Public Toilets, A Civic Necessity

Government Public School in Billa, Panchkula, Haryana.

Sanitation is a basic aspect of living a humane life. If a society does not respect its surroundings, how can it value human life? What distinguishes humans from animals is that humans have the ability to think about the present and future impacts of our actions.

On my last visit to India, I took a train from New Delhi to Jaipur. I had not been to an Indian train station for over 40 years. The Shatabdi first class train journey is very popular, and it is very hard to get the tickets, so I thought that with all the economic growth of India, the train journey would be reasonably comfortable. The express train was scheduled to leave at 6am, so I arrived about 5:30am. The station was crowded with people, people coming to catch their trains, beggars, and homeless people. I had to jump over people still asleep on the platform, but I did not expect that I would be watching out for human feces. Once I got in my first class cabin, I could not look outside the window for almost an hour. In every direction, I saw open toilets and garbage bins.

How can Indians not be fazed by such appalling conditions?

Even luxury buses are not equipped with toilets. The bus journey from Chandigarh to Delhi in an air conditioned reclining seat coach with ample bottled water to drink, and a movie to entertain was very comfortable. As we got closer to Delhi, a male passenger went to talk to the driver, and a few minutes later the bus stopped. Many passengers started to disembark.

I felt nervous, it did not look like a very busy area, the night was starting to fall, and there were only few women on the bus. To my relief and disgust, it was a pit stop on the side of the road so that passengers could go relieve themselves. I could not resist asking the driver, why the Indian women could control themselves, but the Indian men could not. Off course, I did not get answers. Nobody cared to acknowledge the issue.  If I do not see, hear nor speak the issue, it does not relate to me. It is the concern of people whom I have segregated into a group that is poorer than me or from a lower caste. This seems to be the attitude towards all issues in India.

In India, there is more mobile phones than toilets in homes. As such, two teenagers were gang raped and lynched when they went out to relieve themselves in the morning. There are no toilets for on-duty police in public places. In addition, people do not use the toilets appropriately. If they are not kept clean, they can be a breeding ground for sanitation borne diseases. The lack of sanitation causes spread of diseases such as diarrhea, stunting, enteropathy and encephalitis (1). 88% of cases of diarrhoeal diseases worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.  Approximately 1.7 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, and 90% are children under 5 years, mostly in developing countries (2). Sewage systems and water shortages are just some of the problems. For many Hindus, women cannot enter a place of worship or a kitchen during their menstrual cycle, but there is no social stigma against public disposal or male defecation outdoors. Asides from the health and technological problems, toilets can be a trap for physical and sexual assault. The objective of this exercise is not only to facilitate public toilets that adjust to local needs, but to raise awareness among people about the importance of sanitation to achieve a developed society.

  1. The Economist (2014, July 19). Sanitation in India: The final frontier. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21607837-fixing-dreadful-sanitation-india-requires-not-just-building-lavatories-also-changing
  2. As cited in Hoang and Hung (2011). Economic aspects of sanitation in developing countries. Environ Health Insights, 5, 63-70

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