Thursday, June 30, 2011 17 comments

The Extinction of the Human Female


Those of you who read the Hindustan Times  may have come across an interesting  report in the June 26th edition from Indore. Titled “ Docs turn baby girls into boys” it describes how young girls are made to go through genito plasty that supposedly turns them into males- all this for a price of Rs 150000!! Considering the price of this procedure is lower than the cost of a car, most middle class families are rushing to grab it.

The Census of India 2011 states that the sex ratio ( that is the number of females to 1000 males ) at 940 women to a 1000 male is the highest sex ratio recorded since 1971. However the child sex ratio ie the ratio of female children in the 0-6 age category  is on the decline. It was 927 in 2001 and now in the 2011 census we find it has declined to 914. This, states the census report is the lowest since our country became independent!  This decline can be observed in a majority of the states of our country with Haryana ofcourse topping the list –this state has child sex ratios as low as 774 and 778!!

Link these two pieces of information and you will see a “ cause and effect” model emerging. Add the pieces of information relating to pre natal sex determination, sex selective abortion and female infanticide and we will soon find ourselves heading towards a society where the human female will slowly become extinct!

Okay, so  our society does not want the female of the human species. But can the world do without one gender? Let us see what happens in Haryana with only around 700-800 women to 1000 men, when a man has to get married? Given the fact that this is a society that is dominated by caste and religious differences, how will these men find spouses within their own endogamous groups? I am told they “import” women from other states!!!

But let us take this situation to the country at large- if the number of girls being born are going to decrease over the years and we have a situation where for every 2 men or so there is one woman or less then how is the balance going to be maintained in society? Some women friends tell me hopefully “Maybe we will then get a dowry”.  This is really simplistic thinking because dowry has nothing to do with this number game. It is a system that is set up by the same patriarchal society that sanctions killing of female foetuses and babies. Reducing the number of women is not going to get men to start paying money to marry them. Yes, money may change hands between those families which may have girls and those who do not but it will not result in improvement of status of women in our society.

 If anything, things would get to be worse as women become a “scarce natural resource” like land and water. Given the laws of nature, where every species wants to proliferate itself, I am not ruling out scenarios where there may be “breeding farms” and polyandry. Power over our lives and sexuality would reduce further until we women are nothing but a “womb”.  

Maybe, there would be efforts made to ensure that the female population increases. But we might also realize that this factory called the “womb” produces an offspring only once in  9 months!!!
Multiple pregnancies would continue to weaken the health of women, age of marriage would reduce further and worse still, the families that give birth to women would in turn also become their exploiters.

Scary isn’t it?

We human beings are so arrogant that we think we can manipulate nature. We fail to understand that the laws of nature require a certain balance to be maintained. The process of natural selection by itself weeds out the species that are unable to survive
( remember Darwin ‘s theory of evolution? ) and we are only aiding this process to cater to our short term needs like inability to pay huge dowries or the burden of responsibility of protecting girls and women from violence. We don’t understand that what we are trying to address are only the symptomatic factors. The cause is rooted much deeper.

Sometimes I wonder if we are serious about rooting out some of these evils- we would rather avoid them. Imagine if parents of daughters were really serious about not giving in to dowry demands? And what if women and their families held the government accountable for the poor law and order situation and demanded strict punishment for those who indulge in crimes against women. What if parents were really serious about giving their daughters as many opportunities as their sons?

What if .. what if.. the list goes on!

Unfortunately, what  angers us is the powerlessness of being the parents of daughters. We would rather that we did not have these children who make us this vulnerable -Right? We go to great extents to prevent this using science and technology to aid us and the result- these shameful statistics!

To conclude, I can just say that if we keep at it like this very soon we will have to go to a museum to see another female like Lucy- this one the last of our decedents!



Thursday, June 23, 2011 26 comments

No PDA Please- We are Indians!

 
After I have started taking  public transport on my way back from work I have had some very interesting experiences. A couple of days back, as I rushed up the steps of the Kasturba Nagar MRTS station to catch a train, I nearly collided with a young couple leaning on the railings lost in each other. As my aging limbs could not climb fast enough, I missed the train. So I made my way to one of those metal seats to sit out the next 5-7 minutes before the next train arrived.

I looked for a seat which was close to where the ladies compartment was expected to stop- it was occupied by yet another couple- this one holding hands. Suppressing a smile I occupied the other end of the seat. Just as I sat down, another lady made her way to the same seat and asked me to move over to make room for her to sit. I was a little hesitant to move because I would then intrude into the couple’s privacy. “Listen, if you want to hold hands please go somewhere else and do it. Don’t sit like this in a public place” said the lad rudely. Poor things they got up and left the place. “Shameless people” she muttered as she plonked herself next to me. I looked at her curiously. She was middle aged and had all the outwards symbols of marriage. I wondered if she had never held her husband’s hands..?

There was a survey published by some magazine ( I don’t remember the name) which had done a rating of Indian cities based on the extent to which Public Display of Affection or PDA was observed. Chennai ofcourse figured lowest and Mumbai and Pune on the top.

Now, I wonder what is it that makes us so scared to display our affections for a partner in public? Even married couples seem shy to hold hands. But, the question is what defines public? In my mother’s generation anything outside the bedroom was considered public. So, in joint families young couples did not even speak much to each other in front of elders.  Couples who were dating and courting ofcourse did not want to be even observed with each other so the question of drawing further attention by indulging in PDA was out of question!

The city of Mumbai is an interesting variation in this regard. A city where space is a problem and given our intrinsic  cultural discomfort with PDA, the definition of “public” if often equal to “ anonymity” . So, the guiding factor there is that if you are out of your house and neighbourhood it is Okay to hug, kiss and do whatever, because, afterall people don’t know you!! Living in overcrowded tenements with nearly 6 to a room, for young couples in Mumbai, the park, or the marine drive is their island of privacy.

Over the years with more inter mingling of the sexes in urban areas, we see more young couples who are atleast not afraid to be seen together  in public places. I am told that in Chennai along the Marina beach there are police patrols to “break up” couples who may be doing more than holding hands.  The reasons stated being “to prevent prostitution”.  But I am sure every policeman knows the difference between a couple in love and a couple involved in a business relationship. Then why this moral high ground?

I am surprised that as a society we tolerate domestic violence observing it but not intervening to break it up yet when it comes to display of affection we are very uncomfortable.  I remember an incident from my childhood when a man barged into the ladies waiting room at Coimbatore railway station and publicly proceeded to beat up his wife. Not one of the women there except my mother said anything. She was the only one who had the courage to stand up and tell the guy to get out. Yet, there is another incident where a young man was standing close to the ladies seat in a bus smiling and talking to his girl friend. The conductor made some nasty remarks and asked him to move away.

“There are limits of decency” is one comment I hear whenever something like this is being discussed. But what is this so called “decency”? Let us face it, no one is doing more than holding hands or putting their arms around each other when they display their affection for a partner in public.  If you are embarrassed then that is your problem. Often, it is not the act of seeing a couple with arms around each other that embarrasses us but the open expression of their love for each other. We see so much of cavorting, dancing, running around trees and worse in our Indian films yet when it comes to real life we  don’t tolerate it. Why repress some simple expressions of love? Parents don’t feel ashamed to yell at each other in front of their children yet feel shy to put their arms around each other in front of them.

Are we as a society afraid to display happiness? Nothing can be more beautiful than an expression of love. If we have not expressed it let us alteast be tolerant to others who are more spontaneous about expressing it.
 There is a saying “Love and fragrance cannot be hidden”- so why are we trying to do the impossible?

Saturday, June 18, 2011 10 comments

HEALTH CARE - A SERVICE, AN ENTITLEMENT OR AN OPPORTUNITY FOR DISPLAY OF POWER?


I am writing this post after a particularly awful experience yesterday. I had gone to this place called                 “ Sankar Nethralaya” -  a very well known ophthalmic destination in Chennai to get my eyes tested. This was  their new branch which was about 5 minutes down the road from my house.  After an  hour’s wait I was referred to the optometric an-  a particularly nasty young woman who disproved the theory that you need to be loud to be rude. She proceeded in a very soft voice to take nastiness to a very high level of perfection. She asked me close one of my eyes with my palm. Now, folks, try holding your palm over your eye for about a minute and you will find that it has a tendency to slip down- something involuntary which seemed to anger her no end.  She then proceeded to check the pressure in my eyes after putting some drops into them. I had no clue what these drops were for and neither did she inform me why she was putting them. It was suddenly a scary experience to find a machine coming towards me and being asked to open my eyes wide to allow a protuberance come very close into my eye. The involuntary reaction of any human being is to close their eyes. Again, anger! “ Keep your  eyes wide open. I cannot check your pressure otherwise”  she said sharply.  Enough was enough!! I got up and told her if she wanted to be rude like this she and her institution could keep their Rs 350 with them. I was going. This seemed to worry her and she said that she had put an anesthetic into my eyes and so why was I getting scared? This was news to me that I had anesthetic in my eyes- then I realized those drops that went in….!!  Finally, I completed this session with her and went back to the waiting area when suddenly a girl appeared , caught hold of my eyes and put drops into them. This was repeated twice after which I saw the doctor who informed me about  the new glasses that I would need and  as I staggered out blindly the girls at the reception came running out at me and thrust a paper in my hand saying – “ you cannot go without filling up the feedback form” . I looked at that form and could see nothing! The letters were floating about on the paper.. My dilated pupils could make out nothing. “ I am sorry . I can hardly see anything on this”  I told her. But she was busy with the next patient and paid no attention to me. I managed to scrawl on the form “ Sorry I cannot give you any feedback because my eyes are dilated. If you really want feedback call me at….”  

This folks, is the story of health care in India -in a reportedly well known private health care centre.  I began thinking what must be the plight of all those who use public health care systems?

I remember nearly fifteen years back when my mother had to undergo a laser treatment for her glaucoma. Her eyes were similarly dilated and suddenly someone thrust a consent form in front of her asking her to sign. I refused to let her sign because she was in no condition to read what was written on it. The nurse in question told me that since I was there I could read it out to her- again something I refused because, I don’t see why I should do something like this when they could jolly well have given her the form before dilating her eyes? My mother ofcourse was terribly embarrassed by all this especially when a doctor came to ask what was going on. “ See you should not fight with a doctor” she whispered to me when he was gone. Now that is exactly what people feel about doctors – that they are some supreme beings and one should not question them.

While I do not discount the fact that doctors are healers and often life savers, I think there are some rights that we as patients have that needs to be respected. We ought to be explained about whatever procedure is being done on us – even if it means putting two drops of medicine into our eyes. Without our permission no one has the right to touch our bodies – healer or not!!!

There is also something called pleasant behavior when we deal with any kind of service delivery which doctors and other health care workers seem to forget.  I remember taking my daughter to a so called “reputed”  pediatrician ( who in those easy times in 1998 used to charge Rs 150 per consultation). He used to be so rude whenever the child cried ( and she used to cry the moment she set her eyes on him because she had figured out that this was the guy who used to poke her with injections) asking me to get the child to stop crying..! A highly unapproachable person, once when I called him in panic after I I found that my daughter had developed rashes across her face on taking a medicine prescribed by him, he told me to take her to the emergency room in The Child’s Trust hospital if I could not wait till the next morning to see him. Now this is the guy who was charging heavy fees for each consultation !!

In a  country where a large number of people are poor and uneducated, doctors and other medical professionals are treated like Gods. So, over the years they begin to feel like God . One of the simple things that a doctor is expected to do is to provide information to the patient and answer all questions.  It is the patient’s right! But the entire health care system today is designed in such a way as to intimidate the average patient.  In a public health care system no one really cares about service delivery while in a private health care there is an appearance of  efficiency but the attitude of the health care workers is the same. I would like to destroy this myth that “ quality of health care improves with paying capacity of the patient”

Health care is neither seen as an entitlement nor a service that the sector provides to the public. It is seen as a sort of “ favour”  that is bestowed on you and don’t you dare question what the doctor or health care worker says.  If you are paying them then they pocket your money and are rude to you. If you are not paying then you get rudeness for free.

Doctors and other health care professionals of Indian origin I am told are some of the best in this world.  I am very curious to know if they  behave like this  when they work in developed countries or is this         “ special”  treatment reserved only for their fellow country men/ women?
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 12 comments

The nuances of hybrid languages…

 
My God, the title sounds imposing- doesn’t it? I feel like some post doctoral fellow at no less a place than Oxford University…!! But don’t get intimidated folks- things are not as they seem. Read on ….

First things first - I am not a purist I do realize that with the coming together of cultures languages change and hybrids develop. A first generation hybrid, (I recall from my genetics lessons in college) exhibits the best traits of the parents- the best example being “Urdu”- the language of poets and cultural etiquette. But if you go along the banks of the Musi river in Hyderabad you will hear a language which locals refer to as “Urdu” but which bears no resemblance to this  language of mushairas.

Some excerpts for your consumption

“ Itta kai ko satate ji?” ( why are you troubling so much?)

 “Aapichh mujhe anjaan maar rahe the” ( you were the one ignoring me)

And then there is this word – “Parson” – literally meaning “the day after tomorrow” or " the day before yesterday" in the Hindi language anywhere else but in the land of the Asaf Jahis and the Qutb Shahis- here it can be used to refer to anytime in the recent past!!

 This language is very unique to the Deccan peninsula covering parts of northern Karnataka, the Telangana region of  Andhra Pradesh and parts of Maharastra. It  requires to be given a distinct identity- I will go with the word “Deccani”- it is what geneticists would call a F2 cross  i,e between Urdu - Telugu/ Kannada/ Marathi!

An absolutely delightful tongue, Deccani is what Urdu can never be – flippant, casual and often rude! ( probably the coming together of recessive genes but who cares!!!!)

Then there is a language very peculiar to India -  IND- ISH formed by the coming together of the queen’s tongue and our own native ones. Indish has sub regional variations depending on which part of the “Ind” that the language is being spoken in .

I will give some examples of  “Tamlish” -  a wonderful tongue that I hear all the time.

“ Tiffen items” is something that you might see in restaurants in the south –referring to idly, dosa etc which are eaten as Tiffen or snacks.

“Mini Meals” – these include small portions of what are called “Variety rice” items- meaning premixed rice preparations!

My late mother in law  who was fond of speaking in English, often used to refer to our part time domestic help as the “top servant”. Being new to Tamlish those days,  it took me some time to understand that it referred to a person who did “top work” ie sweeping, wiping the floor and washing clothes- tasks which are referred to in Tamil as “Mel Velai”

Then there are words like “sidey” which are used to describe sly and sleazy characters. A “two wheeler” refers to a scooter/moped and not to a bicycle though a cycle also has two wheels only. “Bike” refers only to a motor cycle.

Imagine this incident where colleagues in offices have been jealously discussing another colleague who got a promotion because of “soaping”/ “crow catching” the boss- another fine example of Tamlish.

My daughter told me about an interesting expression that she heard one of the attendants in school use to describe a sick child to the principal- “Madam, Vishal has to go home because he was taking vomit”- literally translated from the Tamil “Vaandhi edukarthu”- Guess this is how hybridisation begins

Some universal expressions in the Indish of the cell phone generation – “Give me a missed call”- this refers to calling someone on the mobile and hanging up after 2-3 rings. There is an entire communication strategy around “missed calls” alone but then that is another story in itself.

More interesting expressions – “Line maroing”- used mainly in the context of boys/ men it means expressing interest in a girl/ woman, hanging around where they are etc My friends in college used a pure English translation of this term – “putting line”…!!! Now this is different from the Tamlish expression of “Putting leave”- which is an innocent term used to describe the leave application process.

You might have heard of this term “eve teasing” used to denote a serious offence called in other countries as “sexual harassment”- somehow takes out the seriousness of the offence doesn’t it? Just as the word “road side romeo” is another mild word for a man who harasses women in public places.

We need to mention here the Anglo Indian language – again varying slightly depending on whether it is spoken in Chennai or Kolkata but yes the spirit conveyed by the language is as gay as the Anglo Indian community themselves – I love this language! “What you doing in the Veyil child?” meaning “what are you doing in the hot sun my dear?” Somehow this language reminds me of my dear “Deccani”.  There is a slight variation to this Anglo Indian tongue spoken in Sri Lanka by the Burgher community. You must read Carl Muller’s “Jam Fruit tree” or “Maudie Girl’s kitchen” to appreciate it.

Finally there is this weird language called “devloplish”- language spoken by development workers from the Indian non profit sector like me. Supposedly English, this language would puzzle etymologists. Here are some samples of this specimen- “Federating” (meaning forming a federation), “ Process orientation/ process owners”, “IEC Material” “Strategic direction” “Capacity building” – Sorry, I cannot write down the meanings because I am not sure what some of them actually mean …! Colleagues who work closer to the grassroots in the state of Tamil Nadu use this word – “Es kejji Group” –Guess what it means? “Self help group”- SHG- a grassroot level micro finance group.

Language, folks is a very cultural thing-as cultures grow, evolve and come together the language changes. As a communicator I love expression and expressions often give you the best results when used in their “mongrel” forms. A “mongrel” dog on the street is often scorned for its lack of lineage but I can see so many blood lines in that loving creature. So let us enjoy the language and expressing ourselves in it instead of getting very uptight about the classical this or classical that of languages…!!! 




Saturday, June 11, 2011 15 comments

MEN AND GENDER DISCRIMINATION


I have received a lot of “ complaints” from my men friends that I look at everything through a gender lens  which paints men in dirty colors.  The latest to voice this complaint was K. Parthasarathi – a fellow blogger .   Let me tell you friends that this not the case. Men  also face gender discrimination.

I will begin by telling you the story of one of my friend’s sons –Babloo. Babloo  was very fond of playing with kitchen utensils as a child. His favorite past time was to take out all the little vessels in his mother’s kitchen, arrange them on the floor and play “ cook and serve” .  There were a lot of snide remarks in our friends’ circle about this little fellow- “ What a sissy” , “ I don’t know how she allows her son to develop such habits”  etc…!! 

I have lost touch with Babloo’s mom over the years but knowing her I am sure that she would not have interfered with  a harmless play activity that so obviously pleased the boy. Others of course found this very strange.

In society, we have  strictly defined roles for men and women which is what makes us from being just biologically different as  males or females.  A male child is made into a “ boy”  and a female child into a “ girl”  by the way we bring them up – society is very tough about what constitutes masculine and feminine attributes and those who transgress- whether it is men or women / girls or boys face ridicule!

Being a man is about as difficult as it is being a woman in our society if we do something that does not fall within the defined stereotype.

I remember at the age of ten watching my father break down and cry when he was informed about his father’s death.  I was shocked and uneasy – not because an adult was crying but because that adult was my father. I  had seen my mother cry once before when was in pain but it had never affected me the way seeing my father cry did . So, folks here again is the other stereotype- Men don’t cry- I ask you why not? Aren’t they human? They also feel emotion…!!

While in college there was this incident when I was travelling back from the university with a male classmate.  It was exam time and the poor chap was having high fever. As we got into a bus there was only one double seat designated for ladies that was empty. Both of us sat down next to each other on this seat. A couple of stops later a lady got into the bus and looked pointedly at my friend- her look suggesting that he should get up and offer her the seat  as it was designated for ladies.  I got up instead and told her that he was ill and she could have my seat. Now did that please her?  No! Instead she continued standing saying that she was not going to sit next to a male person!!! Just imagine-what did she , a lady of forty plus think that this nineteen year old would do to her especially when he was unwell?

Another incident- this one involving a very dear friend of mine.  He was being harassed by a woman colleague who used to continuously call him after office , show up at his house and when he  refused to take her calls and invite her inside his house she started stalking him around his neighborhood showing  up at any place that he went to embarrassing him. Finally, he decided to report her at office on harassment.  When he did that the initial reaction from HR was disbelief. It was after persistent efforts on his part that some action was taken against her! He is a very bitter man these days whenever the topic of harassment at the work place is discussed because what he says is so true- “ Had I done what she had done and it was reported I would have lost my job. But I had to struggle so much to even get a complaint through ….”

 So friends,  as we can see men also suffer from gender stereotypes.  Yes, society does accord them a “ superior”  role in the sense that they get more power and freedom to do what they want – but not the freedom to stray from what they are “ expected” to be and to do.  Many men are not comfortable with the “ power” and the “ superiority” accorded to them. They may be happier allowing their wives to take the important decisions – such men get labeled as “ henpecked husbands” .  A girl child who  likes to play cricket, football, climb trees etc is often described fondly by people as a “ tomboy”  but a boy child who likes to play with cooking vessels is scornfully called a “ sissy” – this is so because it is perceived that the girl is aspiring to pick up skills that are seen as superior while the boy is seen as coming down in  the hierarchy of skills- never mind what it is that really these children may have a liking for …!

Discriminations around gender therefore affect men as they affect women. Let us not for one moment think that it is only men who perpetuate this and for their own benefit…!!
Wednesday, June 8, 2011 11 comments

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK


Yesterday some of us  from the non profit sector met up briefly.  One of the issues that came up for discussion was the  problem of  having to drastically cut operational costs. Some organizations were cutting back on staff as a coping mechanism. Others were trying to move into smaller offices in not so reputable neighborhoods.

We were wondering why no one had thought about looking at the “work from home “ option for those people whose jobs did not involve public interface . After all corporates  were doing it these days. So why not non profits?

But you will be surprised to hear the resistance to this “work from home” idea – most of this coming from some very experienced and senior people in this sector.

Objection 1 “ Response time reduces if people work out of home”

Objection 2  “ If there is a need to meet people cannot make it”

Objection 3  ( this one takes the cake along with the bakery!) “ How are we sure that people are working for the complete 8 hours? They could be working only for 4-5 hours” !!!!!!

While objections 1 and 2 are very person specific in the sense that some people respond late wherever they are to any correspondence or pressing issue objection 3 was what astounded me! It brought out the poverty of understanding on the  person’s part.

It told me that many people think that being involved in some activity is what work is all about and not about completing it. There have been days when I have completed my planned work for the day by about lunch time but due to attitudes like this have had to hang on in office till 4.30PM when I receive comments on reports done and so I do a second draft which again takes about a couple of hours to get response and finally I leave the office at 6.30PM while my effective working time has been less than 5 hours!!!

I wonder along the way if this is a  male thing?  Since most men really are not expected to shoulder much responsibility or “do work” at home – they like to spend these hours away at work coming back home by 7PM or so feeling very pleased with themselves.

But it is another story for us women…!! Due to inefficient management of time at the work place we are unable to manage our time at home. I also realize that objection 3 is a reflection of  a systemic failure. If we have to keep employees completely engaged in “work” for  8 hours the entire chain has to function in a manner that work keeps coming in to all for the 8 hours.

Consider this – I have 3 important reports to complete – they need to be finalized by this evening. My daughter is down with the flu. So what do I do? I take off and after completing  my household work by 10AM sit next to her and hammer away at the key board completing reports 1 and 2 . At about 12 noon I take a break – coax my daughter to eat lunch, get her to eat a paracetamol and after doing the dishes go back to report 3 which is over by 4.30 PM. I then take her to the paediatrician and we are back home by 6 . I open my inbox to check if there are any comments on these “important reports”--- none!!!!!  I receive comments about 3 days later!!! So you see, it becomes crystal clear – in order to hide systemic inefficiencies we insist that people be physically present at the work place.

I would like to quote another example – this time from the days of yore when typists were employed in droves by organizations. There was this lady who was recruited by an office. She wanted to be given work to be taken home and completed but ofcourse asses like those I wrote about earlier were there even in those days. They insisted that she should be physically present. She had this condition that if for more than an hour she was without any typing work she would pack her things and leave for the day. Now the situation that arose was very interesting- she was  a very fast typist and a very good one in the sense that there would be no mistakes in the drafts. People were completely exhausted in keeping her engaged. They started blaming each other for the delays being caused ( remember the one hour gap deadline) and finally it became very clear that most of the people in that office were taking about double the time to do any task- it took a humble typist to make them realize that!

We are so caught up in activities that we fail to look at the deliverables. Sometimes I also think that if organizations were to seriously look at planning and evaluating against employee deliverables then there would be a lot of managers who would go out of jobs ! Most of often work allocation and setting deliverables are something that the management style in our country is just not geared for. We like to treat our employees like children- “Are you at your desk or are you standing in the corridor chatting with someone?” Well, nobody seems to realize that so long I and the person with whom I am chatting have completed our tasks for the day what is the harm? Or if chatting is a problem, then let us go home so we can do something more useful there.

My daughter’s physics text book defines work as Force x distance. While I would have earlier said that it is “task completion within a time line” after that meeting yesterday I feel it should be  “heat generated by the action of a person’s  backside on a chair”-  the more the heat generated more the work done!!!! A sure answer to the power situation in our city today if we can convert this heat energy to electrical energy!


Friday, June 3, 2011 33 comments

TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE……..!

 
I was on a bus yesterday traveling from Nagapattinam to Chennai! The bus started at about 1.30PM from Nagapattinam and chugged on along the highway through the afternoon heat. After about 4 hours of travel it stopped suddenly – there were no shops or restaurants nearby. I wondered why this unscheduled stop?  Realized the answer soon enough as the men in the bus started to troop down outside and to the bushes adjoining the road and came back into the bus looking very pleased with themselves!

I looked around at my women co passengers wondering if anyone would venture out. But none did and so we chugged along with the pee swishing  inside our bladders!

This, my friends is the plight of most women in a public place or a public transport that is without an enclosed toilet. 

I remember a discussion with some friends of mine about what we hated most about being women- dowry, female infanticide etc etc surely. But more practically we felt it was the inability to pee at will. I often look enviously at men who can pee anywhere without a thought.

The government offices are often the worst in terms of facilities relating to ladies toilet. Yes, there is usually a loo but it is securely locked and no one knows where or who is the holder of the keys.

For those of us who work in the non profit sector travelling to god forsaken places it is more of a problem than our sisters who have the benefit of office based jobs with a toilet. Often we are in unfamiliar locations alone and a toilet is probably the last thing we want to look for on our own. This reminds me of an incident in college when we were travelling by a night bus in Gujarat as part of a college rural trip. The bus stopped at about 1 AM at some unknown place and my friend …  S… wanted to pee. I decided to accompany her and we ventured out in the dark to what looked like a toilet. I asked her to go in first since she appeared to be more in need of a toilet than me. After about a minute I heard a scream and there was S rushing out holding her pyjamas at the waist screaming.. apparently the “toilet” in question had an opening at the back through which some pigs had made their way inside while she was at the job! Of course all this screaming had attracted a lot of attention and finally even those who were contemplating the bushes nearby decided not to !

I have never understood this practice of locking women’s toilets in public places or institutions. Even my  prestigious  alma mater  in Mumbai had the practice of locking ladies’ toilets after 6 PM. So if one had to use the toilet we would have to trudge all the way to the girls hostel. I had to deal with this emergency during a campus interview when I was the next candidate in line. There was no time to go to the hostel. So, I asked one my male classmates to stand guard while I used the gents toilet!!! Desperate situations call for desperate measures folks!!

 The other day I was passing through T. Nagar where I spotted a traffic constable leaving his post and going to the nearest wall…!  I wonder how women constables must be managing?
I don’t know about others but I cope with this problem of inability to relieve myself by reducing my intake of water – BAD I know but there is no other way!! I found a lot of my women colleagues in the non profit sector also do this. One of them was seriously ill with a kidney problem on account of this.

Silly and trivial though it seems I think the access to clean and safe toilets in public places is one of the basic rights and for women it is more than just that – it encourages our participation in a lot of spheres. For e.g  a study conducted by an NGO found that there was increased female drop out in schools which did not have toilets. This drop out was more at the middle school level when girls begin to grow up and cannot relieve themselves in public.

I know we women have been taught to repress and deny the existence of a lot of our bodily functions but that does not mean that it is not a need. It is certainly a need and  unless we begin to voice it without embarrassment the world would continue to pretend that women do not need to relieve themselves. So.. as one of my friends responded to my text message on the men on the bus getting down to pee while the women stayed inside I would say that if the bus does not stop somewhere safe for women to pee at reasonable intervals of time during a journey – the next time the men leave the bus to do their job we should do it inside the bus to teach them a lesson!!!!!

 
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