The Luxury of Privacy
The poor in the NCR see the disparity of wealth and social status in a way they never imagined before moving here. Many of the people I have met and talked to are new to the NCR, after leaving their village homes in search of work. Small neighborhood communities spring up to house the influx of common workers: maids, auto rickshaw drivers, cooks, seamstresses and tailors, launders, and gardeners--all jobs with long hours and little pay. Families as small as 4 and as large as 8-10 are housed in rentals the size of a small bedroom or a large walk-in closet. Inside, they have no running water or bathroom facilities. Power is limited and inconsistent.
The houses face a common courtyard cluttered with vehicles, trash, salvaged building materials, firewood, and animals. The only water source or bathroom is in the common area. Twice a day people carry buckets to the water pipe to collect enough for their daily needs. It is not uncommon for everyone to shower in the public square. Carrying water back to your house for a shower is just too difficult. Manohar Paul, our liaison, grew up in a similar setting. He reflected on his childhood after visiting a nearby community with us:
“My family lived in a similar community to this one. Within the borders of the community there were 40-50 families living together. One thing I never liked was that we would just get water two times a day. In that place, everyone will come together to take bath. There was just one pipe. We had to take a bath, drink, and wash clothes all from that water. Later, as I was growing up, I would think about the young girls and older women, and realize that this set up is not good for them. But things were not in my hand. I was shy. I did not want to do it, but we had to—there was no other option. I realized that this should be a basic right of every human. People should be able to take a bath in private.”
If you were to drive the streets of Delhi, you would see dozens of sites where people are bathing, just outside a row of ramshackle houses. With no more than a metal pan or plastic bucket, men, women and children discretely try to bathe while an endless stream of cars and pedestrians pass them by. For the undiscerning foreigner, this might appear to be the way of Indians—a cultural preference. But, as our friend informed us, this practice is not a choice. There is no other option. Water, even for the wealthy in the NCR, is a limited resource.
There are so many issues that plague the poor in India. Children are begging in the streets, widows are social outcasts, gender-selection abortions are a national problem, domestic violence a common occurrence, and India’s underreported rape statistic ranks as one of the highest in the world. All of these tragic issues need to be addressed. But, so is water. We cannot overlook that which keeps people believing that they are undeserving of basic human dignities. Taking a bath in private should not be a luxury afforded only to the wealthy. Water is a resource that belongs to everyone, but when greed and power limit access, the poor are further humiliated.
As Westerners, we have a seemingly unlimited supply of water to wash our bodies, our clothes, our cars, and our houses. But since water is a finite resource, we should consider the other when we turn on our faucets. Even though water conservation may not change the conditions of India immediately, it will tutor us into a way that regards the interest of another, less fortunate neighbor. You don’t need to travel to India to help – you can start when you remember the poor in India and practice self-control and conservation. This remembrance of the poor is what the apostle Paul was eager to do (Gal. 2:10). “Remembering” is the motivation to do something to change the condition of those who are without the power to affect their own circumstances.