Didi aapki skin bahaut dull ho gayi hai. Aap paani zyada piya karo.” (sister, your skin is looking very dull, you should drink more water. I wouldn’t have imagined that an ordinary interaction with a midwife would take the turn that it did.

Mujhe toh bahaut pyaas lagi hai, lekin main paani nahi peeti. Poora din idhar se udhar massage ke liye jaati hoon. Bathroom aa gaya toh kahan jaoongi?” (I get thirsty a lot but I don’t drink much water. All day long I visit different homes for my massage appointments. Where will I go to relieve myself if need be?)

On further enquiry, I found out that even though she visits over 8 houses a day, nobody lets her use their washroom. She reminisces about the day she had to urgently use the washroom and the woman she was massaging told her to go to the back alley of her house.

This happened in capital city of India, a booming economy. One can only imagine the bleak conditions in small towns and cities.

In first part of a 2-part write-up,  I am going to talk about the civic amenities (or lack thereof) provided to the citizens of the country. Stay tuned for my next part on class/caste discrimination with focus on women.

According to the reports of 10 out of 12 zones by Municipal Corporation of Delhi, there are 3,712 public toilets for men and only 269 for women. And yet we spot more men defiling the nooks and crannies and even roadsides in the city than women (who travel long routes to find isolated areas to answer nature’s call).

Who can blame these men? Even the existing public toilets in the country are poorly located and in such bad state that one must be extremely shy of public nudity to think of using one. The health of a civic society is strongly dependent on its sanitary condition which is directly linked to public toilets. Over 15 million urban households in the country do not have toilets.

Devinder Sehrawat of Delhi Gramin Samaj states, “while the Corporations may rattle out any number of figures, they do not reflect the reality of rural areas on the ground. Out of the total 1,483 sq.km area of Delhi, over 500 sq.km with a population of over 30 lakh and covering 360 villages is thus bereft of such facilities.” In South Delhi Municipal Corporation, there are about 500 toilets but most of them are concentrated in commercial areas. Entire rural belt of Delhi stretching from Badarpur border in South-East to Narela in the north does not have even a single public toilet.

Sanitation facilities for women in other states are equally bad; Sanitation is a matter of health and dignity for women. Existence of public and personal toilets affect women’s ability to work, their mobility and their safety. Even Mahatma Gandhi said that sanitation is more important than independence.

Inadequate sanitation facilities render women in both urban and rural areas vulnerable to sexual violence who then have to squat in open areas, inviting sexual assault, harassment and murders. Lack of toilets as well as low maintenance of those existing create health hazards for women. In many instances, it also leads to larger number of girl drop-out rate in schools.

  • Lack of access to toilets causes girls aged 12 to 18 to miss around five days of school per month, or around 50 school days per year, according to the 2011 Annual Status of Education Report released by minister of human resource development.
  • A national survey conducted by AC Nielsen and NGO Plan India in 2012 found that 23% girls drop out of school after reaching puberty.
  • In Bihar, 872 cases of rape were reported till November 2012. “Roughly 40% to 45% of the incidents took place with the women when they went out of their homes to defecate in the open,” states Arwind Pandey, Bihar police’s IG for weaker sections.
  • An RTI filed in July 2012 revealed that the BMC has not set up a single separate toilet for women in Mumbai, while  there are 2,849 toilets for men.
  • A 2012 study on drinking water and sanitation by the WHO and UNICEF reveals that 626 million people in India do not have a closed toilet. It’s the world’s highest number, far ahead of Indonesia, which ranks second at just 63 million.

For a clearer picture, refer to this table from Baseline Survey 2012: All India Abstract Report:

BSL-Survey-All-India-Report

However, lately there is an increased awareness for need for better water, health and sanitation facilities in the country. Many initiatives, programmes and policies have been launched to ensure more urban and rural households install personal toilets for benefit of both men and women.

A PIL was filed by advocate Ashok Aggarwal highlighting the shortage of toilets for women in Delhi. The High Court has sought the presence of  member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board on August 6 and has even asked NDMC and Delhi Cantonment Board to file status report. [http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-16/delhi/39309334_1_public-toilets-status-report-division-bench]

Four years ago, the Haryana government started its ‘No Toilet, No Bride’ campaign, painting walls across the state with the slogan: “I won’t allow my daughter to marry into a home without toilets.” In just one year (2011), 330 gram panchayats have been turned into ‘nirmal gram’ or clean villages. [http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/a-slogan-boosts-sanitation-in-haryana/article3364896.ece]

The Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation has earmarked Rs 3 crore for setting up new public toilets to make Pune ‘open-defecation free’. [http://www.indianexpress.com/news/pcmc-to-upgrade-public-toilet-facility/1082365/]

35 NGOs in Mumbai launched The “Right to Pee” campaign in 2012 to collect as many signatures as possible to demand better public bathroom facilities for women and then present their case to the city’s civic authority, 50 percent of which is made up of women. Supriya from CORO, an organization under Right to Pee says, “we have surveyed 129 toilet blocks , did signature campaigns on 16 railway stations , organized workshops , met experts to understand the issue in depth, and submitted 50,000 signatures and analytic survey report to BMC.” She also reiterates about their experience in dealing with the authorities at BMC who claim that they have to charge women for using public toilets since they are not sure if women actually use the toilets for ‘urination or something else’.  Their campaign is actively working to improve situation of women.  [http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/right-to-pee-campaign-launches-women-restrooms-india]

One remarkable success story in recent times is that of a strong-willed woman in Odisha whose efforts resulted in 98% toilet coverage in a small village of Sagada in Puri. [http://www.indiasanitationportal.org/16817]

It must be a priority of the government and civic authorities to provide for better sanitary conditions to the people. Public toilets are as important as road, transport and communication infrastructure for growth and development of a State.

We could learn a lot from linfen, a Chinese city which only till a few years back was stated as one of the worst places in the world to live in. The local government began a ‘Toilet Revolution’ back in 2008 and built 200 public toilets in and around the city, increasing living condition, health and sanitation of its people. So much so that Linfen was awarded with UN-Habitat’s International Best Practice Award for the Asia and Pacific region.

Adequate sanitation is vital for social development as it boosts good health resulting in lower drop-out rates in girls studying in schools. Therefore it is a good investment as for ‘every 10% increase in female literacy, a country’s economy can grow by 0.3 percent. Educated girls are more likely to raise healthy, well-nourished, educated children, to protect themselves from exploitation and AIDS and to develop skills to contribute to their societies.’ – UNICEF

More toilets, coupled with better policing can control incidents of crime against women, specially in rural areas. We should start urging civic authorities in our areas to construct more easily accessible public toilets for both men and women for a cleaner, healthier and happier environment.

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