Close to Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, along the rail tracks, right in the heart of our esteemed capital New Delhi, is a slum inhabited mostly by the migrant population from southern Indian states. Many of the approximately 600 tenements here have a television to entertain themselves, refrigerators and coolers to ward off the worst of the summer heat, a mobile phone to be in touch with their relatives down south but none of the houses have the basic human necessity – a TOILET!
I have a faint memory from my childhood. When we children used to play in the streets, we used to make the dash as ‘I’ in the TO-LET boards hung on the doors of various houses. This was our best time pass – searching houses with such a board and adding an ‘I’ with a permanent marker. How we innocent kids used to laugh at our malice thinking that we branded a house by the name ‘toilet’. But little did we know that some people ( especially women ) actually search for places where such hoardings are hung so that they can relieve themselves without the embarrassment of listening to the catcalls by men.
The skeptics will argue that it is not a common practice in a developing nation as ours. Only a few handful cases, that’s it! Well I have stats, too, to prove my point. According to Census 2011, 53.11% of households in India did not have toilets. The figure is 69.33% for rural India. Last year the government constructed 50 lakh toilets in the latter. Still an estimated 10 crore houses are without defecating areas. According to the UN reports, over 50% of the population defecate in the open. I think this much is enough to portray the plight of the nation.
It is disturbing that the simplest of human needs, to relieve oneself, is often so difficult for women to satisfy. Absence of toilets at home and the need to relieve themselves in the open rob women of basic human dignity and expose them to health and security hazards.
“Whatever time you go, there is always a queue”, says Boijaan, whose family pay Rs. 50 a month for ‘membership’ because she lives in one of the slum homes to which the toilet was allocated when it was built by the government. Every time she visits, she must also brave the groups of men who sit outside and hurl curses, whistles and catcalls after the women. Adding further my maid says, “We women cannot go to the toilet by ourselves because there are always men waiting outside to harass us and leer at us. How many times a day can we keep gathering in groups to urinate?” This reminds me of the title of this article.Many must have cracked the code. For those who were unable to do so, let me make things easier. Q2P ( i.e. Queue to Pee ) is a movie by Promita Vohra, which looks at the lack of public toilets for women. When asked about the film in an interview she said, “The film evolved from the idea of how everyone holds urban living as an ideal. But who are the cities built for? For the men, the whole city is their urinal. They treat the public domain as their private space.” True that!
I agree that our government is taking steps to improve this pathetic view. Jairam Ramesh, former minister for rural development, had raised the ‘No toilet, no bride‘ slogan, urging parents to not give their daughters in marriage to a family that does not have an indoor lavatory. Even NGOs like Sulabh International are taking this issue seriously. But why walking the snail’s walk? Immediate steps should be taken! I am not sure whether the number of rapes can be directly correlated to the lack of toilets, but it is true that it makes a woman vulnerable. Moreover, who knows, maybe the infamous Badaun case of Uttar Pradesh is a result of lack of indoor relieving facilities!
For as long as women start their day with plastic water bottles in their hand, we cannot think of our nation progressing efficaciously on this land.