Still missing in secretariat and police stations: women’s toilets

At a time when Swachh Bharat, toilets in every home and 33% reservation for women in parliament are hot button issues, the stark reality is that this country has not provided for women’s toilets

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)

Amitabh Srivastava

India has had women as President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, chief ministers, Foreign Minister and even Defence Minister. But nothing can whitewash the fact that the country has not provided women, half the population, usable toilets in public spaces.

When I heard one of the characters in 'Patiala Babes', a serial that is much ahead of its time, a divorced mother being mocked by the managers of a factory for seeking a women's toilet, I dismissed it as a work of fiction.

Then came a shocker when Waheeda Rehman and Asha Parekh, two much awarded veterans of the film industry, telling Kapil Sharma in his comedy show that they had to control their intake of food and water while everyone else enjoyed having tea and snacks because there were no facilities for women’s toilets when they started their career in cinema.

"Oh that was long ago,” is how I reacted. Today the Bollywood heroines are literally rolling in money and functioning from their vanity van which provides all the ultra luxurious facilities to them."

But then I was invited to a program for the "launch of the model policy on women in Police" in the national capital and it turned out to be a real eye- opener.

The programme organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) brought together a bunch of hard core IPS officers like Ms. Anuradha Shankar, ADG Training, Madhya Pradesh Police Training Academy, Ms Renuka Mishra, ADGP , UP Police Recruitment and Promotion Board, Dr. Monisha Behal, Founder Member and CEO, North East Network and Mr. Jacob Punnoose, former DGP, Kerala Police.

As Sanjoy Hazarika, the International Director of CHRI revealed at the very beginning that even though ten States had officially declared 33 per cent reservation for women in the force the national average of women in the most gruelling profession was a bare 7.28 per cent by 2017.

Tamil Nadu tops with 15.97 per cent, followed by Himachal Pradesh at 12.25 per cent and Maharashtra with 11.62 per cent. Bihar, UP and Assam have less than five per cent women in the police.

Anuradha Shankar, ADG Training in Madhya Pradesh who came from Bhopal came out with the startling revelation that apart from lacking crèches and child care facilities even though she was provided a women's toilet when she joined the force in 2001, other women had to walk at least half a kilometre to use the toilets.

She said that while as late as 2016 while waiting to meet the Chief Minister she was shocked that there was no women's toilet on the floor where the CM and Chief Secretary had their offices. This is shocking in a state which had a woman as Chief Secretary in 1991, she said.

Things started changing on other fronts though such as taking care of children of women officers. Her persistence paid as she proudly mentioned that in 2013 the Academy allowed a relative to enter there.

"As a result, today we have three mothers- in -law living with three daughters- in- law in the Madhya Pradesh Police Training Academy" she revealed.

Ms Renuka Mishra, ADGP, UP Police Recruitment and Promotion Board came out with stories on how the women officers had to dress properly every time they walked out to go to the washroom because the corridors were common and there was no privacy.

Sexual harassment in the police force, they admitted, went mostly unreported. And the list of basic facilities demanded in the Model Policy for Women in Police in India mentions six suggestions that are most vital for them.

A. Provide separate toilets, including working hand wash and shower facilities exclusively for women police personnel in all existing police out posts, stations and if this is not possible portable toilets be installed as an interim measure.

  • Provide adequate and well-equipped rest/ changing rooms for exclusive use of women.
  • Ensure that these exclusive facilities, whether existing or newly built are accessible, safe and clean at all times.
  • Guarantee that the design of all new police buildings/ offices are approved only if they incorporate these exclusive facilities for women.
  • Construct separate accommodation, with attached toilets, for women police personnel in all police stations to be newly constructed.
  • Ensure compliance with MHA advisory that mandates specific allocation of funds, under the Modernisation of Police Forces scheme, for the construction of exclusive toilets and rest/changing rooms for women.

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