Away from the television cameras and photo-ops of stars with brooms in their hands, Salma Saiyyed, a resident of Rafi Nagar slums in Govandi, one of the largest slums in Mumbai, has to carefully time her toilet visits.
While she tries to control her urge to relieve herself, she often waits till late at night before venturing out. The closest working toilet from her home is at least 2 kilometres away. The one closer has no water or electricity. And Saiyyed isn’t alone.
Wednesday is World Toilet Day, but the city’s women, irrespective of class, face a serious sanitation crisis caused by the lack of public toilets. And at the centre of this crisis is civic apathy. Over the last two years, nearly Rs2 crore has been allotted for the construction of toilets for women. But not a single rupee has been spent so far.
To make it worse, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest civic body in the country, isn’t even sure if they will be able to build any new ones soon. “The finalisation of land has been a problem. The public works department (PWD) has finally given us the clearance and tenders for constructing the toilets will be opened soon. If required, we will retain it in the next budget, but this grant will be utilised” said Prakash Patil, deputy municipal commissioner (solid waste management).
The struggle for loos for women has even spawned a campaign called the ‘Right to Pee’ (RTP). Campaigners, however, were left bewildered when they found that close to 1,500 toilets built for women are missing. “According to our survey in 2012, we found there to be a total of 2,591 toilets. But a right to information plea recently revealed that there were only 1,001 toilets,” said Mumtaz Shaikh, RTP activist. The civic body is calling it a ‘bureaucratic mistake’.
Mistake or not, campaigners say this gender imbalance has serious health-effects as well. RTP activist Supriya Sonhar says, “Even if we consider that this number is just of road toilets, in a city of more than 18 million people, 1,001 is not enough.”