Neeta Kumari, a Class 9 student of the Government High School at Mithu Basti in the heart of Jalandhar city, sits tight in class. She ignores the urge to answer nature’s call to avoid the inconvenience, and embarrassment, of having to share the toilet with boys. Her school has 600 students but it does not have a separate toilet for girls!
The 14-year-old has another reason for staying put in class. If she spends the recess queuing up in front of the lone toilet, she would miss the mid-day meal. For children like her, it’s a tough choice between being comfortable and going hungry. Meanwhile, the teachers say they have made their own arrangements and use toilets in houses adjoining the school.
The Hindustan Times team visited more than 25 schools across Jalandhar district, only to find that schools that could boast of toilets had failed to ensure cleanliness and maintenance.
HEALTH AT STAKE
Not so far away at Chak Des Raj village in Phillaur, Harpreet Kaur, a Class 4 student, was taken out of the government school by her parents last year when her health started deteriorating. She had contracted an infection because of the poor hygiene at school.
“People are not ready to admit their children in our school because we are short of toilets. We face shortage of water also. The villagers are not interested in the school’s development either,” complains Kamaljeet Kaur, the school head teacher.
Interestingly, this is the state of affairs in the native village of Akali legislator Sarwan Singh Phillaur.
In the absence of toilets in some village schools of Jalandhar district, children are forced to go out in the open. The education authorities of the district have failed to learn lesson despite the death of Jaspreet Kaur, 10, on May 11, 2012. Jaspreet, a primary student of the government school at Ibrahim Khaan village, fell victim to snake bite when she had gone in a field in the absence of a toilet for girls in her school.
When confronted, district education officer Jaspal Singh dismissed the findings of the union human resource development (HRD) ministry survey as “inaccurate and old”. The survey declares Jalandhar the worst district in Punjab in terms of separate toilets for girls.
Requesting anonymity, another senior official from the education department said, “There is actually no need for a different toilet for girls in primary schools. The problem is with the boys. Girls have better control.”
Most of the schools visited have not received a single paisa after they were provided Rs. 35,000 per school for building toilets in 2003-04 under the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan.
So how did neighbouring Kapurthala manage to get the distinction of having separate toilets for girls in all its schools? Apart from better utilisation of funds, non-resident Indians (NRIs) hailing from the district and the local community played a key role.
As per Kapurthala district education officer (primary) Roop Lal, 25% of toilets in schools are the result of philanthropic activities at the village level. “Principals mobilised local residents to contribute for the cause. Besides, NRIs like Lakhwinder Singh from Tibba village donated generously.
He built toilets for schoolchildren in at least four villages,” Lal adds.
What they say
School upgraded but no new toilet
Sudesh Kailey, 40, a primary teacher at the government school at Mithu Basti in Jalandhar city, says: “Our school was upgraded to higher secondary two years ago but no new toilet was added.
Requests to the education department failed to get us any funds for new toilets.”
Absenteeism leads to dropping out
Kanu Handa, 36, the head teacher at Government Primary School in Harnamdaspura of Jalandhar, says: “Though girls don’t openly complain, they have confided in confidence about the difficulty they face while waiting in long queues with boys. This leads to absenteeism and eventually dropping out.”
DEO questions authenticity of ministry’s findings
Jalandhar district education officer (DEO) Jaspal Singh is dismissive. “Almost all government schools in the district have separate toilets for girls. I don’t know the authenticity of this survey you are quoting,” he says.
Will involve industry in drive, says minister
Punjab education minister DS Cheema says, “I have sought details of schools without toilets from all DEOs by this month-end. We will prepare a plan and launch a drive to build toilets by involving the local industry.”
Next: Stinking reality in Chandigarh