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This may be a cultural thing more than movie explanation but since the movie is about the experiences of a slum dog kid growing up I think it fits.

What were they supposed to be doing that would make someone choose their stall AND pay them for it?

Here is a still of the scene:

enter image description here

  • I don't remember from the film: was there any sign of them giving the "customers" water? If not, there was probably a bucket and small plastic jug inside. You're paying for the privacy and for whatever consumable you clean yourself with: in India, clean (ish, don't drink it!) water, in other countries, a few sheets of toilet paper the attendant gives you like a ticket. – user568458 Apr 11 '17 at 15:49
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Probably several things combined:

  • they keep it clean so it is more attractive than the outdoors solution
  • they give people using the stall a sense of security (=nobody will disturb them)
  • when it's the only option around, people have no choice but to pay them, and they just take advantage of it
  • I've added an image. It looks like all of the outhouses has a kid at them. An adult wouldn't have any reason to pay that I can see. The outhouse is there and if they wanted to use it the kids aren't big enough to stop them. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 11:29
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    An adult would indeed have no problem just pushing them away. However, nothing is stopping the kids from showering the adult with a material of choice while he is in the outhouse without having paid. – Origin Oct 10 '12 at 13:28
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    I assumed the kids operate like the "squeegee bandits" who wash car windows without being asked. You don't have to pay them, but many people do pay to avoid being bothered or threatened. – Shiz Z. Oct 10 '12 at 14:21
  • @Origin I'm not really trying to come up with scenarios where the adult does this and then the kids retaliate. I assume that the kids provide a service because when the man can't use the outhouse he takes back his money. Which makes it seem like a service transaction to me rather than extortion. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 16:43
  • @ShaneFinneran That could be it but in an environment like theirs I don't really see the average slumdog ( is that just for the kids or does it apply to adults?) paying a kid just so that they are bothered. It seems to be a business like anything else they show the brothers doing. – Kevin Howell Oct 10 '12 at 16:46
6

In this article proposing a possible alternative to Mumbai's lack of sanitation, it explains that without a sewage system, people have a choice of defecating in the open, in a government toilet if there is one available, or in a private pay-per-use toilet. Urination is free for men using urinals or nature. For women, urination is more problematic. They can squat in the open, or they can use the paid toilets which are really designed for defecation.

Salim's job in the film was to operate a pay-toilet.

4

Here's some possible background on the situation you see:

In Mumbai, a Campaign Against Restroom Injustice

enter image description here

...Almost always, a male attendant oversees these toilets, collecting fees. Petty corruption is rampant in India, and public toilets are no exception: Men must pay to use a toilet but can use urinals free (based on the premise that urinals, usually just a wall and a drainage trench, do not need water). But women are regularly charged to urinate, despite regulations saying they should not be.

...The toilet fees might be considered nominal, ranging from 2 to 5 rupees (about 4 to 9 cents). Yet in India, the poverty line is so low that the government recently defined the urban poor as those living on less than 29 rupees a day.

It seems unlikely that men use these toilets very often anyhow. But then it also seems unlikely that children would be guarding them rather than grown men. And they probably don't get cleaned very often. Has anyone read the book Q&A that the movie is based on?

  • 1
    What a sad article. – MJ6 Oct 13 '12 at 18:16
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They are men's-room attendants.

Those outhouses are pay-toilet; each person using one must pay, probably 1 rupee (about one-and-a-half US cents). In the West, where labor is expensive, a pay-toilet has some automated mechanism to collect the fare, but in the poor countries, there is a human attendant with the same job.

I have seen this in Southeast Asia, where there is a strong cultural emphasis on both cleanliness and privacy, but not (except for this movie) in South Asia, where (completely!) public elimination is so common that it is a health hazard and the government struggles to get the population to use the free toilets provided.

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