Student brings lack of women’s toilets to court’s notice

August 29th, 2008 - 3:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Delhi may be aiming to become a world class city for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but it lacks basic amenities like public toilets for women, reveals a report by a college student that has compelled the Delhi High Court to direct civic bodies to provide better public conveniences.Shahana Sheikh, a final year student of economics at Lady Sri Ram (LSR) College, undertook a tour of slums and the outskirts of Delhi from May to July 2008.

According to Sheikh, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), in its 2007 report, claims that there are 3,192 public conveniences in the national capital but she found only 1,534 toilets during her survey.

In her report titled “Public Toilets in Delhi - An emphasis on the Facilities for Women in Slum Areas”, Sheikh says only 132 urinals are available for women and most of them are in a dilapidated state.

“A man has options but a woman can’t urinate in the open as that is deemed ‘uncultured’. The issue of public toilets affects women the most, especially poor women,” Sheikh told IANS.

“People talk about feminism all the time but nobody thinks of a need as basic as a toilet for them despite the fact that our chief minister and mayor are both women,” she added.

A division bench comprising of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar Wednesday asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to take note of Sheikh’s recommendations and compile a detailed report within four weeks.

According to Sheikh’s survey, there are only 14-16 toilets for 40,000 people in Sanjay Colony near Okhla. In Kusumpur in the Vasant Vihar area, there are only 30 toilets for a population of 30,000. Similarly, Rajiv Camp in the Trans Yamuna area has 15 toilets for a population of 3,000 people and Madanpur Khadar has 302 for 150,000 people.

“We are preparing ourselves for the Commonwealth Games and it’s horrible that the city’s civic agencies do not even perform their basic duties. It’s a violation of the rights of citizens, especially women, who have no option but to defecate in the open,” advocate Ashok Agarwal, who is a counsel in the case, told IANS.

Sheikh prepared the comprehensive report as part of her summer internship with Centre for Civil Society (CCS) - a city-based research organisation.

“One day during my internship with CCS I saw a woman cleaning a public toilet at Yusuf Sarai. It struck me that though she was cleaning the toilet, she herself couldn’t use it since it was meant only for men - like most public toilets in Delhi. I decided to find out the real status of public conveniences in the city,” Sheikh said.

“In the Indian context, it’s sad but true that an ideal woman is one with a dress, a smile and a vagina. No one cares to look at the number of pipes and organs in her body that are there to give birth to a life and that she needs a hygienic toilet,” she added.

The 98-page report has numerous interviews Sheikh conducted with senior MCD officials during June and July 2008.

“Officials from the slum department of the MCD said the norm in slum areas is one latrine seat for 150 people and a 20-20 (20 latrine seats for men and 20 latrine seats for women) for a plot meant for 500 households,” the report states.

Sheikh has recommended that “the MCD should make it mandatory for companies, who show interest in constructing, repairing and maintaining toilets on a BOT basis in lucrative areas, to also do the same in slum and resettlement areas”.

According to her, the civic agency should also organise awareness camps for women on how to use toilets.

“Pay-and-use toilet facilities for women can work as a policy for slum areas. Every adult can make a one-time deposit of Rs.100 towards the maintenance fund for the constructed public toilet,” she added.

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