The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 states that every child has a right to full-time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school that meets certain norms and standards. The fundamental right of separate toilets for girls and boys happens to be one of the rules that every school in the country needs to follow. But even after a decade, we still see a shortage of separate toilets for girls and boys in many states. They are forced to use the same facilities. This practice proves to be inconvenient for girls leading them to leave school early or drop out of school.
Anjali Adukia, a Harvard student, was working on a research paper dealing with the persisting sanitation issues in India in 2018. After conducting extensive research, Anjali found that around two years ago, nearly 40 percent of the 1.5 million schools in India lacked proper sanitation facilities. The rate of girls dropping out of such schools was even higher. She interacted with several girls and found out that they were enthusiastic about going to school but were scared. The fear was justified when the number of girls being sexually assaulted while defecating in the open was so high. No parent would let their daughter go to a school where there was a potential danger of assault.
The dangers of open defecation do not only stop with assault. Studies have already established a link between open defecation and anxiety, as well as stress. On the other hand, holding the urine for too long can result in urinary tract infection or kidney infection.
PM Narendra Modi launched the Swacch Vidyalaya Abhiyan under the Swacch Bharat project on August 15, 2015. The Abhiyan was launched to provide safe drinking water and build separate toilet and hygiene facilities for girls and boys in every school in the country by August 15, 2016. The Prime Minister promised to build 137.7 million separate toilets for boys and girls all over the country within a year. The goal looked far-fetched at the time, but once the construction started, the government figured out that 262,000 schools required them to construct 4, 25,000 toilets. Within a year, the government declared it had achieved the goal of building the promised toilets. But, ground reality begs to differ. The facilities that were constructed did not have proper water outlets because of which the water would stagnate.
A recently published report by The Wire highlights the findings of Devanik Saha, who went to Nigam Pratibha Vidyalaya, a school run by Municipal Corporation of Delhi in Sangam Vihar, to check the ground reality. A few girl students told him that after 2-3 girls use the toilet, the water stagnates because there is no outlet, and renders it useless. The rest of the girls have to defecate in an open field near the school. The girls mentioned that it was embarrassing for them since a passerby can see them, and it is humiliating.
The same concern is shared by almost 45% of the girls across the nation. It clearly shows that even after so much money is being spent under Swacch Vidyalaya Abhiyan, the toilets that were built lack the necessary water outlet facilities.
Schools ignoring the RTE guidelines
The most recent case study that made it in the headlines happens to be from Patna, Bihar. As per a recently published report by the Hindustan Times, girls of one of the oldest run government schools in Patna are facing a severe toilet issue. They are forced to share a toilet with boys of another school on the same campus and the security forces who have been camping there for almost a year. The Bapu Smarak Girls’ High School was set up, in the 1950s, in Kandamkuan by former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s sister, Sundari Devi. Because of the school building’s bad shape, it was shifted to the Government Boys’ High School at Bazaar Samiti Road at Rajendra Nagar in 2012.
Since then, the two schools have been operating in different shifts, which were very convenient for both boys and girls, but a recent circular from the education department ordered that both schools be run simultaneously. Now, the school has a total occupancy of around 1000 boys and girls with only two bathrooms. There are no separate toilet facilities for teachers and staff, and everyone has to use the same two washrooms. The school authorities and children were already struggling with the confined infrastructure when they were informed that the security forces would be occupying the hall on the school’s ground floor. The principal of Boy’s section, Dayanand, said one year has passed, and the forces are still staying in the school hall. Their headcount has increased, which led to them occupying the school library and laboratory. He said that he has requested the district administration several times to free the school building from security forces but got no response.
When Dilamani Mishra, the president of State women’s Commission (BSWC), visited the school with her team, she discovered the deplorable condition of girl students. After analyzing the situation, she directed the district education officer of Patna to withdraw his instructions and allow the two schools to operate in different shifts. She also instructed the education department to ensure that the security forces camping in the school vacate the premises immediately.
This is just one example where the girls and boys are forced to share bathroom facilities even after the RTE Act (2009) and nationwide campaigns like Swacch Vidyalaya Abhiyan. There are several states like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, who have not yet complied with the RTE Act and their schools lack basic amenities.
A report published in TOI revealed that under the Swacch Vidyalaya Abhiyan, in 96 percent of schools, the toilet was built inside the school premises. However, almost 26 percent of them lack inbuilt water facilities. There are still around 11 percent of schools where girls and boys share a common toilet.