“Valuing Toilets” - Moving Towards Safely Managed Toilets for All in India

Mr Sarat Nayak, who lives with a disability in Rasulgarh Sabat Sahi, receiving a SATO manufactured toilet pan from Mx Meera Parida, a Member of the National Council for Transgender persons

Mx Meera Parida, Founder of SAKHA and a member of the National Council for Transgender Persons, was among those who presented SATO-manufactured toilet pans to persons with disabilities, elderly and transgender persons. Mr Sarat Nayak, pictured above, lives with a disability in Rasulgarh Saba Sahi. (Photo: CFAR)

World Toilet Day 2021

by the CFAR team

Bhubaneswar, 18 November 2021: World Toilet Day 2021, set against the backdrop of the pandemic and the growing threat of disaster caused by climate change, the call for “Valuing Toilets” is as much as about having basic access as having climate-resilient sanitation. While marking the day with a special event, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) thought it befitting to salute all the social catalysts who have over the last few years made safe sanitation - infrastructure, accessibility, dignity and safety of all - a core issue, promoting the sanitation value chain and leaving no one behind.

In the introductory address, Samir Ranjan Dash, CFAR State Lead, urged all stakeholders to use World Toilet Day to renew and strengthen their commitment towards safe and inclusive sanitation. “From the beginning, our concern has been to empower community and groups with special needs - disabled, transgender, elderly, urban poor - to voice their concerns and be part of the solution, and today, when we are observing the fourth World Toilet Day, much has changed. With the virtual launch of the Saniwall in 12 wards we are entering into a new phase of collaboration between BMC and the urban poor community.”        

In his opening address, Shri Suvendu Kumar Sahoo, BMC Deputy Commissioner, stated that BMC is planning to construct 67 new public/community toilets in 67 wards and urged the community to be part of the process of scaling up access to toilets. He went on to say that, “We will be addressing all grievances big and small which come to us and also have five mobile toilets and will deploy them in areas where there are no facilities.”

In response, Mx Meera Parida, Founder of SAKHA, a community-based organisation working for the rights and entitlements of transgender people, and a member of the National Council for Transgender Persons requested BMC also make trans-friendly toilets available in the state. "Our signage campaign for trans-inclusive toilets should be scaled up and the signage of trans-women with women and trans-men with men be displayed across public/community toilets, so that we secure (the) recognition and dignity that we are entitled to,” she said, before adding that after Andhra Pradesh, Odisha stands second in opportunities for transgender persons.

The movement to secure transgender rights in India was bolstered by the Supreme Court of India judgement on Transgender Rights in April 2014, when it ruled in favour of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), in NALSA verses Union of India.

“All the intentions in pen and paper should be translated into practice,” emphasised Meghna Sahoo, who heads the community-based organisation, Third Gender Welfare Trust. She appealed to CFAR and BMC to find out the status of transgender people living in Bhubaneswar and requested all officials to include transgender in the Jaga Mission Programme. 

Mr Shishir Dash, State Head, Tata Trusts, agreed that much more needs to be done to make sanitation truly trans-inclusive. With the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0, he urged them “To use the present opportunity and once more advocate with the policy makers for inclusive sanitation and sanction for subsidised toilets.”

While inaugurating the ‘Saniwall’ virtually in five wards, Mr Laxmikanta Jethi, BMC Additional Commissioner said: “CFAR and the community representatives have done a very remarkable job of helping us to set up the Saniwall. It will mirror all the problems and achievements, so that we not only construct sanitation facilities, but also address grievances and change behavior. On World Toilet Day, we should take practical steps, implement our commitments and make a clear pathway, and the city must lead in the providing safe sanitation to all.

On inclusive sanitation, Mr Swagat Jhankar-Mallick, CFAR disability activist, asked when it will be possible to ensure full-fledged access to sanitation for persons with disabilities. Dr Sanyaashhi Behera from the Government of Odisha's Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Department, acknowledged that, “... According the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, they have a legal right to disable-friendly toilet, but we do not have budget allocations for these special needs... so we demand that (an) extra 25 percent is provided to those who have space to make toilet(s).”

Reflecting on challenges faced by the elderly, Ms Bharati Chakra, HelpAge India, said that, “along with accessible, affordable toilets, the elderly need emotional, empathy, care and support.”

Sharing their experiences, 10 Single Window Forum members from nine wards voiced their concerns. Ms Bharati Dakua emphasised the need for community involvement in household waste segregation and safe mechanised desludging on subsidised rates for informal settlements.  Ms Jyoshna Duta shared: “I am sitting at the BMC Grievance Cell not only to ensure safe desludging, but also to ensure that sanitary workers do not face any risk when they render the service.”

On safely managed sanitation, Mr Deepak Nag from Earnst & Young, which provides technical FSM support to BMC, applauded the efforts of BMC, CFAR, Single Window Forum and the Community Management Committee in ensuring safely managed sanitation and mechanised desludging affordability for the urban poor. He added that Bhubaneswar is the only city in the country taking such decisive action.  

Reflecting on the role of men and the importance of changing social norms, Sambit Mohanty, who is involved in the Men Engage movement, said: “Men have a huge responsibility to support efforts on sanitation and hygiene. While women and transgender are doing their bit to strengthen the empowerment process... within the family, community and society, the decision making power is with the men.” He added, “since men do not understand these issues, now all stakeholders led by women, have to engage men and change power equations.”

In the spirit of inclusive sanitation, 12 SATO-manufactured toilet pans were conferred to persons with disabilities, elderly and transgender persons by Laxmikanta Jethi, Shri Suvendu Kumar Sahoo and Meera Parida.

In her concluding address, Ms Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director of CFAR, said that the time had come for BMC to recognise representatives of CFAR's Single Window Forum and Community Management Committee as a Resource team that will collaborate with BMC and government in not only identifying communities without access to services and linking them, but also in galvanising the community to take ownership and its share of responsibility in changing behaviors and in safeguarding the services.

The World Toilet Day 2021 event was attended by representatives from the community, civil society organisations, development partners, media, officials and sanitation experts from Bhubaneswar. The event was part of Water for Women's project, Mobilising, facilitating and replicating socially inclusive WASH initiatives in India's urban slums, which is being implemented by CFAR in Odisha and Jaipur.

The project aims to directly support up to 96,040 people within urban settlements, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable and marginalised people and groups to ensure gender equality and social inclusion in all WASH activities and delivery of services. 


This story was originally published on the CFAR website as "World Toilet Day 2021 - Moving Towards Safely Managed Toilets for All." It has been edited and republished with permission.

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