Deepa Pawar remembers vividly when she first told her family and friends she had joined the Right To Pee campaign. “Everyone laughed at me,” she said.
But there’s nothing funny about the movement that has attracted support from Pawar and scores of other young people in India. It’s meant to call attention to a serious sanitation problem that hits Mumbai’s female population especially hard: a lack of access to safe, clean toilets.
“When a woman is not given access to a bathroom, it is nothing short of political violence,” Pawar, 29, said. “By failing to build us toilets, the government is implicitly saying that women shouldn’t leave their homes.”
Many women who live in what are known as bastis
, informal urban settlements throughout India’s financial capital, have virtually no bathroom access. While the issue permeates class, caste, and gender, the more vulnerable segments of society are the worst affected. In this case, that means women who belong to the Dalit
and other religious minorities.
Often, Mumbai’s bastis
will have a single toilet that is meant to serve hundreds of women in the area. Women who have to leave home for work must wake up early in the morning and wait in line for hours to use the toilet. The other option they have is to urinate in the open fields surrounding the basti,
which is a choice that can turn a basic human necessity into a dangerous task.