each room being shared by an entire family.
The living condition in this slum, however, is somewhat better as the flooring is made of brick rather than unstable wooden planks.
Nevertheless, girls and women here also face the same problem of a shared toilet and the risk of people peeking in while they take their showers.
The shower room is just outside the toilet but it doesn’t have any door to ensure privacy.
“We just hang a cloth from one end of the wall to another and ask some girl or woman to stand guard while we take a shower,” said Urmi, a 15-year old.
Girls and women face particular problems during their menstruation as they are surrounded by prying eyes of men and can’t ignore their household duties confronting their sanitation or medical needs.
“We often just sit still until all the men have gone off to work and then take a shower or clean ourselves. Our discomfort during this time can truly not be imagined,” Urmi adds.
The age old cliché of walls having ears seems to hold true in these households where each room is divided by thin walls and curtains as doors.
“Whenever I have an argument with my mother or my parents talk in raised tones, our neighbours come rushing, wanting to know each and every detail”.
While five-year old Othoi entertained everyone by reciting a nursery rhyme she learnt at school, her mother confessed to this correspondent that she is scared that as her daughter grows, she may want more space for herself but that currently seems beyond the means of the family.
“I fear that she will suffer silently and this will have an effect on her psychology.
“We do feel terrible that we aren’t being able to give them the lifestyle and facilities that they truly deserve,” she added.

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