Unsafe public toilets in Delhi force locals to relieve themselves in the open
HT SPOTLIGHT | Public toilets in many neighbourhoods in Delhi lack even the basic safety features and often serve as a den for drug addicts. When HT conducted a spot check, many toilets were found to be without lights, doors and female guardsdelhi Updated: Dec 22, 2017 12:26 IST
When Deepa Roy* entered the JLN Stadium for Salman Khan’s recent concert, public convenience was the last concern on her mind. She had shelled out ₹6,000 for a seat and expected good public amenities there. Little did she know that she would land in a “scary and embarrassing” situation before she had even settled.
“The directions to the toilet at the stadium were misleading and took me to a scary flight of deserted stairs. I kept searching for the toilets for 20 minutes before an unknown man offered to help me. He too had been lost like me,” Roy recounted.
The woman unwillingly accepted the stranger’s help, but the “real trouble” began when they finally found the toilets. “There were no lights at all. I couldn’t even tell the women’s toilets from the men’s. Since it was very scary but I urgently needed to use the toilets, I hesitatingly requested the stranger to stand guard at the gates while I used my mobile phone’s torch to relieve myself. I spotted empty alcohol bottles even in the women’s toilet,” she said.
Roy returned to her seat safe, but her experience highlighted the unsafe environment at the public toilets in the city. Places and neighbourhoods of lesser importance are worse off as public toilets lack even the basic safety features and often serve as a den for drug addicts.
Women are the worst sufferers. According to a study last December by NGO, ActionAid India, one in every three public toilets in Delhi did not have separate sections for women. Of the 229 toilets in the city surveyed by them, 28% did not even have doors. Another 45% that did have doors could not be locked from the inside.
To make matters worse, nearly half of the toilets did not have lights. Many of these lights were stolen or broken and not replaced. At least 46% of toilets ActionAid surveyed did not have guards.
When HT conducted a spot check at some public toilets in the city, we found most toilets were guarded by only male caretakers who walked into the women’s section at will. “Women, please close your doors. I am coming in,” Pankaj Kumar, the caretaker of a public toilet in Sanjay Basti in north Delhi, announced before entering the women’s section. “Many doors do not lock from inside,” he explained.
In the absence of security, city’s toilets have become crime spots. In 2013, a six-year-old girl was allegedly raped and her throat slit inside a public toilet in south Delhi’s Badarpur. The police said it was the toilet’s guard who had committed the crime.
More recently, in January this year, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly raped by her neighbour inside a public toilet in Kathputli Colony Transit Camp in central Delhi’s Anand Parbat. The lack of lights or doors meant hardly any people visited these toilets. So, the girl was raped in a toilet without doors even as it did not occur to anyone that she could have been dragged there.
Toilets in more prosperous neighbourhoods are more likely to be equipped with doors and guards, but there have a host of problems of their own. An MNC employee, who did not wish to be identified, recounted her problems during the post-demonetisation period when she would stand in ATM queues in a prominent market in west Delhi.
“The same toilets that would seem so safe on my daytime visits were scary at nights. There were men in toilets meant for women. I chose to urinate in a dark part of a park instead of in the public toilet,” the woman said. A woman complainant visiting the office of a deputy commissioner of police in south Delhi recently nearly ran out in panic when she found a policeman using toilets meant for women.
In underprivileged neighbourhoods, the toilets are considered so dangerous, even women prefer defecating in the open. In Sanjay Basti in north Delhi’s Timarpur, even the male guard of the public toilet lives in fear.
“Local youths use the toilets for taking drugs and strew the premises with used injections. When I object, they approach me menacingly with a syringe in their hand,” said Pankaj Kumar, the caretaker. Fearing for his safety, Kumar locks the toilets by 9pm, leaving residents without much choice in the dark hours.
Malati Devi, a resident, said she stopped using the public toilet ever since she stepped on a used syringe. “Drug addicts don’t spare even the women’s toilets. Fortunately, I was wearing slippers at that time. Now many of us women visit the forest nearby. I am collecting money to construct a toilet of my own,” said Devi.
The menace of drug addicts occupying public toilets took a murderous turn last June when a 22-year-old caretaker lost his life while taking on such youths in outer Delhi’s Nangloi. Rahul was stabbed to death with swords and knives and his mother badly thrashed by drug addicts when they had objected to the addicts using the toilet premises for their misadventures.
While men often end up urinating on the roadside in the absence of a proper toilet, it is the women who suffer. Many women complained they “control” their urge to relieve themselves when they are out in markets.
While visitors can choose to rush back to their homes or visit a restaurant to relieve themselves, for the female street vendors who spend long hours there, they have to live by a “plan”.
“I get done with my toilet needs before it gets dark so that I don’t have to visit the toilets that are in dark areas. I don’t like to encounter addicts who enter the toilets after dark. If I can’t hold it, I do it in an open space where I feel safer,” said Gulshan, who sells garlands at ITO and Connaught Place.
Civic officials claim that it is the dilapidated or abandoned toilet complexes where drug addicts generally take shelter. “As a long-term solution, we have started transferring toilet complexes to a private concessionaire for safety and upkeep,” said a senior official of the north corporation.
Officials from the south corporation, meanwhile, claimed that they have already transferred 118 of the 788 toilet complexes under their jurisdiction to private contractors. “We have also installed feedback machines at these toilets and have deputed an official in-charge for regular visit to the toilets in their jurisdiction,” said an official.