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Right to the city includes right to a loo too

Where are the public toilets for women? If they exist, they are so filthy and dangerous that women prefer to not use them

mumbai Updated: Nov 22, 2017 21:57 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,right to loo,toilets in Mumbai
Where are the public toilets for women? If they exist, they are so filthy and dangerous that women prefer to not use them(FILE)

Ask any of the millions of women in Mumbai who commute every day or spend long hours outdoor or live in slums just how hard it is to find a restroom, to relieve themselves when they need to, to use the facility without endangering their own safety and security. Just as a woman has at least one story about being molested or sexually harassed, she would have a harrowing tale about what the lack of public sanitation did to her.

It would not be out of place to say ​that ​urban planner​s​, thinkers and policy wonks did not pay close attention to an issue that should have been central to public amenities in a city like Mumbai. Where are the public toilets for women? If they exist, they are so filthy and dangerous that women prefer to not use them. In the slums, where toilets are not made of RCC, their floors have caved in throwing women into septic tanks below and killing them.

The abysmal lack of public toilets was brought into sharp focus by campaigns and study reports by research organisations in the last decade. The most noteworthy of them has been the Right to Pee campaign, a collective of more than 30 NGOs. It found ways to headline the lack of public sanitation for women and keep the pressure on the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to address the gaping hole in public policy.

The reality in Mumbai stinks. The Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines mandate a toilet seat for every 30-35 persons but the average in Mumbai is nearly 150 to a seat. It is a staggering 1,200 per seat in the slums, as a study showed last year. As many as 58 per cent of community toilets in slums did not have electricity, 78 per cent did not even have water, and many had no doors, according to a BMC report.

Women have it tougher: The average number of toilet seats for women is less than half that for men, they pay more

​to use ​toilets than men do, safety and privacy concerns make a bad situation worse. The BMC budget makes no provisions for women’s toilets and focuses only on household/community toilets which are unusable. The right to the city includes the right to pee too.

Given this, how can Mumbai be free of open defecation? Remember, Mumbai, along with other cities and villages of Maharashtra, was declared “open defecation free” last month by President Ram Nath Kovind. Last Sunday, on World Toilet Day – yes, there is a day like that mandated by the United Nations to draw attention to safe sanitation across the world – the Right to Pee campaign activists believed they should call out this declaration.

Supriya Sonar, Mumtaz Shaikh and a dozen of their colleagues made a collage of photographs of Mumbaiites defecating – or forced to defecate – in the open, marched to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s official bungalow to show him and offer suggestions. They were repeat​edly ​turned away because they did not have an appointment. As they persisted, the police hauled them away to the Malabar Hill police station and detained them for nearly five hours.

Why did the hard-working and people-friendly CM not meet them? Perhaps because he would have had to accept that Mumbai was not free of open defecation, that the declaration was pre-mature and an image management exercise. In fact, his government had recently put the BMC in the bottom five municipal corporations in construction of toilets.

Only last week did the BMC unveil a grand plan to construct 18,800 toilets seats including repair of old and dilapidated ones. It will cost Rs 376 crore and work is scheduled to begin in January. It may still not be enough but at least it’s a start. May the New Year bring more toilets to Mumbai, may we women pee in comfort and peace while in public places.

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 18:51 IST