Bengaluru family has been living in public toilet for 2 weeks after losing home in rains

71-year-old Rashmiamma, a Dalit woman, who was living in the public toilet died on October 23.
Collapsed house
Collapsed house
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The stench of a week-old garbage surrounds the public toilet in Bengaluru's Lakkasandra. Its narrow passageway is dimly lit, and towards the tail end of the passage are a bed, a cupboard and household items owned by 71-year-old Dalit woman – Rashmiamma – who lived there since her house collapsed due to heavy rains. On October 23, Rashmiamma died – of a heart attack according to her family. She was narrating her ordeal to an activist, when she collapsed.

Rashmiamma's house in Bengaluru's Lakkasandra after rains

On the night of October 10, when heavy rains lashed several parts of Bengaluru, the houses in the Lakkasandra slum, located off Bannerghatta Road in Bengaluru, were flooded entirely. Rashmiamma was living with her 44-year-old daughter Geeta, her daughter-in-law Palaniamma and four grandchildren in a 10 ft x 10 ft structure. At night, the roof of her house collapsed. Rashmiamma and her family were compelled to move to a public toilet located next to the Ray Centre in Wilson Garden to take shelter. 

The family's belongings in the public toilet

At dawn on October 11, Geeta, who went to look for their belongings, found that all that remained of the house they had lived in for 15 years was rubble. She and Rashmiamma, fished out their meagre belongings from under the rubble and moved it to the public toilet. Despite multiple trips to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ward office in Laljinagar, Rashmiamma was unable to get the civic body's officials to help her find shelter.

On October 23, Rashmiamma, who was employed as a cleaner in the same toilet she was living in, was visited by a local activist. Recounting the tragic incidents that occurred after the rain, she broke down, and then collapsed. She was immediately rushed to the Venkateshwara Nursing Home, where she was allegedly refused treatment and later taken to a local clinic. "When we took her to the clinic, the doctors said she was dead. They said it was a heart attack," Geeta said. 

Geeta, her four children and Palaniamma have been living in the same public toilet. And with no response from the BBMP, she fears that her children, aged between four and 11 years, may fall sick because of their living conditions. "My mother was a strong person. She worked at several marriage halls as a cleaner. After the pandemic, she lost those jobs. So she began cleaning public toilets to support the family," said Geeta, who is a domestic worker. 

Geeta and her family members live inside one of the toilet rooms, while a bed is laid out in the corridor opposite the toilet area. "People use these toilets a lot and by living here, the water leaks a lot. I am scared something will happen to my children. I am begging BBMP to help us," Geeta said.

The public toilet near Ray Centre, where the family lives

After multiple failed attempts at gathering the Palike's attention, Geeta's neighbour Vannila, who is a member of Ambedkar Sangha, contacted the local MLA Uday Garudachar. The MLA and his associates visited the spot on October 17, and Geeta said that she was assured that they would help her relocate immediately after informing the BBMP. However, nine days since his visit, the family's condition is the same.  

When TNM contacted the Bengaluru South Zone Deputy Commissioner Lakshmi Devi, she said that she had never heard of the incident pertaining to Rashmiamma or her family and that the MLA had not informed her of such an incident. "I have already informed my Assistant Revenue Officer to go and inspect the spot. We will work to relocate the family immediately,” she said. 

Speaking to TNM, Uday Garudachar said that he had proposed to the residents of the slum that he would get apartments constructed for its residents. "They were opposed to it and they wanted individual houses. The houses constructed there are not planned properly and we were only trying to help.  I am meeting the BBMP officials tomorrow (Tuesday) to direct them to help out the family. We will ensure that the woman and her children find shelter soon," he added. 

MLA Uday said that he held talks with Housing Minister V Somanna and discussed construction of permanent homes for the residents of the slum. “The problem is that we have to construct better houses in a different area. We have to hold talks with the people in this area before taking it forward,” he said. 

Arun Prasad, an activist working with the community in Lakkasandra, said that the BBMP was offering the coronavirus pandemic as an “excuse” to not release funds for reconstruction of the houses collapsed in various slums in the city due to rains. 

“The BBMP and the slum board must coordinate with each other and release the funds for construction of houses on priority. Especially those that were destroyed in the recent rains. They cannot hold COVID-19 as an excuse and withhold the fund release as this will lead to the poor people living without a roof in streets during the monsoon posing grave threat to their health during the pandemic,” he said. 

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