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My endless saga with public toilets
By Hiramoni Sarma
I am a proud Indian and the feeling is even stronger as I got settled here in the UK, far away from my home state, Assam. I do miss home, my family& friends and most definitely, our big fat Indian weddings. Recently I had the privilege of attending my cousin’s wedding in Jorhat which was anenthralling experience.
After around 16 hours of travelling, I landed in Guwahati Lokapriya Gopith Bordoloi airport and before heading for baggage claim, I decided to pay a quick visit to the ladies loo in preparation for the next hour drive before I reach home. On opening the toilet door, I could see water running all over the floor, the cleaning broom on the middle of the floor, none of the toilets were particularly in the best hygienic condition and there were no rolls available in any of the toilets. On top, toilets were so high that for normal height Indian women, it’s impossible to sit comfortably let alone the children. Looking into all these, I changed my mind thinking that I am better off not using the airport toilets and wait until I reach home. What I found surprisingwas that these toilets are exclusively for passengers’ usage and staffs are employed to keep them in good condition. Then why are we failing?What about tourists who visit Assam for the first time? We’ve all heard the proverb saying ‘First impression is the last impression’ and this is a vital point to consider when we as a state wish to attract tourists.
Next morning we all got ready for our trip to Jorhat to attend the wedding. First two hours were passed by in catching up with friends and relatives I hadn’t met for years and then we stopped for a quick tea break. After the tea break, I enquired if there was a lady’s toilet somewhere. I was shown the way to the backside of the restaurant and I followed the instruction. I walked in and saw few open toilets without any toilet pots and more interestingly, without doors. So, basically they are designed just for men; women can use them at their own risk. I went closer and saw that the toilets were in real revolting state. I was perplexed – whether to wait for another 4-5 hours before we reach our hotel or just not care about the filthiness. The thought of not finding another toilet for 4-5 hours was easy enoughto convince me to use the toilet, irrespective of what state it was in.I went to the last one thinking that would give me the most privacy if someone walked in. And just then, I heard the footsteps of someone coming literally towards me; I screamed and saved the situation. I felt agitated and disgusted!From there, I was on a mission to find out whether there were public toilets anywhereon the highway but to my extreme disappointment, I didn’t find any.
But the question is - why am I or for that matter, any woman is having to go through that experience? Whether we travel for two hours or 20 hours, it feels as if no thoughtshavegone into building women’s public toilets that are accessible and in usable condition.
I contemplated whether I can call it a behavioural issuemore than a fincial issue? The reason that Assam has more mobile phones than toilets, is it because hygiene and sanitation don’t receive the same attention as new technology? Sanitation is a matter of health and dignity, and even more so for women. It deeply saddens me knowing that lack of public toilets affects women’s ability to work, their mobility and their safety, in spite of all the advances that the female half of the population has chalked up in various fields.
My intention here is not necessarily to fight for women’s rights but make us all think how we as a societyneed to pay more attention to as basic a human need as toilet. It’s the realisation and the intent that we need. It will be ïve of me to say that no effort or development has gone into building public toiletsbut we as a society must make sanitation a priority. In fact, making sanitation a priority can deliver big economic, health and environmental benefits. There are already innovative and low cost and even waterless sanitation technologies available that can be used for wastewater magement. People would also be willing to pay for clean, easily available public toilets. Even full recovery is feasible if the sanitation services are customer-oriented and worth paying for.But for it to be successful we all must do our bits, we got to take in-charge of keeping our community, our city clean and hygiene.People usually care to keep a clean toilet clean and don’t mind making a dirty toilet a bit more dirty. Our attitude and behaviour can make a big difference. The world is watching us and it’s high time that we take in-charge.
(The writer lives in the UK and is the Head of Marketing at a FTSE 100 company, UK. She can be e-mailed on: firstname.lastname@example.org)