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It is all about Infrastructure and money

by Admin
0 comment

Naina: There is no facility anywhere for sanitation for anybody, leave alone women. It is very easy for a man to relieve himself anywhere. What happens to the women? The first thing is to introduce the system of ‘pay-and-use’ toilets which have to be of ‘star quality’. That means they should be absolutely beautiful toilets. These toilets or facilities exist in Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai. You can even find a handwash there. A person is stationed there to welcome you inside the toilet and you pay just Re1or Rs2. They sustain it by putting advertisements on the outside. These are started by a person called Faud Lokhandwala.

Mangala Chandran: At least Delhi and Mumbai have made good efforts; there are some good public conveniences. But there is a lot more to be done.

“We, at Clean India Journal, have been looking at the issue of school restrooms very seriously. The conditions of the restrooms, even in many higher income schools, are not satisfactory. As in many other sectors like hospitality and healthcare, cleaning activities in schools should also be outsourced to professionals.” Mangala Chandran, Editor of Clean India Journal.

Again, the slum women in the urban areas face a lot of difficulties. They have to face snake-bites, insect bites because they have to go before sun-rise or after sun-set. But, many villages have done remarkably well for themselves.

Naina: There is a government scheme called Self-Sufficiency scheme for total sanitation in India. There is a huge amount of funding given to the municipalities and panchayats only for solid waste management and for its awareness. But there is not much of an accountability. Still, some panchayats are doing amazing job. It is difficult to find any litter or open defecation in their areas.

But children defecating in the open in spite of having community toilets is a big hurdle. Mothers do not send the children to the pay-and-use tolilets. The children usually do not wash themselves and wait for their mothers to do so. After defecating they run home to their mothers. If a mother is busy or not found, the child just goes away without a wash. Again, a change has to be brought about.

We did a lovely project in Trichy just to change the habits of the children. We put up a child-friendly toilet with small toilet seats, so the legs are not apart. We gave them water to clean themselves, washbasin and free soaps to wash their hands.

Children get claustrophobic if they have to defecate in a closed space. Instead, this toilet was open but in an enclosed area; they could chat with their friends, they could see their mothers standing out there. All of them washed themselves and also washed their hands due to free availability of the soap.

The self-help women groups manage this community toilet. To encourage more children to use this facility, we also formed a children’s club and organised activities and picnics. Whoever utilised the facility was allowed to go for picnics. The number increased in no time and today the children use the toilet properly. It is a wonderful example of how to stop open defecation and this is being replicated. At this community toilet, there are 20 cubicles for women, 10 for men and five seats for children.

All the wastewater is treated with decentralised wastewater treatment system and bi-products like bio-gas are used for lighting of the toilets and for cooking. The treated water is used by the Women SHGs for the kitchen garden; all the produce of which is sold in the market. These women have also made presentations at the “World Water Forum” and other forums. This effort has also received the Best Practice Award from Dubai Municipality and UN-HABITAT in 2006.

Dr Priya: Many children face the problem of wet panties. They wet their panties during the day and at night. This issue is especially pronounced in girls because they don’t want to use the school restrooms as they are so dirty. Under these circumstances, the bladder becomes abnormal and empties infrequently and incompletely, so the urine keeps on dripping onto their panties. In such cases, we do a bladder training programme where we make the child go to the toilet every one-and-half to two hours compulsorily. You have to make them do that regularly but the school does not give them permission to do so. They won’t let them leave the class and go to the toilet and they fall sick. I don’t know if there is a higher authority that can be approached to enforce this because it poses a health hazard to the child.

Sunita: Schools keep women (ayahs) as helpers to look after toilets. Where do these ayahs learn their hygiene from? Who supervises them? Who cleans the toilets?

Sharan: There are girls working in my office from different backgrounds. I use the same toilet as my staff and I used to find the toilets dirty. I just told them: You either learn how to use a toilet or I am locking the toilet. I locked the toilet for one month and I was getting to know who had not used the toilet properly. Now we have no problem.

Sunita: Exactly. We have to take responsibility for our own environment. If we can take responsibility for our homes, staff members, children, drivers and others around us and make sure they follow a hygiene and cleanliness regimen, I think each one would have contributed their bit to the society. And they go out hopefully as better trained human beings.

Vidya: I agree with all of this. My point is that everything has got to do with education and creating that awareness. We all live and work in fairly comfortable surroundings. We are talking more about the man on the street, people who live in the slums, who come to work from those areas, children in those areas… those are the people who actually need some help in training themselves to be clean.

“Cleanliness has to come from the grassroots level. We should have the consciousness not to dirty the streets – this is my street, my town, my home. The prevalent notion here is that, it is dirty anyway. So why not?” Vidya Singh is a successful organiser of elegant and creative events and a social activist.

I worked on a project with Naina at a slum for an Apollo funded children camp. It was my very first exposure to a slum where you have these little huts and narrow lanes going all along into the river. You get appalled that people can actually live in such places. It is a very frightening and shocking sight. There are some public toilets but the women are afraid to go there because of rowdy elements. They are also afraid to send their children alone.

The huts were little shacks with tarpaulin sheets on top. Though the inside seemed fairly clean, children were doing the big job right outside the door. Garbage was piling up and flowing into the Khumb river. You and I individually probably can’t do anything about it but the government can get some agency to get into these slums. We cannot get away from slums as they exist in every city. But we can help them in some way to lead a more hygienic and cleaner life.

Sunita: It is ok that we are going to police these people, make sure that they don’t dirty the streets but we have to give them some place to go and relieve themselves. You have to provide some infrastructure. We keep coming back to the first point of toilets for every family, every street… if we do that, then people can probably use them and stop using the streets.

Sharan: Toilets are one thing. Garbage is another. But, according to me, the most polluting agencies are the industries. The industrial effluents contaminate the ground water and water bodies. The government should address this problem very seriously.

Tishani: Sanitation is a big issue for women. It has to do with a kind of invisibility of a woman’s place in India. In the villages, for instance, it is a fact that a woman has to carry out her most basic toilet functions before sunrise or after sunset. On the other end of the spectrum, is the complete visibility of the male – be it in villages or cities.

Any man in India feels like he has the right to pull up on the side of the road and urinate. Why is there no sense of shame accorded to this? Why is it all right? The other part to this problem is of course: Where are the public toilet facilities for men and women on the kind of scale that our population requires? And we come back to it: infrastructure and money.

Making a difference

Tishani : I think it’s key that women kickstart the process of change when it comes to this issue of cleanliness and hygiene. When women have been given control of things, be it over their reproductive rights or in micro-credit projects, they have been very good at effecting change. So, I think it’s imperative that we educate ourselves and the people around us about the importance of tackling this problem in the most holistic way possible. Essentially, it’s a lifestyle change that we’re talking about. It can be as simple as having a compost pit at home, taking your own bag to the supermarket instead of using plastic, recycling newspapers and bottles, and getting involved with neighbourhood communities. If we work on the micro-level in our own homes and communities, and if this is combined with a larger push from governmental organisations and a legal system that comes down hard on littering/spitting/urinating, then there is every hope that we can begin to see change on the macro-level in India.

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