This International Women’s Day reminds me of an epiphany about the inappropriate conditions in places relating to working women. Last year, I did visit one of my friends’ house in Uttar Pradesh, who has two lovely children. His younger daughter is a very charming, talkative kid. I was amused by her interesting innocent fantasies. I asked her, ‘You are so good and intelligent! What would you like to become when you grow up?’ She paused for a while. I gave her inkling about her mother; ‘Would you prefer to work like your mom?’ She retorted, ‘No, I would not work in Mummy’s office. I cannot hold my susu too long. You know, there is no washroom in her office. She does not even have a chair to sit upon and table to write there.’ My friend gazed at her with eyes looking as sharp as daggers as if to strike at her for revealing too much. Immediately, she was ushered out of the room.
My friend attempted to stray away from this topic. However, I was curious and wanted to know more about this issue. In this period, my friend’s wife also joined us with coffee. She works in a local police station as a clerk, holds a master’s degree and has served so far in many police stations earnestly. I came straight to the point and broached the subject by stating what her daughter just told us. She looked at her husband warily and then shared the story of her affliction.
Tersely she mentioned, ‘I have not seen good and well-maintained washrooms exclusively for women staff in my twenty-two years of service in any of my offices. Just to mention, there are three shabby washrooms in the Police station where I am currently posted. Out of these three, one is permanently locked and perpetually under the custody of a snobbish male colleague, who does not allow others to use this. The remaining two tatty washrooms are so squalid that none of the female staff including female constables prefer to use them. In case of emergency, mahila constables request their female colleagues to accompany them to those dilapidated washrooms.’
As we were discussing, her little daughter resurfaced out of the blue and snorted with laughter that she would become a doctor and left. There was a faint smile on her mother’s face for a moment but she picked up again from where she had left off, ‘I tried to use my office’s (unisex) lavatory many times but invariably I failed. I felt sick on entering the dirty premises because of the squalor. There is no recourse than to hold urine until I come back to my home in the evening and rush to the washroom. Time and again I suffer urine infection and other related problems because of this difficulty. Inadequate sitting accommodation is another grave issue and because of that, many times I have to deal with severe back-pain too. I would say, my daughter is sensitive and probably that is the reason she said all that.’
‘Don’t you get a chair and table to perform your office work?’ I enquired. She demurred. In her primitive office, there is a small scruffy room with asbestos rooftop adjacent to the stinky hawalat, where she and her other male/female colleagues sit together on a wooden takht and use casted cement platform as their table. There is no individual table – chair arranged for them to do office work. I was nonplussed.
I saw despair on her face. She concluded,’ I am getting old and not able to hold my urine the whole day now. Unfortunately, it appears, witnessing a separate washroom for female staff would still be a dream and I am afraid I would not be able to avail myself of that facility during the rest of my remaining tenure.’ I had no words to console her.
The whole thing was a revelation for me. I am assuming that authorities concerned are not fully acquainted with the poor working environment in places specially relating to women. I think, they should foray into different police stations, nay other government offices also to fathom the poor working condition of the female workforce. There are police stations or government offices with clean separate washrooms for female staff too in our country but majority of them are unhygienic. I trust authorities concerned would take a note of this and get into action. Clean separate washrooms are women’s right, vitally important and hence need underlining.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views or opinions of TheRationalDaily in any manner.