“Shopeeing” trouble

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Walking through the bustling lanes of Rajouri Garden, West Delhi’s shopping epicenter, one often gets bitten by the splurging bug. For the shopping buffs, it is not merely the experience of picking items randomly but the whole pleasure of going through the process of satisfying the material craving that matters.

Traditional Indian market places like Rajouri Garden might be a delightful stopover for women shoppers, however the lack of the most basic facilities like a toilet can make the shopping a harrowing experience.

The sprawling market, best known for its bridal wear, does not have a toilet for neither women nor men. Even the glass-chrome shops selling saris, suits and lehngas do not have a washroom facility. Even in the case that there is one available, it is so dirty that one prefers to avoid it. Most salesmen and girls; there are hundreds of them, use a public toilet which is located slightly away from the main complex. Men conveniently use backlanes, or simply a wall, or a corner. Women have no such ‘luxury’.

The toilet crisis is not limited to Rajouri Garden alone. It is the same in most markets in Delhi; the coming up of swanky malls has addressed the problem to a great extent. But the old traditional markets, which still remain relevant as they offer great room to bargain, have failed to cater to even the most basic amenity.

I sometimes wonder why toilets are not considered an important part of our daily lives in public space.

When I was a child I used to visit my ancestral village in Kumoun. Being a Delhi girl, it was unimaginable to stay in a house without a toilet. I was told that toilets are dirty and impure so cannot be inside the house. It was not easy to go to the open field to answer the call of nature. So my visits to my village became less and less, despite the fact that I wanted so much to spend time with my grandmother. The toilets appeared in the villages of Kumoun when I started going to college, but they were still not inside the house.

As a young woman reporter, I have been lucky to visit some villages in India, but the toilet story remains the same all across. As a working journalist, one experiences the problem while on assignments. If you are covering a rally away from Delhi, men find it so easy to relieve themselves but women go through hell. No arrangements are made by the organisers as they expect women also to go to the fields. And many of us have done it often.

During a visit to Lucknow (to see changes in educational institutions), I was horrified to see that tiny toddlers (mostly girls) would go home from school every time they had to ease themselves. This was the main reason the teachers said the parents don’t send girls to school.

I felt ashamed that despite so many years of independence we are not able to provide toilets to our children. This was some years ago. I hope situation has changed now.

I visited Greater Noida last year and was pleasantly surprised to see a nicely built toilet in a government school. But I soon discovered that it was merely a showpiece as the toilet could not be used because of no water. Girls didn’t use the toilet. They had nowhere to go during the school hours and wait to reach home. Most of them had not even heard of problems like Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) which can be contracted by holding the bladder for too long.

Well, there are countless other stories I can narrate about the missing toilet and how it has impacted the society; mostly girls.

Through this blog the attempt is to create awareness and also to also create a buzz about the need for sanitation in India.

And it is not the duty of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone (who had promised from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his maiden speech about building toilets and making India clean), it is the duty of every Indian.

— Kavita Bajeli-Datt has been writing on development, women, child and health issues for the last 20 years. She was awarded Deepalaya award for best writing on child rights in 2000. Kavita is an avid traveler and loves to explore new territories. Her travel pieces have appeared in several publications across the world. Kavita has worked in The Week and Press Trust of India (PTI). She was the Chief of Bureau in the IANS (Indo-Asian News Service) where she spearheaded the news coverage. She is also an accomplished Kathak dancer and performed in India and abroad. She is working as an Independent writer contributing for various publications, including IANS and Tribune. She is also a member of the Advocacy, Branding and Communications (ABC) Task Force of India Sanitation Coalition (ISC).

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