Caution: Gross details follow.
Yesterday, I visited the building where the headquarters of a very important government organization were housed. It was a long morning and as I waited for my meeting, it seemed like a sensible idea to visit the rest-room.
I wasn't expecting luxury, I assure you. I stepped in, gingerly. It was not very clean but I have seen worse in my lifetime as an Indian woman. I thought I would pull the flush.
The split second that followed was like a moment in the heart of the special effects of a horror film. Water rushed out in a torrent..... around my feet! I ran out of the stall as if chased by a vampire or an avenging banshee.
It took me a few minutes to compose myself. As I narrated this story later on, it was also funny. But outrage also remains with me.
This is the only ladies' restroom on the floor that houses the CEO of the organization. What if the CEO were a woman? What happens to the women who work there (and by the way, I barely recall seeing any)? What is the plight of women who visit for all-day meetings?
We organize a 16-day campaign against gender violence in Chennai and one part of the campaign addresses the issue of a good working climate for women in the context of workplace harrassment, but this is even more fundamental. How can you go to work in a place which doesn't bother with the upkeep of the most basic lavatory facilities for women? Perhaps the men's toilets are as bad, but is that an excuse or a consolation?
Why don't we care about these very basic amenities? How can a person go to work if their stomach is even slightly upset? How is a woman to work during her menstrual period or in the last stages of her pregnancy when she would need to use the toilet more often?
The conference room is airconditioned but the kitchen and pantry area are not built for hygiene. The executive office wears a designer label but the toilets are ghastly. The campus is manicured but the road approaching it is an open sewer. I am not writing about any one office or institution. This place is everywhere, and we have all suffered it.
On a day when the world is discussing President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, I suggest that the most appropriate recipient for this honour should be a person who has made toilets, hygiene and sanitation their priority--whoever it is.
PS: On my own bathroom water-banshee attack experience, I should add that when I ran out, I could not wash my hands because the soap-dispenser was empty and there was barely a trickle of water coming out of the taps. Luckily (for those who will rightfully worry) I always carry wet wipes and I could somehow assuage my own sense of 'ugh' before stepping back outside.