Public Toilets: A reality check from a ‘Wanderlust’ Woman

Traveling through western India made me realize one thing for sure; people should actually travel before putting ‘wanderlust’ in their tinder bios.

When you have been telling people how much you love traveling, how soul soothing and exotic it is to travel since a long time, you cannot talk about the cousin’s wedding you have been to when you were a child before someone asks, “really? So how many places you been to?” And for me, Dil Chahta Hai, ZNMD and Jab We Met have been the cliché dream long before I actually opened the map to see which part of it would fit my pocket.

source: Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara, Excel Entertainment

Right from the ghost stories and puppet shows in Rajasthan, to the tranquility of Silvassa, to Aamchi Mumbai, travel blogs are doing wonders in showing the greener side of road trips but of course, the greener patches are in scarcity when it comes to nature’s call!

Which started as an attempt to impromptu traveling, unfolded the actual India layer by layer. But this is not about how the route through the maps of Haryana-Rajasthan-Gujarat-Dadar-Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh changed me, but how different are the parameters of sanitation for their natives.

source: PTI

While I struggled for a washroom in Haryana, entering Rajasthan made my struggle more about finding a clean one. Trying to find the restroom after much spicy Dal Bhaati Churma, I was surprised to find it closed down with the sign pointing towards no man’s land. When I finally found one, I was wondering if Jennifer Aniston refused to go to the public washroom in the tri-state area in the sit-com friends, Indian public toilets would have made the episode more quirky.

The inexplicable beauty of Udaipur and Chittorgarh made me forget all about the revolutionary thoughts I had for the sanitary health in our country. While the vibrant cultures and communities of our diverse country are tucked well into my heart, but it has also created some vast differences on the cradling ideologies of caste and class.

One year after NHAI statistics from February 2018 came out claiming toilets to be built on 192 toll plazas, the real picture of National Highways Is quite different than what Bollywood claims it to be.

In 2017, PWD claimed that it had spotted 300 spots on Maharashtra’s highways where they are going to build clean toilets for ‘more comfortable road trips’. According to Euromonitor International, Clean India movement started by the government resulted in a 48% hike in the bathroom and sanitary ware sales which proved beneficial for the largest conglomerate Tata Group.

source: Bloomberg

Though the NGOs across India are taking up huge grants to build toilets, and even the government’s 2018 budget included a chunk to stop open defecation, I felt the need is of a more coercive approach. Even if I found toilets on National Highway Dhabas, they were impossible to use. According to reports in 2016, 2000 children died of diarrhea in India every day because of open defecation, there are even reported cases of rape due to open defecation.

I read all the reports myself before another treasure hunt for the toilet in Thane, Maharashtra. To my companion, all my pesky pleas seemed to be patronizing, though he was not sure how to actually help. Amidst all these complaints of the privileged to have chosen the wrong Swachh Bharat ambassador, one woman stood up and pioneered the project herself.

Upon reaching our final destination, Pune, I wanted to go straight to Shaniwar Wada to see what Peshwai must have looked like. But the beautiful ruins of the historic place couldn’t do the magic that one pink mobile van did.

Shaniwarwada Pune, credit: Aanchal Pundir

The refurbished bus served as a modern toilet in public places. Upon asking the woman guarding the bus about details, she told me how Ulka Sadalkar reformed 10 of these buses which would have landed in scrap yards eventually, into mobile toilets.

Toilets made inside scrap buses, source: Aanchal Pundir

While I was marveling the exterior, I was encouraged to go inside to see how actual ‘Swachhta Abhiyaan’ looks like. There was a diaper changing station, a shower, sanitary napkins, and most importantly clean toilets. The restroom vans that are named ‘Ti for Her’, were launched in 2017 by Sadalkar and her business associate Rajeev Kher’s company, Saraplast Pvt. Ltd.  “Initially, workers in construction sites and event management companies were provided with these portable toilets”, says Sadalkar, who is a production engineer. “Even today, 80% of our mobile toilets are used by the migrant workers on construction sites”, she added further.

credit: Aanchal Pundir

The attendant helped me read the posters in Marathi urging women to flush toilets and wash their hands. I still use their reference in Garhwali to teach teenage girls about sanitation in Uttarakhand, but that’s another story to tell.

Aanchal Pundir
Aanchal Pundir

Manto, Faiz and Jaun Elia lover, who believes she is an old soul. Currently volunteering for NGO in Uttrakhand and writing for Qweed.

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