by Deboleena Sengupta
Photo Source: Creative Commons
Ever since childhood we learn and inculcate a lot of things. And the tiniest of things can have the greatest impact on us in the subtlest of ways. The failure to relieve ourselves during the school break times, and getting the need to pee during class time, was something very funny for us. Well, because words like pee/poop have been placed under indecent codes of language construct. I would remain uncomfortable and in pain till the next break just to escape embarrassment from talking about a ‘function’ which is very natural. Such stupid ideas that someone else would decide for me a ‘shubh muhurat’ (auspicious moment) when I could relieve myself also followed me when I started taking long journeys. But this time there were NO TOILETS in the longest of the highways!
While talking of bus journeys, I cannot miss out the opportunity to voice out one of the horrible experiences we faced while travelling back home at night. It was a 12 hour journey and where we could generally use the toilets of hotels on the highway, but neither the bus driver nor the conductor bothered to stop the bus by any safe and clean toilets. After four long hours they stopped the bus in a somewhat deserted place. We were on the National Highway 37, at around 11pm. Two of my friends who were travelling along got down and went to pee finding a darker place. And that was when one of my friends was assaulted by two men there. When she shouted, they fled and got lost in the dark.
Who would you blame? My friend who needed to pee? The conductor and the driver for having been insensitive in their understanding that women too have needs? The nightfall for having been so dark? Or would you stop women from travelling at night? The blame game goes on. But the truth is we still lack security when it comes to meeting our basic needs.
While this happened at the time which is called the ‘state of normalcy’, the thought of women during conflict shudders me. Let me tell you, it’s like horror films gone real, I wouldn’t place a step out of my home. My state witnesses frequent ethnic conflicts which quite often cripples daily life. Sometimes when someone needs to travel out of dire emergency, we go through nightmares and have to keep contacting to assure they are fine. So what about those who are rendered homeless? The ones whose homes are burnt and need to put up in relief camps? While the constant fear of resurgence of violence haunts them there is more to it.
Photo Source: Creative Commons
A ‘Report on Visit to Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) and Dhubri District in Assam (August 11 -12, 2012)‘, i.e. the time when these places around my hometown were around their peak point of conflicts, states how toilet facilities were inadequate and there was hardly any place for people to take a bath. As per the report, toilet facilities were minimal with 10 toilets for 4,300 in the Relief Camps of Srirampura, Gossaigaon and Kokrajhar. That means one toilet for 430 people! Isn’t it quite ironic that they are called ‘relief camps’?
While even if the men could somehow manage to bathe or defecate in the open, women couldn’t because they carry the extra burden of ‘stigma’ attached to their bare bodies. In such circumstances, addressing the needs of pregnant women and menstruating women are a far cry. Besides that, post conflict times also see a sharp rise in the chances of sexual harassment, rape, or girls falling prey to trafficking. While lack of toilets might not be the only reason but this lack indeed creates unsafe situations, which is one of the biggest security issues that females face. Remember what my friend faced on the highway?
The problems I have stated are very common and there are many more of course. From not finding toilets to toilets without latches; to getting infections from unclean toilets and the list goes on. What could be the resultant? Can it restrict our free mobility? YES! It can. If domination is deep enrooted in our culture, I feel unavailability of toilets act as stabilizer to the domination. It provides the opportunities for violence against women and their dignity.
When we talk of security, these experiences shouldn’t get unnoticed. Toilets and security, yes the connection needs to be made and enforced. But what bothers me is to see voices being silenced in our society and to learn to see pain as ‘normal’. To see not having clean and safe toilets as ‘natural’. To conform to the irrational conditioning to see toilets as a taboo. And that’s when we are being unfair to the voice within us and others.
If we talk of justice, it has to be inclusive; we cannot exclude the stories of pain. If we talk of peace, it isn’t just the absence of physical violence, but mental too. I cannot claim to be in peace when my body is uncomfortable because I cannot address a basic need. I cannot be in peace if I have the fear of being assaulted for not having safe toilets around. Recalling the NH37 incident, I can say there is a big failure on the part of our ‘welfare sate’ to provide us with such a basic sense of security.
To begin with a change, I believe we need to get over the taboo attached with talking toilets. And I think I have just begun. There is no ‘shubh muhurat’. I am demanding toilets, safe and clean. I am talking loos. And it’s healthy to talk loos!