Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where DOES one go to the bathroom?


Today is World Toilet Day, as designated by the United Nations, to bring awareness to the BILLIONS of people around the world who do not have access to safe sanitation. A huge chunk of those people live in our other homeland, India.

In India, and especially in Hyderabad, there are a lack of public toilets. On our most recent trip last year, I noticed that FINALLY the government decided to put up some public toilets around HiTech City. The catch? It was for MEN ONLY!!! 

Let's say you're an educated working woman. You live in a house and you commute to work. Due to the insane Hyderabad traffic, you could be commuting anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours per day (no joke!) If you have to use the bathroom, there is literally nowhere that you can go. Of course, you could stop at a local shop, but those bathrooms aren't great either. If you're a guy, you can just whip out your you-know-what and go on the road. If you're a woman, you can't do the same thing. The result? You either hold it in (which can cause a bladder infection), or drink less fluids (which can make you dehydrated). And that's if you're lucky.

If you're a woman who is homeless, or makes very little money, and has to travel very far for work, it is even worse. Many women have to risk their personal safety to use the bathroom, as a lot of them have been sexually assaulted by trying to find a private place to use the bathroom. Plus, due to the amount of people that live in India, privacy is basically non-existent.

Last year, we were staying in a hotel in Hyderabad that overlooked a small slum next to an open field. Every morning, I would open the curtains and see men coming up to this open field, with a small water bottle. They would attempt to hide behind a bush and defecate, and then wash themselves off with the little water they had. I noticed that only men would come out into the fields - where were the women???


Plus, in Hyderabad, we have been having water shortages for YEARS. The last time we visited, it was particularly bad. In our cousin-sister's apartment building, they can go for days without water coming out of the tap. This is an average middle-class neighbourhood. The apartment building water alarm went off at 7pm, and our relatives scrambled to gather large buckets and fill them up with the tap. Whatever water they got, they'd have to use it for bathing, drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning. There was never enough water. Sometimes the water alarm would simply not ring at all. If this is what middle-class people have to face, then you can imagine what poorer people have to deal with.

And, to make it all worse, the water that is provided is unclean and very bad quality. I noticed this the second I arrived. The only time I got sick was when I had a glass of water that was offered to me.

A lot of people have no clue as to the terrible conditions that people face in regards to water and sanitation. It is a very real, and global problem. It is a social issue that all women should be interested in - it is very much a woman's issue, since women and girls are effected the most.

To donate to the World Toilet Day organization, click HERE.

Also, check out this funny video below about an Indian girl's quest to find a bathroom. A very real problem!!!



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Dear readers, what has been your experience with the toilet situation in India?
Have you noticed very few public toilets that are open to women?
Where did YOU go to use the bathroom?
What about in other parts of the world?


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30 comments

  1. Water is definitely our most valuable and threatened resource! I understood how precious it is when I was living in India. At some point, our water source (corporation or 'municipal' water) turned cloudy and had a bad smell. Our landlords -- who lived downstairs -- decided not to take any chances and from then on would get water delivered by the water truck. Sometimes it would run out without warning and we would have no water while waiting for the water truck to arrive. You're right -- water is a huge problem in most cities affecting all social classes.

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    1. It really is...I never understood the water problem until we went to India. It is really unfortunate, and the droughts have made it worse.

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  2. Alex, whatever you described about Hyderabad water issues, you can safely say that about most of the cities in India. Unless you have your own water source (usually a well or a drill water source, which also mostly dries up in summer), you have to be at the mercy of the corporation for water and during summers, the water crisis is terrible.

    About the sanitation situation, you are again right about that, although very recently, there is a increase in public toilets for both men and women in the part of India that I am. But honestly, they are of little use to the poorer class people as they paid toilets and often they have to pay every time they use it.

    My personal experience with the lack of public toilets is that I dread long distance road trips. The moment you are out of the city, you can hardly find any public toilets and if you do, they are not maintained at all. There was this one time,few years back, that I had to make an overnight journey, and due to festival season, there was heavy rush and all the trains were already booked. I decided to travel the distance by a public bus. After about 1 hour, when we had reached the outskirts of the city, the bus came to a halt. After inquiring, we understood that there was a small mishap with a goods lorry and it had blocked the road. It would take few hours for the authorities to help with that. And in the mean time, all sorts of big and small vehicles started piling up on either side of the lorry causing a traffic jam. It was so bad, that we were stuck there for over 24 hours, without moving an inch! My destination was only 5-6 hours distance. And what with so so many people, and no public toilet nearby, I was siting like that for over 30 hours or so. I cannot describe how I felt after I reached home. i was so sick that it took me a couple of days to recover. I cannot forget that trip ever in my life.

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    1. OMG...........30 hours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is the worst!!!!!!!!!!!

      We heard it all this Summer too, our family had it really tough. No water, extreme heat, elderly fainting, nobody can cool off, everyone dehydrated, water not coming....plus many of our family in joint family households so more people needing more water and having to share what little there is. Now one of our uncles has build this underground water tank, but it is costing a lot of money, and I doubt it will even improve the situation enough.

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  3. Thanks for bringing attention to this huge issue!

    I'm guessing the slum ladies you mentioned get up before the men while it is still dark and do their toileting then. That's what my neighbour ladies do in their villages. :P

    Yes, there's a huge lack of public toilets in India--for everyone, but especially for women. It's so frustrating and unfair. And inconvenient. What do I do? If I'm alone, I hold it. Yup. I once took at 24h train/bus journey and never went to the bathroom once. (Thankfully I had no ill effects from that.) What to do when you're alone? There's nowhere to leave your things safely. If I'm with others, I'll use toilets in the train or bus stations.

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    1. I'm not sure what they do, even on some days I was jet-lagged and I didn't see them in the field. It's a big mystery!
      One time, 9 years ago, we drove to Guntur which was an 8 hour drive with the old highways. Of course I had to go to the bathroom. It was absolutely nuts to find a bathroom. I ended up going in a field but there were people staring at me and I was so embarrassed. Another time we stopped for chai at this shack and then I used the bathroom there and I was feeling very unsafe, as the men were taking videos of me on their mobile (not in the bathroom, but outside). Whenever me and any of the girls have to pee....we always exchange this look like "Ohhhh god......we have to pee.....what will we do?!?!"

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  4. What poor women do when they don't have access to bathroom facilities-

    If they use a field or open space they only go to toilet themselves, they only go after dark & use the 'buddy system' (taking a female friend with them) in hopes that will deter possible attackers.
    or
    If they don't live near a field/open space or have access to a bathroom & need to toilet themselves during daylight hours they may use a polythene bag placed over a bucket or on the floor.

    Other problems poor women in India face due to lack of privacy & proper sanitation-
    Can you imagine menstruating & what you have to do to properly clean yourself or change your pad with no bathroom facilities available?
    Being unable to change soiled pads or clean oneself while menstruating leads to yeast & bacterial infections also.

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    1. Bibi, yeah, I did some work in women's health in rural India and these issues are HUGE! It's still an issue in urban areas too. Especially among the poor and lower class who have little education about their bodies and hygiene.

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    2. I would be so scared to go after dark.....

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  5. In India if you get proper supply of water and electricity you are lucky. The problems of toilets for women is quiet acute. The one great thing about coming up of malls and international fast food joints in India is not the food or ambiance but the availability of clean toilet facilities. Around metro stations in Delhi, you have relatively clean toilets for both men and women run by Sulabh Sauchalaya which is a pioneer in the filed of public toilets in the country.

    The understanding that women too needs toilets is slowly filtering in urban India while in slightly rural areas it is still a big problem. I think a clean toilet is a problem that confronts all Indians. We have hate hate relationships with toilets. It is something to do with the traditional mentality that toilets are dirty and somebody else will clean them. You cannot enter the pooja room or kitchen after going to the toilet. You must take a bath and clean yourself. Some Hindus considered it dirty to have toilets inside the house. It was something which had to be done outside the house. All well and good when there was wilderness all around but not with increased population. We are a country of toilet haters.

    There was a time some ten to twenty years ago that people did not clean their toilets themselves. There was a person who roamed around the neighbourhood with a bottle of acid and brush who was called to clean the toilets for a fee. With time these people disappeared as more and more people shifted to apartments. Now there was no option. People had to clean their toilets like their living rooms. It sure helped that modern means of cleaning toilets like better brushes and chemicals kind of made the task more easy.

    That is probably why that you see the public toilets in India in shambles because people do not want to do anything with them. One of the pet project of our Prime Minister is building of toilets especially for women and he has mentioned it several times. Toilets in each house is going to bring down infectious diaereses and go a long way in empowering not just women but entire communities.

    In fact, one of the newly wed brides returned back to her home when she learned that her inlaws home did not have a toilet.

    http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mp-woman-back-with-husband-after-in-laws-build-toilet-at-home/1/517869.html


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    1. Yes, I have noticed that too about the malls - great toilets! But they are only in certain areas, and if you are stuck in traffic....ughhhhh.....
      I also noticed in Delhi areas a lot more places with toilets. Hopefully other cities will follow suit. In Hyderabad it is still a nightmare unfortunately.

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  6. Hello Alexandra

    I agree with the shortage of public toilets.. However.. I live in the United States... I have lived in my town for over a decade in the US.. There are ZERO public toilets between my house and place of work. The commute is about 20 miles.. So I'm not sure if my towns feet should be held to the fire about this too or if they should be let off the hook because they are in a er... Western country?

    About impurity of water, I would really like to know what other scientific stats haveyou besides the personal intolerance to the water goes.
    Sorry to nitpick but your blog posts have always been great and I enjoy reading them and debating it's content. But this post is a little biased.

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    1. Hi Anon - I don't think this post is biased at all; is the reality of not only millions of women in India but the Indian population as a collective. It has nothing to do with Western countries are better or putting your US town's feet to the fire just because there are no designated "public toilets".

      I used to commute from Central NJ to Manhattan every day. Took me at least an hour if I was lucky. If I needed to use the facilities before I reached work I simply got off the turnpike and went to a gas station or resting area. Now, getting stuck in the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels and suddenly having to go... well that's a different story :)

      I could be walking for hours in Manhattan and there will always be a place to go to the bathroom whether it be Starbucks, Mc Donalds, the NY Library even Duane Reade. There may not be many public toilets but there a plenty of places to use the bathrooms at. Unless the establishment says bathrooms for patrons only or you get a flat out no from the place you can enter anywhere and use their facilities. I did. Go to the Hell's Kitchen Street Flea Market and there will be plenty of Porta Pottys.

      I live in Miami now and the same goes here. Even in non metropolitan cities, the facilities are there. May not be the cleanest but are there.

      The point is that public bathrooms or places for a lady to use outside her house in India while out and about are pretty much non existent, hell even for men. I don't find tons of Indian men wiping out in public whenever the urge strikes and going to town on a wall or behind a car on the sidewalk appealing. Is quite frankly unsanitary and a health hazard. Clean water and basic sanitation are a big problem as well. Something that I wish the new PM will address and try to somewhat correct.

      Millie B

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    2. Ok. I accede to what you say. My comment was not correctly phrased. What Alexandra has observed about the toilet situation is quite true. But buttressing that with "impure water" is not quite correct. I moved between India, France, Germany, USA and with water changes, I fell ill - I doubt it had to do with impure water but the level of salts in each water source.

      Lots of people make decisions based on blog posts unfortunately and this disparagement of India based on Alexandra's (or anyone else's) physical constitution and her inability to adjust to water is rather unfair.

      I wonder if the population of India were much smaller, would these issues have a lesser "per capita" impact?

      One must realize that India is an advanced society in severe disrepair but not to the extent as portrayed in news media and blogs. Yes, things need fixing and they won't happen so easily because of the diversity in sentiment, socio-economic background that most "western" countries do not have.

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    3. About water shortage, apparently there are two issues : growing population, and pollution of underground water due to chemicals used by intensive agriculture.

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    4. that's laughable. i came a month back to usa and its incomparable to india. in usa we get drinking water all the time that doesn't need boiling first. running water at all hours of the day. as a lady, its also much safer to use the bathroom. lot of petrol station or starbucks around with toilet free for everyone.
      in india no water came out of the tap. we pay for water but get nothing. always some shortage. rain water also is very bad. now mafia is selling water but its still bad. i think you must be very privileged to not be aware of water quality in india. or maybe you have not visited in some time. have you seen hussain sagar lake.....its full of garbage. mafia fills up water from there and sells to people and they get sick. unless you are filthy rich, water is big problem.

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    5. Anon #1 - One thing is to be proud of your country and another is to be totally blind and in denial. Nobody is bashing India. Alexandra and most of us commenters are either Indian or have connections with India whether be via marriage, work, love for the country through our travels,etc... We are not talking out of our behinds here.

      Water in India is terrible according to my in laws and my husband who just came back from a month long work/family trip. Not only them but most of his family from Delhi, to Mumbai to Gujarat have to either boil their water, filter it or get it delivered because the water is flat out awful.

      The lacks of toilets leads to open defecation which if it happens close to a body of water we know that eventually human feces will make it there. I also saw people throwing garbage and scraping greasy dirty dishes in Lake Pichola. The same place where later I saw people bathing and collecting jugs of water to take home. Garbage floating everywhere. Is just plain unsanitary.

      But I do think that this issue will continue in India for a long time so instead of trying to change people's mind, the government should educate them in how to properly disposed of human waste to minimize disease and contamination whether be the water or flies landing on feces and then landing on people, food... I think we all get the picture here.

      Teach them to dig and bury, bag in bucket or the take the poo with you which is take a baggy to collect your poo afterwards (insert hand in clean baggy, grab the poo and turn bag inside out and tie - your hand never touches it) and dispose in a garbage bin. This is something that I think the government could and should provide specially in areas where this sort of practice happens often.

      Everybody is entitled to having clean water and basic sanitation but this can only be achieved via acknowledgement of the problem, education, involvement and commitment from the community and a true desire to improve quality of life.

      Millie B

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    6. @ original anonymous (November 20, 2015 at 12:39 PM) - The water quality in India is disgusting. It does not matter whether you stay in a hotel or a residential area. It is REALLY bad. Our family suffers a lot because of the water - not only the shortage of it, but the quality.

      What I write is my personal opinion, based on my own personal observation, and I do not need to prove that. I do not need *scientific evidence* to back that up. Everybody who lives in India, visits India, and has family in India is well-aware of the water and sanitation problem. This blog is not some huge Western conspiracy to make India *look bad*. I am entitled to my own observations, and if you can't handle it, then read elsewhere. I am not biased, rather I am not going to sugar coat anything to get brownie points from a stroking-the-Indian-ego award. I am not going to LIE about the terrible conditions, especially about something as important as water. Feel free to go to India to see how it is for yourself. It gets worse every single year. Thank god there are big shopping malls now, but they are only in certain areas. There needs to be a well-maintained, safe, public toilet on every street that is open to both men AND women.

      Secondly, have you ever held your pee for hours on end because there was no safe place to use the bathroom? Have you ever feared sexual assault when using the bathroom? You say there is a 20 mile drive - are there no gas stations for you to stop at? Are there no fields where you can pee because there are people around 24/7? Welcome to being in a maximum city in India. And what would you do if you couldn't just whip it out? What would you do if you were menstruating? What would you do if you had a bladder infection? This is a reality for billions of people.

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    7. @Alexandra

      In Delhi we face the problem of salty water. Many areas of Delhi have hard water which cause corrosion of pipes and effects skin and hair. The ground water is salty because certain areas in Delhi were mountainous so the water has lot of minerals. It tastes like "Golgappa" water. We have installed RO system in our apartment and the quality of water has improved slightly.

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    8. Yes. Water in India is impure compared to USA. In USA you can drink straight out of tap but in India you cannot and should not. I am born and raised in India and even my family never drinks water straight out of the tap.

      Don't believe it. Fill tap water in India and keep it for few days in a pot and see what happens.

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    9. Not everywhere the tap water is bad. We spent our childhood in government flats in new delhi. We drank water from the tap and never fell ill. This water is ofcourse treated. Government colonies are well planned with proper sewage and water lines. The contamination in other parts of Delhi occur due to unplanned nature of the colony where there may be leakages from sewage line thus contaminating water.

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  7. that's laughable. i came a month back to usa and its incomparable to india. in usa we get drinking water all the time that doesn't need boiling first. running water at all hours of the day. as a lady, its also much safer to use the bathroom. lot of petrol station or starbucks around with toilet free for everyone.
    in india no water came out of the tap. we pay for water but get nothing. always some shortage. rain water also is very bad. now mafia is selling water but its still bad. i think you must be very privileged to not be aware of water quality in india. or maybe you have not visited in some time. have you seen hussain sagar lake.....its full of garbage. mafia fills up water from there and sells to people and they get sick. unless you are filthy rich, water is big problem.

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    1. oops my comment was meant for up there

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    2. Yes, I saw the same thing - street kids filling up water from HS lake and selling it! It's crazy...

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  8. @Alexandra

    Here is an article about the resistance in rural areas in India to use of latrines. The government has done enough to make the people aware that open defecation is a health hazard

    http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/10/08/why-many-indians-cant-stand-to-use-the-toilet/

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    1. Thanks for the link. Interesting to read about the ones who have the toilet but still prefer to go in public....

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    2. The toilet problem in India is lot more complicated than it is made out to be. Toilets are something which should be outside the house as the house also has the kitchen and the pooja room. In olden days the Dos and Dont's of entering the Hindu kitchen and pooja room was something to be believed. Moreover, cleaning up the toilet was someone else's job.

      The most important thing about toilets in India is the availability of water. Flush toilets are not a viable option as people do not have even water to drink. Moreover. the toilets should be made of local material so that people can build and maintain them easily.

      So, it just not enough to build toilets without creating the environment for its continued use.

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  9. Ah the video is good! The condoms one is great too.

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    1. The girl who made that is so awesome! She's funny too

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  10. This is a real problem and I am angry it even exists still. I believe all houses must have toilets with water. Also, the water problem is definitely poor management. How are other countries with lesser water managing while we have water shortages?

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