Something unprecedented happened this Independence Day. Prime minister Narendra Modi took up an issue that half of India faces every day but not many voice it: lack of toilets for women. While Modi sent out a ‘Swachh Bharat’ (clean India) call, we take a look at the state of public washrooms for women in the four metros. Watch this space over the next four days
Anju Yadav | September 8, 2014
Much before dalit assertion became an everyday political reality, there was Amritlal Nagar. Among the writer’s most famous works is ‘Nachyo Bahut Gopal’, the story of a brahmin woman falling in love with a manual scavenger and getting converted to his occupation – and his caste. Back in the early 1980s, the novel was an indication to the sanitation problem that is blowing in our face, year by year.
Sanitation and caste have crisscrossed our political spectrum in more ways than is remembered easily, especially when it is looming into a cliché of the corporate social responsibility type. In the 1990s, BSP founder Kanshi Ram offered his formula to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid matter. The dalit leader suggested a toilet for all sections of society at the disputed site. He denied having made such a remark, but that did not deter Lucknow reporters from attributing it to him. It led to a reaction of disgust from established political parties that had never expressed a similar consternation about open defecation.
Since then sanitation has gone mainstream.
Even the suave Jairam Ramesh of the Congress drew upon the rhetorical tension of temples and toilets while aiming for headlines in his days as rural affairs minister. Last month, in his first address to the nation as the cynosure of ‘achhe din’, prime minister Narendra Modi was hardly going to miss out. “The poor womenfolk of the village can’t go out to defecate till it is dark. What bodily torture they must be feeling, how many diseases that act might engender. Can’t we make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?” he said on August 15.
It was then time to take a look at how the four metros fared in providing for their women.
In a rare agreement with Ramesh, as our correspondent Jasleen Kaur reports [you will see the stories on our website over the next few days], I would say India needs more toilets than temples (my personal view veered towards hospitals, but this, of course, is no less a need). I can’t be blamed for not giving a pee-votal issue its due importance, as I never knew there was any other way. Ingenuity is ingrained in women (men are free to disagree) and I always devised ways and means when in, er, a tight spot – wrapping that scarf around my nose ever so tightly and conjuring the Himalayan beauties ever visited in the short lifespan, whenever I entered the lone Sulabh complex on the 250-km stretch between hometown and national capital. Years later came the first Café Coffee Day and around the same time a McDonald’s outlet on another stretch of the national highway. That made life on the road a tad easier. Jasleen’s experience in VIP area of Delhi, then ruled by a woman, is no less telling.
None would be surprised by Puja Bhattacharjee’s account of her and her friends’ woes in culture-snob Kolkata. Whether it is Gariahat or the uptown Park Street, women have to duck into a restaurant to relieve themselves or, instead, go to a mall every time they go out. Men, meanwhile, can live by Shakespeare’s adage – all the world’s a stage.
Kolkata metro, as Puja points out, hasn’t provided for conveniences at various stations. Delhi Metro added only them after a huge outcry. It was a typical case of aping the West without doing a reality check, as their initial argument that one didn’t need to spend too much time on metro premises, hence there was no need to provide the facility. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, had, however, forgotten that unlike say an American, who could hop into a public facility before or after his metro ride, a Delhiite was unlikely to find a public facility hours before or after using a metro.
Our Chennai correspondent Shivani Gaurav Chaturvedi quotes a Time magazine article that says, “To avoid the need to urinate, they (women) often withhold hydration, a practice resulting in high rates of urinary-tract infections, heat strokes and other health problems.” This holds true for most Indian women who go out to work. Along with Shivani, I eagerly await the special ‘She Toilets’ planned by the Chennai corporation in 348 locations.
From India’s financial capital, Geetanjali Minhas reports on how Mumbai women face a security risk every time they brave a common facility at railway stations, besides the unbearable stench, lack of water, buckets, ventilation and electricity. Outside community toilets women standing in a queue with a mug of water are subjected to lewd stares and comments.
So, my humble request to prime minister Modi is to use his parliamentary majority and direct all the Baristas, Café Coffee Days and McDonald’s to open their restrooms for distressed city women, whether or not they buy coffee or burger. You could, perhaps, count it as their corporate social responsibility fulfilled!
I am anyway using either of their facilities only. And so are the girls, I am told, restaurant managements notwithstanding.
This first appeared in Magazine Vol 05 Issue 15(01-15 Sept 2014)
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