Presence of Public Toilets Imply Women Friendly Spaces
From the right to ‘be’ to the right to ‘pee’, the struggle for women just doesn’t seem to end. I was travelling from Delhi to Manali last month. Before embarking on the long journey, I wanted to get off the burden, my bladder had produced in the last 3-4 hours. But the question was WHERE could I do my business? I went to look for a toilet and I loathed my husband when he mocked me, “Ali Baba ka Pitara” which implies a huge, overflowing bag.
Finding a ladies’ toilet at a Connaught Place bus stop, which is in central Delhi, is almost impossible. The toilet hunt had been going on for half an hour and had to stop soon because the bus was about to start. I panicked and resorted to a strategy I would not otherwise employ. I rushed to one of the souvenir shops at Panchkuiyan Road and sought permission to use their washroom. They were reluctant so I had to convey the urgency by emphasizing that my bladder is about to burst and that my bus is taking me on a 15 hour long journey to Manali from Delhi. I had made up my mind that I will not board the bus if I am unable to relieve my bladder before I get on it. After empathizing with my sense of urgency, the souvenir shop owners directed me to their washroom. I was led into a dark toilet as I opened the door. The stench of Sulphur assailed me. I switched on the mobile phone flashlight, hurried through my business and fled from the filthy place. I conveyed gratitude to the shop owners while dreading the possibility of a Urinary Tract Infection.
Walking towards the bus and my husband, I pondered over the fact that men in India feel free to urinate just about anywhere. It’s so normal to see a man pee on the roadside in Delhi, but never does one spot a woman squatting by in full public view. Since it is a problem that does not concern men and because they are usually the ones in the positions of decision making and power; the issue of creating adequate public infrastructure for women does not seem important enough. Although seemingly funny, this is a serious concern.
Due to the lack of public infrastructure, girls in rural India stay away from school when they are menstruating and eventually they drop out. Women who go for open defecation do so, at odd hours of morning or night. They avoid being seen by other people and invariably become vulnerable to sexual predators looming in the vicinity. I feel we need to engage the masses in this concern and pressurize the government to take up this issue seriously. In April this year, the Press Information Bureau cited that there is a shortage of 11,137 toilets in the city of New Delhi. As per the Bureau statistics, around 6 percent people in Delhi use public toilets, which to me, seems like an underestimated figure.
When we talk about making Delhi a smart and a safe city; it would not be possible until the basic concerns are being taken care of. In my view, no toilets for women in public spaces is reinforcing the idea that ‘public’ space is not for women and that they should remain home. Isn’t it a disturbing thought? For me, it is. What about you?
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