Class One Toilets
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When it comes to access to sanitation, the worst social prejudices are revealed.
This is a kind of reservation the government might have wanted to keep under wraps. An RTI application filed by this paper has revealed that certain government offices — including the PMO and the offices of the home and environment ministries — cordon off a number of toilets for the exclusive use of senior officers. This August, the PMO even passed around a stern circular threatening "suitable action" against those who broke the rules and left "the premises dirty". "For Officers Only", plastered on toilet doors, now joins a lexicon of exclusion and prejudice.
With more than half of India's population going without toilets, the lack of sanitation in the country has long been a harrowing problem. And when it comes to access to sanitation, our worst social prejudices — whether it is caste, class or gender — are thrown into sharp relief. According to a report by the National Confederation for Dalit Organisations, only 23.7 per cent of Dalit households have access to latrines, compared to 42.3 per cent of non-Dalit households. In urban areas, the number of public toilets is heavily skewed in favour of men — according to a 2009 study, Delhi had 1,534 toilets for men while women had only 132. For women in slum areas, excluded from public facilities, answering nature's call is a daily battle against harassment and even violence. Sanitation seems to be treated as a luxury of the rich, rather than a basic right, and access to toilets determined by ideas of pollution and purity.