Public toilet - a need or a luxury?

Jago News Desk Published: 22 November 2018, 03:31 PM | Updated: 22 November 2018, 03:35 PM
Public toilet - a need or a luxury?
File Photo: A roadside public toilet in Bangladesh.

Weight has always been an ongoing issue for me since my junior days. I have been all over the scale, from an emaciated 100-pound bag of bones all the way to a giant 190-pound obese. Never comfortable in my own skin, I have tried everything - from long gym hours, to intense aerobic classes, to the ever-relaxing yoga sessions.

Eventually, a two hour round trip from my home in Gulshan to office in Bananiwas pretty much my definition of workout, and the best way I could keep boredom at bay as I lose weightat turtle speed.

One morning, as I blaze out of home in a hurry, already late for office, I decide to take a little less than usual time releasing my morning bowels. Halfway through my walk, my stomach starts to grumble, and an intense loo pressure almost paralises my lower body.

With the morning sun high up on my head, I take shelter under the umbrella of a traffic policeman, anxiously looking through the empty streets in all directions, hoping for one shop or one market to be open so I could use the toilet. At 8.30am in the morning, everything was closed.

I could take a rikshaw and rush to office in 10 minutes, but the area I was standing in was one of the elite areas of the capital, where cars were allowed to go all ways, but rikshaws were restricted or available only one way. And I, unfortunately, was on the wrong way.

With no hope in sight, I squinch my intestine and rectum system and start to walk. Soon, after 13 dreadful minutes, I arrive at a run-down shopping complex which had a small toilet sign at one corner with an arrow that pointed eastwards. I decide to take what I see. Little did I know this horrific toilet experience wouldhaunt me forever. 

Stepping into the toilet, my experience in no particular order include seeing a mirror with dark blotch spots, two basins - one broken and one with very low water flow, muddy floors, deemed lights, three toilet chambers with no gender mentions - one with a half rusted door and the remaining two with door locks that were loose and could break open the moment someone knocked or even pushed a little from outside. Peeking into all three toilets, I realise none of them had tissue holders, let alone toilet tissue itself. A tiny dried up soap was available on one of the basins.

In the midst of this cramped toilet, wonky smells and an unfamiliar restroom setup, I stood silently, rhyming eeni-meeni-miny-mo in my head, deciding which door to choose – a half rusted almost see-through one, or a very easily breakable one. Finally, I decide and step in, almost tripping over a headless bidet shower lying on the watery ground. Suspending myself on the commode in mid-air, ensuring my skin doesn’t touch the bowl, I try completing my business as carefully and as quickly as possible. 

Stepping out of the toilet, I quickly head back office, unable to stop thinking about all the people who experience such toilet conditions on a regular basis. Such encounters might be an occasional issue for us - how would it feel if our regular toilets were like this?

And why was I so overwhelmed, whereas my day-to-day work as a communications person at an international non-profit working on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues, includes writing on people’s close-to-nightmare experiences using toilets, and photographing some of the most bizarre toilet conditions of the country. 

Why was I so surprised, when I have in the past 18 months of my career working in the WASH sector, been the voice of thousands of underprivileged and marginalised people who suffer everyday due to the absence or lack of decent toilets?

Because. ‘It’s always easier said than felt’. 

You don’t understand the trauma, pain, insecurity and loss of dignity in using toilet conditions like this unless you have faced it. And if your own home or community toilet is like this, situations can be shoddier; and unsafe, mostly, if you are a woman. 

This World Toilet Day, I write to talk on toilets. I write to co-relate my experience with many of yours, who are denied of their basic right to sanitation while commuting to school, work, shopping, etc. every day. 

In our country, public toilets are still seen as a luxury and not quite a necessity - but this isn’t normal, and it shouldn’t be.

People till date stereotype that toilets for the poor are usually unsafe, unhygienic and unusableand vice versa for the middle class and rich - but this isn’t normal, and it shouldn’t be.

Are these toilet troubles restricted to females only? Definitely not; because people of all gender, all age, and all stature of the society have at least once in their lifetime experienced a negative toilet encounter. And these experiences should be brought out publicly to raise awareness and advocate for decent toilets - at home and on the streets!

Let’s talk TOILET!

Writer: Samia Mallik, Communication Officer, Media and Outreach, WaterAid Bangladesh.