Toilet Tale #4: Banking on Friendly Acquaintances


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

Toilet Tales: Stories of Chennai Women

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!

Women’s History Roundtable: Responses to Sexual Assault in Chennai: Field Notes, Divya Bhat (13 April 2013)



Rapporteur: Shakthi Manickavasagam

This month’s roundtable discussion featured Divya Bhat, Prajnya’s first Shakti Fellow, who is in Chennai to conduct fieldwork for her dissertation on responses to sexual assault, as part of her master’s in Medical Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Amsterdam. Divya presented her preliminary findings, and systematically traced the journey of a rape survivor through law enforcement, hospitals and the judiciary, outlining the challenges faced at every step.

Divya’s focus on medical professionals has meant that most of her interviews have been with doctors and forensic experts. She stressed the importance of collecting strong forensic evidence that could conclusively prove a rape in court, as the case could otIMG_3173herwise devolve into a ‘he said, she said’ battle. She observed that the system was weighted against victims of rape, noting the lack of psychological care for survivors, bureaucratic hurdles to the quick collection of forensic evidence, a lack of specialised medical equipment in hospitals, and societal attitudes that cast blame on victims.

Divya concluded that systemic change is urgently required at every stage, to combat the ‘structural and institutional inertia’ that has permeated through the system

Divya’s talk was followed by an animated discussion, which broached topics such as the need for greater gender sensitisation, including in schools, public vs. private hospital responsibility to survivors, and responses to rape in other countries.

Thank you for an engaging and informative talk, Divya, it’s been great having you on board!

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In the news: “2 newly-wed women found dead; dowry harassment suspected”


2 newly-wed women found dead; dowry harassment suspected”, The Times of India, May 8, 2010

“Two newly married women died under mysterious circumstances in separate incidents in the city on Thursday. In both the cases, the relatives of the women have alleged dowry harassment and raised suspicions of murder. Police have booked dowry harassment cases against the husbands of the two women.”