I can never forget what I saw inside a bucket in a toilet on National Highway 48 in Karnataka. Algae and larvae, or simply put, the eggs of worms and mosquitoes breeding on the water surface. I had gone to urinate when my long-distance public bus from Sakleshpur to Bengaluru had halted for passengers to relieve themselves. I had
expected to see water in the bucket as any normal person would. So, you can imagine my disgust. I raced out, unable to use the toilet. I had to suppress the urge to urinate for the remainder of the journey.
But it gets worse. The facility was unmarked. It was frightening to search for it in the dark. A strange man, who I later found out was visually impaired, was sitting outside the facility, charging people ₹ 5 to use the toilet. There were no sign-boards or demarcations on the toilets for men, women and others. There were no lights inside or outside. I had to use the light on my cellphone to find my way. The inside was a different kind of hell. Doors with broken locks, missing taps, broken commodes, no mug, soap or a dustbin; a pile of soiled sanitary napkins rotting away in a corner. The stench was terrible. When I called out for water, the man said there was none. That explained the terrible stench. This sorry excuse for a toilet had not been cleaned for days!
If this is making you sick, imagine the plight of thousands of women who are forced to use such facilities every single day when they travel the 350 kilometre stretch from my town Sakleshpur. What’s worse is that unlike men who can disregard the situation and choose to defecate in the open, women cannot do so because it is unsafe. Neither do we want to urinate outdoors.
Women are damned whether they use such toilets or not. If we force ourselves to use the facility, we are exposing ourselves to infections. Women like me who cannot
bring themselves to use such toilets, end up suppressing the urge to urinate. When we do this for long periods – like the 6-hour journey I take twice a week – we risk contracting urinary tract infection, which if not treated can lead to sepsis and death. My diabetic mother who needs to urinate every two hours dreads travelling to
Bengaluru for this very reason.
As a social worker who travels a lot on this stretch of NH 48, I can confidently confirm that these appalling conditions exist in toilets at all the 30 Petrol bunks, 7 Toll booths and 5 bus stops of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC).