Some basic facts
By Aparna Datta
On a trip to Dakshina Kannada, I decided to go by bus. It
was great to see that dish antennae, STD/ISD and cellular
phones had penetrated deep into interior areas.
But try finding a decent loo at a bus stand! Bus drivers
have their own regular halts – you can get a reasonable
vegetarian meal or snacks; but toilets facilities are, at
The highway is a great leveler – whether traveling
by bus or an air-conditioned Merc, it’s still the same
amenities – or lack of them – that road warriors
have to cope with.
As a child, I remember going on many car journeys with my
family. When the call of nature struck, the done thing was
to head for the nearest bush. I guess it’s okay for
men or children, but what’s a grown woman to do? Besides,
with the pressure of population, the bushes have mostly disappeared,
and you can’t quite ‘go round the corner’
because you’re likely to bump into someone else!
The low priority accorded to sanitation with the framework
of public administration in India is simply appalling. The
general apathy and stoic acceptance is even worse. To my mind
what divides us as a society is not income or religion but
simply this: you’re either born into a household with
toilet facilities, or you’re not! It’s mind-boggling
to think of all the railway tracks, river-sides and vacant
plots which double up as vast public latrines, so I shall
desist. And stick to the theme of rest-rooms for travelers.
Most state governments have been largely negligent in this
area. If, in 50 years of independent India this has not been
a state priority, it’s logical to assume that the Government
cannot be expected to improve upon this aspect of social infrastructure
in the future.
This is the age of marketing and sponsorship, so perhaps
privatization is the real answer. Branded, pay-for-use toilets?
Not as far-fetched as it may seem. Any entrepreneur who can
patent a well-designed concept is sure to succeed: apart from
income generated by customers, advertising can subsidise costs.
Hygienic rest-rooms as extensions to dhabas or small hotels
along highways are long overdue; petrol bunks are being upgraded
– why not loos as added attractions?
As we enter the 21st century we can feel good about our achievements
in the Space programme and Information Technology. Yet, measuring
progress in technological terms can’t hide the inescapable
fact that India will enter the new millennium with the largest
pool of illiterates on the planet and the least access to
© Aparna Datta, 1998
Published in Saturday Times / The
Times of India, Bangalore, March 14, 1998