The Toilet Series Part 1: Introduction

My name is Padma Priya, and as a woman, I face a lot of problems with the absence of usable toilets in the city

I recently suffered an ordeal which made me decide to track toilets in the city and hence this month my focus is on usable toilets. It is a sheer coincidence that everyone in the country is also taking about toilets, which I believe is a very important sanitation issue, but is also  much more than that.. It is about Habits, Attitudes, Practices and also about Health, Dignity and Safety

Last month, I attended a day- long meeting at the BBMP office, near Dasapa Hospital. As, I stay far away, I had to leave my house early to take the bus, to be on time, for the meeting at 10. As is the case, with most meetings, it started an hour late. And by this time, I started feeling the urge to relive myself. Unable to excuse myself, I decided to wait till break time.

Finally when the break was announced, I asked around and was directed towards the public toilet. Happy at the sight of the toilet, my joy was short-lived as the stench was unbearable. However, I decided to brave the exercise, but was in for a surprise, the toilet was disgusting and I almost threw up. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for a long time. Unable to use it, I controlled myself, till evening and finally requested the officer convening the meeting to permit me to use his toilet at the BBMP office. I was once again surprised to see the same condition here as well. At this toilet, the flush didn’t even work. The worst part was that the window was unlatched so everybody from the opposite building could look inside. But forgoing my dignity, I just decided to use the toilet as I could not control any more.   After using the toilet I came outside and enquired about the maintenance and I was stunned to hear that three departments were responsible for maintenance of the toilets – Health dept., BBMP and Market Tax dept. But for the last six years every department had shirked responsibility and it had resulted in this condition.

Is it enough to just have toilets and water? Why are the toilets in such a bad condition? How do the officers manage to use these toilets? What is the meaning of a clean toilet? Are pay and Use toilets any good? What will it take to set a revolution for clean, usable toilets?

However, this was not the first time I have had an issue with toilets. Looking back at my growing up years…

I attended a coeducational government school in a semi rural area in Karnataka. I completed 5th to 10th std in that school. The biggest problem we all faced during our time there was the lack of water in toilets. Drinking water was readily available so it was unimaginable to not have functioning toilets. If anyone needed to answer nature’s call, we had to go outside to the drains and use them as toilets. The drain had been divided into two parts for boys and girls. One incident I distinctly remember was in 7th std when a girl was suffering from an upset stomach. Since she had no other choice, she ended up soiling her uniform. She was teased so much by the others that she had to leave school the next day.

Another problem for the teenage girls in my school was that there was no water or private place to clean up during their time of the month. In a school with so many girls, it was very difficult as we had to form groups and keep guard near the drain. The drain was near the paddy fields full of farmers and villagers so we had no privacy.

As I work with a lot of communities in urban slums and government schools, many people have the same issues, of unusable toilets. Every year, many girl students have to drop out of school when they start their periods. Mothers often tell me that their children have to come home in between classes just to use the toilet at home. This is not feasible as they miss out on classes and pay extra for commuting. Whenever I come across these stories, they immediately remind me of my old classmate. It is a pity that children have to give up their education due to lack of such basic facilities.

What is our way forward? How can we address this important issue? How do waste-pickers manage to relive themselves? Are domestic workers allowed to use toilets in their owner’s homes, or do they have to use the security toilet outside the apartment complex? What about auto drivers and cab drivers?Is it easier for them to pee in the public?  Do girls from the local government school skip classes during those five to seven days or is dropping out an easier option? What about our railway stations and local bus depots? What is the condition of the toilets in government hospitals? What are are budget allocation for toilets? Is there a portion reserved for cleanliness and maintenance? What happens when toilets gets clogged? How do people who clean toilet manage? What about sanitary pads flushed down or thrown in the corner for the lack of dustbins?

Tune in to Radio Active this month for the series on Toilets… Share you stories, suggest workable solutions, listen to communities talk about these issues … and more!

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