Toilets, loos, washrooms in urban spaces

Anindita Das reports on the Thumb Print Conversation held recently at the Metropolis festival in Guwahati


A proposal to set up a ‘Toilet Association’ for Guwahati city was mooted at the Thumb Print Conversation held recently at the ongoing Metropolis festival. The conversation on “Toilets, loos, washrooms in urban spaces”, an initiative of The Thumb Print webzine was moderated by Viswanathan Subbayyan, GMC Commissioner. 


The issue of lack of proper toilets for men, women, children and the differently-abled was raised in the conversation. And maintenance of hygiene of the toilets as well as their safety with proper lighting was stressed. People openly spoke about many issues including disposal of waste. The organizers want to hold a series of conversations on this issue across the city.


Subbayyan said that many new initiatives are coming up to set up clean toilets at a convenient distance. People wanted clean toilets in shopping malls, cinema halls and even bus stations. He further added, “Even if the toilets, loos, washrooms are made, will the public use it properly? GMC is considering the issue since six to eight moths and we have chosen three locations- Fancy Bazaar, Fathashil and Paltan Bazaar. The infrastructure is build up for Gwahati. There are thirty blocks in the city and in one km radius we are providing a toilet. Lots of states have already gone ahead like Kerela, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu, and we are also going to have it soon”. 


Leading denizens of the city like disability rights activist Arman Ali, author Indrani Raimedhi, Ranjani Phukan and Anirban Roy of the British high commission, actor Zerifa Wahid, Smita Agarwal, chairperson FLO, actor and television anchor Dr Akashitora, child right activists Miguel Das Queah, advocate Rituparna Roychowdhuri, Snigdhamenon das, and students of Maria’s Public School took part in the conversation.


“What exactly we want from a civilised society? Wherever there is a wall, we the cinema people love to see the posters of cinema to be there. But unfortunately the walls are used for other purpose. We have the shopping malls, all the brands coming, flyovers etc but there is no toilet facility in the city. There are no proper toilets in the cinema halls and also in the only Film Studio of the state Jyoti Chitraban, which is really sad. There is lack of awareness and this must be taken into account seriously” said Zerifa. 


Smita Agarwal said that the toilets in the airport are not constructed keeping in mind the convenience of the users. Snigdha Menon added that facilities should be made considering gender ability and age. On this Arman said that toilets facilities should be with the principle of universal design to suit everyone’s need. 


Akashitora said “Even in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa they had very good drainage system. We have to make people realise how important it is to have adequate sanitation system as well as its use. We have the right to release ourselves, we cannot stop the nature’s call” P.K Roy raised the issue of the disposal of the waste, which needs to be considered acutely. 


“Is building the toilet enough? The problem lies somewhere else, when we talk of urban sanitization, disposal of waste becomes a very important factor”, he further said. 
Subbayyan said that Bio-Digestor System has been introduced for the disposal of the waste. 
Rituparna said that merely constructing the toilets is not enough, what is more important is the proper maintenance and disposal technique. 


Miguel expressed his resentment over the fact that toilets in urban spaces are a luxury, as the people living in the slum areas do not have toilets in their homes. “The children in these areas live in a very unhygienic condition. They either defecate in the open or in the railway tracks”. He further said that the GMC with the aid of Railway need to come up with proper facility for the people in the slums which constitute a considerable chunk of the city’s population. 


The young students from Maria’s Public School said that they are feeling very happy that they have been the part of the conversation on the issue which is usually not discussed such openly, but is very imperative to talk about it.


Anindita Das said that the people in the riverside who build temporary houses defecate and wash in the river water which is damaging the environment. Moreover, the public toilets under the flyovers are centres of criminal activities. GMC has to make a lot of effort to eradicate these problems.


There have been a lot of suggestions such as setting up a city toilet committee, AV awareness campaigns in the streets, inviting volunteers for constant vigilance etc. 


At the end Subbayyan summed up the conversation saying that he received many inputs out of the discussion and taking back a lot of suggestions and ideas which he would consider as far as possible.




Anindita Das

Anindita Das

Anindita Das is currently pursuing her PhD from the Department of English, Gauhati University. She contentedly follows her heart by being a content writer and dabbles at poetry which is her passion. While music soothes her soul, she travels and reads to unwind herself. Another favourite pastime she indulges in is cooking her way into anybody’s heart.