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The Bombay High Court on Wednesday (December 23) asked municipal corporations of Maharashtra to be more progressive and inclusive while designing urban infrastructure. The court provided comprehensive guidelines for Municipal Corporations to see that women have adequate public urinals when needed. The directions were issued on a PIL filed by a Pune-based NGO “Milun Saryajani” seeking enforcement of the right to relieve oneself. The PIL said that while there were toilets at the community level, there were none “for women walking on the streets”.
The court proclaimed that women had the equal right to safe and clean toilet at all convenient places. It constitutes the fundamental right to a dignified life, as indicated by Article 14 of our Constitution.
- Formulating a comprehensive scheme for construction of toilets for women walking on the streets.
- Constitute a committee under the chairmanship of the commissioner or additional municipal commissioner to look into construction of toilets.
- A woman attendant should be there in each such public toilet to ensure the toilets are kept in a clean and hygienic condition.
- Toilets should be protected by a trained woman security person in uniform who shall be available round the clock.
- CCTV cameras should be installed outside the toilets so as to ensure there is a check on miscreants, without compromising on the privacy of the users.
- Provisions for proper ventilation and preferably natural light without compromising on the privacy, security and safety of women.
- The new toilets should be a separate unit with a separate entrance and be preferably at a distance from the men’s toilets.
Women’s Special Need:
Women have special need of toilets, especially during menstruation, when it is difficult to anticipate when it will be time to change a sanitary napkin, resulting in frequent trips to the washroom. Holding on urination for a long time cause urinary tract infections, problems of distended bladders, and many other urogynecological problems.
Decades after Independence, one of the things that the average Indian man, urban and rural, seems never to have learnt is how not to urinate or spit in public spaces. But worrisome is the Indian male’s complete insensitivity to women’s need for privacy while answering nature’s call. Men in general have more number of urinals, closets and toilet blocks as compared to women. In fact, the necessity for women to visit toilets is more and for a greater range of reasons, essentially because of biological differences.
Will it work?
Municipal corporations are already under financial crunch and they are not gaining anything from the Central govt’s “Swaccha Bharat Cess”. As such, compliance with all the guidelines in short to medium term seems Utopian, since mere four walls will not be enough.
The next hearing in High Court will be on March 8 – “Women’s Day”. Let us hope we will see some considerable improvement, if not a drastic one, in female public toilets.
On December 16, the Bombay High Court directed the Railways to ensure that women toilets on all railway stations be equipped with proper lighting, sanitation facilities and safety measures. The court granted the Railways one month’s time to implement the same.
The court said that public toilets were critical as “any large infrastructure project to make cities livable”. With stakeholders making all the right noises about turning cities into havens for investors to give them the push in the right direction for the Smart City project, the time is right to turn the focus on women’s needs and their right to pee in public spaces.
What about rural India?
The plight of women in villages remains far from improved. There is already skepticism about claims of Swachha Bharat Abhiyaan. It is important to stress that toilet is not mere a matter of modesty, privacy and health, but it is a matter of women’s safety. A young woman is most vulnerable when she goes out to relieve herself, especially in the dark hours. What can be more explanatory than the barbaric incident in Katra on August 28 last year, when two teen girls were found gang raped and hanged after they went to relieve themselves at night?
The Logical Indian hopes that debate starts around this issue that is part of our daily lives and still a major problem.
– Sachin Jadhav