Toilets, especially public toilets in India have been a subject of discussion recently. Bill Gates’ and his foundation want to work on sanitation in India. Office toilets in India have moved to western commodes with people having no idea whatsoever on how to use it – especially the men (I cannot speak for the women, as I have no anecdotal or direct evidence :) ). I prefer the Indian toilet although have very rare access to one. The New York Times’ carried an article today on a campaign called Right to Pee, urging government officials to let women pee for free. This led me to want to write this blog post.

I cannot speak for the women, but the men’s room of most public toilets I take a look at in Mumbai are horrible. I wonder why we pay the INR 2/3 that we do for the use of the facility. It would be interesting to collect data on how much a public toilet facility earns on average. I have not searched for such data, if it were available. But, I understand from the above article that activists are first trying to figure out how many toilets do exist. Similar efforts are on in Mumbai too, it would seem. So, I am extrapolating that the above required data is absent.

A public toilet provides the following facilities – water supply, lighting and exhaust fan (generally one – generally not working, but let’s assume it’s working) as well as a mug in an Indian toilet. There usually is no flush facility. The usual cleaning process involves cleaning the floors with a mop with phenol locally sourced. The toilets are then flushed several times with water aping the flushing process. This is usually done just twice a day. There seems or there is no such treatment for the men’s urinal. I’ve only seen the flushing process being done once in a men’s urinal. What goes untouched in the process are the paan stains on the wall, which give the men’s room its stench other than the urinal which adds to the stench there. Broken tiles and ceramic are usual. You usually don’t get good mugs and most people seem to not know how to use the toilets.

So, before anything else. We just need better public education or awareness on how to use a toilet (not just a public toilet), better and cheaper disinfectants and enforce the no tobacco/smoking in the public toilets rule. On the Right to Pee campaign above, I think the men’s urinal must be recognized as a part of the toilet, charged for and kept clean through water flushing and use of disinfectants and unclogged drain pipes. Once this is done, Bill Gates and others are welcome to work on improving sanitation, etc.

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