Toilet Tale #4: Banking on Friendly Acquaintances

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Selvi, 40
Sells flowers on the roadside

“I spend most of the day on the road, and there are no public toilets around that I can use. The only way I can access a toilet is by going into nearby banks, posing as a customer. I do this especially when I’m on my period and need a toilet more than on normal days.

It’s humiliating to do this, mainly because they stare at me since they know I’m not a customer by the way I’m dressed. Sometimes, they stop me, saying I’m not allowed to use the toilet. So I try to acquaint myself with people who work there, so that they will let me go without too many questions.”

*Interviewed by Saranya V and Santha V

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Toilet Tales #3: Sanitation Facilities for Sanitation Workers

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Anonymous, 40
Sanitation Worker

“My work starts at 6am, and I have to travel over 10km to reach the area that I clean. So I leave home by around 5am, and don’t return till about 4pm.

In the area that I sweep, there are no public toilets nearby that I can access. My colleagues and I walk to the area corporation office if we need to, especially during our periods. At other time, if we urgently need to pee and there’s no one around, we go on the roadside. We also try to make friends with the security guards at apartment complexes, so that they let us use the toilet inside.”

On cleanliness and safety: The corporation office toilets are usually clean enough. And since it’s an office, there aren’t too many safety issues.

*Interviewed by Santha V

Toilet Tale #2: A Domestic Worker’s Story

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Rani, 51
Domestic Worker

“I work in 4 households in Chetpet, all of them in apartment complexes. These buildings have a common toilet on the ground floor for use by workers like me, and therefore access to a toilet hasn’t been an issue for me. Since I’ve been working in these homes for over 15 years now, I haven’t had to struggle to find a toilet ever.

While I’ve never asked my employers if I can use their toilet (why should I, when there’s one right here?), if I have ever needed to urgently use their toilet while I’m working, I haven’t hesitated since I’m the one who cleans it as well.

Previously, I was working on construction sites, mostly residential complexes that were torn down and rebuilt. In my experience, the builders have always left one or two of the old toilets functional, usually separate ones for women and men.”

On safety: The door of the common toilet we use was broken for a while, but now they have fixed it.

On cleanliness: The common toilets are cleaned by people contracted to do it. It’s ok most of the time.

*Interviewed by Ragamalika Karthikeyan and Saumya Dadoo

Toilet Tale #1: Why a Fruit Vendor Doesn’t Eat All Day

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Sushila, 36
Runs a fruit stall

“There is no toilet facility for me while I work, which is why I don’t eat or drink anything all day. If I get really hungry, I might drink a cup of tea.

In case I need to pee urgently, or if I need to use a toilet during my period, I go to a nearby complex of shops, where they have one toilet for all the people who work in those shops. I’m not allowed to use this toilet; but I’ve made friends with one of the women who works there, and take her along every time I need to use the facility, so that people don’t stare at me or ask me why I’m there.”

On Cleanliness: It’s not very clean, but it’s okay. Better than nothing.

On Safety: Since it’s inside the complex and there are enough people around, I guess it’s safe.

*Interviewed by Saranya V and Santha V

Toilet Tales: Stories of Chennai Women

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Sanitation is a basic need for every human being. But the reality is, it isn’t accessible for many people. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in three individuals in the developing world do not have access to toilets.

The sanitation crisis affects women and girls the most. While in rural areas, women wait for nightfall to relieve themselves, in urban settings, the struggles to find a safe toilet are many and varied.

In the run up to World Toilet Day, Prajnya has teamed up with The Hapee Commode to raise awareness about gender and sanitation. Prajnya decided to ask one question: How do women who spend most of their day outside the house manage? And as part of this work, Prajnya’s  Saranya V, Santha V and Ragamalika interviewed women for their stories. We’ll be posting one story every day, starting today.

Do read and share!