“Surely this court cannot make a man walk out of his house with his zip locked,” the Delhi high court recently observed, dismissing a petition by a resident wanting to restrain men from urinating on the outer walls of his group housing complex.
The residents of the housing complex had tried everything — from sticking pictures of deities to drawing graffiti comparing men who pee in the open with donkeys and stray dogs. When nothing could shame the piddling gents, the residents knocked at the court’s door.
But the court too threw up its arms. “The menace of urinating in public will have to be solved elsewhere,” the bench observed. Many cultures show strong revulsion to people performing bodily functions out in the open. But most Indian men will tell you unabashedly how it is the most Indian thing to do.
“When it comes to answering nature’s call, the Delhi male doesn’t look beyond the first wall, corner or crevice to relieve himself,” my colleague Sidhartha Roy wrote for a campaign against urinating in public places launched by HT in 2006. Roy found that Janpath and Delhi Gate had both free and pay toilets, but men still peed on the toilet walls outside. “Why pay when there is always a wall, street corner or bus stop?” wondered one.
In 2008, Forbes magazine rated our Capital as the world’s 24th dirtiest city. That was the time the government was preparing for 2010 Commonwealth Games and launched a civic makeover that promised installing 1,000 waterless toilets, awareness campaigns such as Dilli ki beti against littering, and heavy fines for peeing in the open.
But the “world-class” sheen started waning almost as soon as the party was over. The waterless toilets have been shut down, Dilli ki beti has disappeared from the billboards and there is no one to tell thick-skinned Delhiites that taking a leak in public places is gross. It is a municipal offence but there is nobody to enforce spot fines. The Bill to increase such spot fines from `50 to `500 is pending for years.
This general lack of civic discipline and poor enforcement seek justification in the city’s wide infrastructure gap. This year, at least 43.5% of students interviewed by NGO Josh on the implementation of Right to Education Act in Delhi said their school toilets were either so dirty that they could not be used or teachers kept them locked for their own use.
Last year’s Delhi Human Development Report stated that while 90% of households in Delhi had access to toilets within their homes, 7.2% used public toilets and the rest defecated in the open. Almost 20% of the households in New Delhi district used public toilets. Almost 55% respondents in the perception survey rated public toilet facilities as below average or very poor.
Women constitute almost half the city’s work force but many of them have no access to a toilet at their workplace. In a report filed in high court last year, the three municipal bodies conceded that for 3,712 public toilets for men, they had only 269 for women. The Karol Bagh zone that includes busy markets and commercial zones had only two toilets for women, while the south zone had built only five.
Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh was right when he said that the country needed toilets more than temples. Providing toilets is not just a question of environment improvement but also of human dignity.
But there is no excuse for those who have access to toilets and still go on defiling city walls. If women with little or no access to public facilities do not rush to turn the city into an open urinal, there is no reason why men can’t exercise a little more bladder control.