Having to relieve oneself at a public toilet in India without cringing at the disgusting odour and poor hygiene is not a thing unfamiliar to Indians. We seldom expect public toilets in India to maintain a high standard of cleanliness on the premises. As a result, public toilets in India are either unutilised or underutilised. Apart from being a wastage of efforts and public money, the imprudent attitude towards public toilet sanitation directly impacts the health of people. Statistics suggest that about 2.4 billion people have to use unhygienic public toilet facilities and about 1 billion people continue to practice open defecation. The risks attached to poor sanitation includes the risks of contracting several pathogens like bacteria, parasites and viruses. The importance of toilet hygiene and sanitation also sees a greater significance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Identifying these sanitation gaps and their severe impact on public health, a not-for-profit company came forward to solve this impending problem plaguing public life in India. This NGO called Centre for advanced studies in policy research (CASPR) through its sanitisation equality initiative, "Arogya Rakshak Toilet (ART)" aims to not just standardise the existing status of toilets in public use but also make it gender friendly. ART works on accrediting toilets on three defining measures that primarily include Hygiene, Gender inclusivity and disability friendliness. Additionally, ART also looks at the availability and functionality of the infrastructure. It, not just advocates for robust healthcare toilets, but, actively takes measures in building the infrastructure as well.
The Arogya Rakshak Toilet advocated by the Centre For Advanced Studies In Policy Research provides four categories of rating to the toilet in the preventive healthcare space. It includes Star Rating Toilets, Three-Star Rating Toilets, Five Star Rating Toilets and Seven Star Rating Toilets in increasing order of their efficacy. Along with touchless payment systems, the Arogya Rakshak Toilet has also put in place a QR system for user feedback so that the evaluation mechanism of the hygiene standards can ensure the quality of the services.
Palak Sharma, Managing Director of the Arogya Rakshak Toilets initiative of CASPR who studied at the LSE, observed the differences in maternity and menstrual facilities in public toilets in London and India during her tenure there. It was after letting go of the job offers for the UK Civil Services, that she started working on this 'Arogya Rakshak Toilet (ART)'.
The journey, as well as the mission of ART, started with toilets in government schools, beggar homes, old age homes & orphanages in the district of Pandharpur, Maharashtra. ART Team not just completely renovated these toilets but also installed the menstrual hygiene equipment. A number of young girls are forced to use unsafe alternatives to menstrual hygiene due to covid-19 and financial restriction. Girls in the rural areas who relied upon free or subsidized products from the government centres were not able to access them during the lockdown period and were forced to use the age-old unhygienic method of cloth. A shocking 84% of women had restricted or no access to sanitary napkins, over 40% of students miss school due to menstrual stigma. In continuation of its efforts towards sustainable menstruation, ART is now launching its fundraiser to supply sustainable menstrual hygiene sanitary equipment among 5000 teenage girls associated with some of these government schools in Pandharpur and Sangli in Maharashtra. The goal is to raise INR 15,00,000 which will be used to deliver reusable organic sanitary pads reusable for up to 2 years. Additionally, the donation will also go towards conducting virtual training programmes to educate these users on reproductive, sexual and menstrual health. You can do your bit by contributing to this initiative. Click here!
The transformations brought about by putting together all the basic facilities brought these toilets a star rating. Currently, the initiative is collaborating with various municipal corporations, to bring all toilets in the public sphere to this level of operation to reduce the impact of improper sanitation on the health and well being of the public. ART is also in collaboration with international organizations like Enklude for creating a framework on the disability-friendliness of public toilets in India & Indonesia.
Improper sanitation in India is indeed a matter of concern as it has drastic mental and physical health implications. Simply put, clean toilets are recognized as basic human rights. 'Arogya Rakshak Toilet' is working to make way for human safety through sensitization, advocacy and on-ground sanitation solutions for hygienic toilets. The Logical Indian appreciates the revolutionary efforts of the Arogya Rakshak Toilets initiative which is supported by the World Toilet Organization. Aligning with United Nations SDGs, ART can truly elevate India's sanitation status, especially for its women.