Monday, August 18, 2008

A plea for sanitation - Deccan Herald

Deccan Herald - A plea for sanitation
Less than 30 per cent of India's 950 million strong population has access to proper sanitation and women are the worst sufferers, says Riva

“My work is whole day long and yet, I cut down my liquid intake for I am scared of not finding public toilets to relieve myself,” says Geeta, a 21-year-old slum dweller who sells vegetables on the streets of Bangalore. Being poor, she faces two-fold difficulties, the unavailability of public toilets, which could be used free of cost and the unaffordability to access 'pay and use' toilets. "I cannot pay Rs 2 each time to address nature's call,” adds she.
Geeta's problem is emblematic of the toilet travails faced by millions of people, particularly women across India's teeming cities and rural areas.

Less than 30 percent of India's 950 million strong population has access to proper sanitation as against 73 per cent in Vietnam and 56 per cent in Zimbabwe. Over 70 per cent people across our cities and villages are deprived of toilet hygiene and safe drinking water. And in a society like ours where women are forbidden even to speak about their bodies, one can imagine the difficulty with which they manage their bodily functions in unshielded areas.

To protect their dignity and maintain a sense of privacy, they go only in the early morning or late at night, often becoming easy victims of molestation. "I go with my mother early in the morning to the railway track to ease myself," says 14-year-old Jyoti, who sells Jaipuri handicrafts along the roadside in Yeshwantpur.

We have a shining hi-tech India with multi-storied buildings, luxurious cars, expensive mobiles, posh shopping malls and a booming IT sector on one hand; on the other, we have a number of slums mushrooming in metros, which lack not only toilets but also basic human necessities like a habitable space and clean drinking water. Slums in Bangalore can be divided into three categories, old, new and latest. "While old ones do have sanitation facilities, new and latest ones in particular lack them. People go out into open areas to address nature's call,” says Arun Selve, a social activist working with Jana Sayeyoga, a Bangalore-based NGO.

No water

Even if these slums are provided with public toilets, either they are very few in number or they lack sufficient water supply. "The only public toilet here is always short of water and hence we have to go into open areas for excretion,” says Gangamma, a 45-year-old migrant worker from Raichur who currently stays in one of the newly emerged slums in Electronic City.

The plight of schools is no different as far as sanitation is concerned. Most of the schools, both in rural and urban India, do not have proper toilets. "Neither there is any toilet room nor is there any proper drinking water," says Suresh Gonjwala, a trainee teacher at a private school in Jaraganahalli. Improper sanitation and unsafe drinking water are the major causes of some widespread deadly diseases and epidemics that wreck our country. According to Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a single grain of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 eggs of worms. Approximately 700,000 children die every year in our country due to diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera and such diseases resulting from poor hygiene.
"There is only one toilet-room at each floor, too filthy to be used, but yet being used by almost over 100 students and some teachers," exclaims Shekhar, a private high school teacher in Sunkadakatte. Children have to go out in the open or shell out money in ‘pay and use’ toilets each time.

This is one of the major reasons for girl students to drop out of schools after 5th standard. "We pay 50 paisa each time to access Sulabh toilets adjacent to our school building as school infrastructure lacks toilets,” says, Bhagya, a 9 standard girl who studies in a government high school near Yediyur.

Recently, a Hindi news channel covered a story of a school in Bihar where teenage girls were blackmailed and harassed by their male teachers who threatened to disgrace them by circulating their pornographic MMS they had made taking advantage of the inadequate infrastructure (roofless bathroom) of the school.
Is the government listening?

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