In Kolkata, finding toilets for women is a challenge

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Puja Bhattacharjee | September 17, 2014



Priyanka Basu, a resident of south Kolkata, regularly haunts the busy shopping destination of Gariahat. Amid the chaos of traffic, pedestrians and hawkers are numerous roadside eateries and a few good book stalls. But when she has to use the toilet, she inevitably rushes back home or goes to the nearest Cafe Coffee Day. She avoids using the Sulabh Shauchalaya under the Gariahat flyover as she deems it unclean and unsafe. While Basu still has a choice, many others don’t.

The entire stretch of Gariahat area from Fern Road till Deshapriya Park hardly has any public toilet. A few Sulabh toilets can be found haphazardly placed across the southern part of the city. Public toilets are extremely hard to find in the rest of the city. And if there is one, it is unsafe for a woman to go alone.

I consider malls to be the easiest access to toilet and also the cleanest. But there are times when you are in a locality that has no malls. What do you do then? Known for its upmarket restaurants, even Park Street can be unkind to a person in need. Once a friend told me about her experience there. She had surreptitiously slipped into the nearest restaurant to use the washroom. While coming out she was stopped and chided by the manager for trespassing. They refused to sympathise with her plight and asked her to go to a public toilet in future. When I was a student, McDonald’s was the only place we could afford. So, while I went to the washroom, my friend ordered the cheapest item on the menu.

While south Kolkata, with plenty of shopping places, can still have options, north Kolkata can be a nightmare. In April, I had to go on a reporting assignment to north Kolkata. I took the metro till Dumdum and then a cycle-rickshaw to my destination. While returning, I had to use the washroom. Kolkata metro doesn’t have toilets, so I landed up at a relative’s house in Dumdum on the pretext of meeting them. All for using a toilet! And this was not the first time I went to someone’s place only to use the toilet.

Since I was born and brought up in this city, it is relatively easier for me to find options. But for an outsider, it can be a real challenge.

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