racism at home

'People like him do drugs, have a high sex drive': A Nigerian-Indian takes an auto ride in Bangalore

A Kannada-speaking mixed-race journalist listens in to conversations about him as he travels through through his hometown.

Over the past few years, I’ve stopped keeping track of the news on a daily basis. No good seems to come from it. As a result, I’m the last to know about anything. On Wednesday, while I was running around on a writing assignment in my hometown of Bangalore, my editors from Mumbai called me to ask whether I was safe. I wasn’t sure what exactly they meant, so they quickly relayed the news – a Tanzanian girl, beaten, stripped and paraded naked by a mob in my city with the police standing by silently – and impressed upon me the need to be careful. My initial response: unbridled laughter. I wasn’t laughing because I found the heinous incident funny but because it was happening again. As a queer person with one parent who is Nigerian and the other Indian, I was being violently reminded that it’s dangerous to be different in India.

Though I was slightly shaken by the news of the attack, I am determined to think of myself as the local I am and ignored my editors’ request to travel only by cab over the next few days. I caught an autorickshaw but it seemed like the city was determined to teach me a lesson. The auto driver turned out to be a Kannada chauvinist, who insisted on interrogating me about the reason I had learned the language, constantly checked my knowledge about the route and generally rode in a jerky, speedy, nonchalant fashion.

This kind of needling from macho auto drivers is common and expected but in the light of the recent incident, his showy and reckless driving made me aware of the attention it was bringing to me. At the next stop signal, two bikes halted on either side of the auto, suddenly there were four pairs of eyes from behind helmets staring into the auto, looking me up and down. In a few seconds, the four men and the driver began to discuss me in Kannada. They were wondered about “his rate", “whether he was a boy or a girl”, “the origin of people like him” and insisted “that people like him with curly and rope-like hair do drugs and have a very high sex drive”. I listened silently, astonished that despite speaking Kannada to the driver, he wasn’t at the least affected by the banter. In fact, he participated quite actively in the conversation. I was rattled enough not take the ride all the way to my apartment gate.

“These things keep happening to you,” is one of the most common responses to my retelling stories of these kinds of experiences. People don’t seem to realise that the fact that I have these kind of experiences is a problem in the first place. I’d rather have had an uneventful, boring auto ride like everybody else. Or walk down the road without someone shouting, “African” at least once every day. Yes, I’ve learned to carry on with my life, to ignore these voices, and have even protected myself from hands trying to invade my personal space or mark my body. But it’s tiring and bloody exhausting.

Nobody should live with this feeling of being targeted. But the reasons for being attacked are increasing. They could be anything from being black to beef-eating. I thought Bangalore was safe but that isn’t the case anymore. These incidents are happening too often to be ignored. We can’t even turn to the police for help, because they’re the biggest perpetrators of these crimes.

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India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

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Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

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Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

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Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.