Is Mumbai open defecation free? Photojournalist exposes the grim reality

India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, may have been declared open defecation free, but a photo exhibition suggests otherwise as it aims to highlight the plight of lakhs of people who have to defecate in the open not due to choice, but because they have no other option. This exhibition is a result of five years of work by Mumbai-based photojournalist Sachin Haralkar


My Medical_Worli

Mumbai is known across the country as the city of dreams, it is also the financial capital of India. Hundreds of people across the state and country pour into the city to seek a living as it is the land of opportunity.

While it may appear to be a fairly progressive city in India in comparison to other cities and state capitals, the land of Bollywood stars and a bustling metropolis also has a darker side which rarely comes to the fore or is spoken about.

The topic which we are speaking about is open defecation.

My Medical_Antop hill

Over 65 lakh Mumbaikars live in slums. Sanitation is a bare necessity, yet, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the state government have not been able to provide basic sanitation facilities to these people.

Now, Sachin Haralkar, a lensman from Mumbai, has filmed this bitter reality and is showcasing the real truth in a photo exhibition at Piramal Art Gallery, NCPA, Nariman Point. He highlights the plight of the slum dwellers through his pictures.

My Medical_Mahul Chembur

While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Sachin Haralkar, informed, “The population in Mumbai is increasing with every passing day. And, the availability of toilets is very less. This, in turn, forces people to go and defecate on the railway tracks and open land. A few people have lost their lives due to this.”

His exhibition was inaugurated by Sangeeta Bhatt, a 30-year-old woman who lost both her legs while she was defecating along the railway tracks. He shared her unfortunate story with us.


He said, “Sangeeta Bhatt, a 30-year-old woman from Jaipur, who came to Mumbai after her marriage, lost her leg, in a train accident, when she had gone out to answer the call of nature. This incident shocked me, and then I had decided to do something to raise the voice of common Mumbaikars. I travelled extensively in slums over the past five years, to shoot these pictures.”

He has taken a thousand of pictures that documents a morning ritual that nearly all of us take for granted. However, for 65 lakh of Mumbai’s residents, the lack of loos is a daily struggle that they have to face.

He has come across people like Sangeeta Bhatt from, who lost her legs defecating on railway tracks, and many others who have lost family members simply because there are not enough public toilets in the city.

My Medical_Worli Madraswadi

Sachin further stated,  “Someone had to raise the voice, against this. I am a photographer, and I have raised my voice through these pictures. The motto behind the exhibition was to bring the plight of the slum dwellers so that it reaches to the government.”

The pictures were shot in Vashi, Govandi, Mankhurd, Dharavi, Mahim, Sion and Antop Hill areas of the city.

It has been a year and a half since Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had proudly declared India’s second most populous city open defecation free (ODF).

Sachin’s exhibition aims to expose the reality of this situation to the state government and civic body.

My Medical_Dharavi

He pointed out that ironically, while he was working on this project, the ruling Maharashtra government  declared Mumbai ‘open-defecation free.’

“Really? My camera was gathering evidence to the contrary each day,” he regretted on a serious note.

The ‘ODF’ slogan must be understood as nothing but a self-congratulatory process. Public health, safe disposal of faecal matter and dignified access to sanitation facilities are hardly on the agenda. The campaign is, in fact, a clever shift of narrative from non-availability and inadequacy to the need for change in behaviour

The exhibition is on till Wednesday, September 18 if you wish to visit and acquaint yourself with the harsher truths of the city.