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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 16, December 1-15, 2012
Overpowering stench of apathy
By Catherine Gilon

Despite a Supreme Court order insisting that toilets be provided in all government schools, lack of clean water and ill-maintained sanitation are problems plaguing several schools in India. Recently, the poor performance of Chennai schools in -sanitation ratings conducted by the Central Board for Secondary Education highlighted the harsh realities on the ground, a sobering thought considering that it is children (especially girls), their health and upbringing that are directly affected.

Mary, a Class II student in a well-known school, says most students in the school do not use the toilets, unless absolutely necessary, because they are so badly kept. "The worst part is sometimes there is no water and we need to fill a bucket from a common tank and carry it to the restroom to use; it is so embarrassing," she says. Mary's brother Raj, a Class 8 student in a matriculation school in St. Thomas' Mount, says he has never used the toilet in his school because of the unbearable stench, and adds, "I'd rather hold on till I reach home, but most boys just relieve themselves in the street."

Two years ago, Bhavani, mother of ten-year-old Krithika, who had just then returned from the United States with her family, said, "I wanted her to go to the best school in Chennai. I chose a good, result-producing school but, after just a day in there, my daughter refused to go. It was shocking for me to know it was because the toilets had no doors (for students) upto Class 3. We then moved her to another school. This time, I checked the restrooms first." As a teacher said, "Neat toilets are not unachievable, they are not just given due importance."

However, not every story is as grim. Padma K.S., a teacher in Chennai Public School, is glad to say there are about 15 toilets on each floor. The toilets are cleaned every two hours by a class attender. I decided to check randomly with students there and found they were happy with the condition of the restrooms. Private schools in Chennai seem to have a slightly better sense of sanitation environment than government schools, perhaps because the control is usually wielded by a single unit.

While the Chennai Corporation has successfully initiated the distribution of free sanitary napkins for girl students, backed by an awareness class conducted by a doctor on proper usage and disposal, the availability and maintenance of school toilets are not given as much importance. Lack of proper toilets facility, teachers say, could lead to spread of diseases and even children dropping out. Be it spread of contagious diseases such as swine flu, or urinary tract infection because of not urinating for long hours, improper sanitation has led to schools becoming breeding grounds for diseases in the city.

According to the principal of a higher secondary school for girls, the toilet-student ratio is so poor in most schools that many children find it difficult to go to toilet during a break. "Even the 20 toilets (for 2500 children) we have are run by the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and finding scavengers to clean them is a challenge, what with napkins clogging the toilets regularly," he says. With most of the children coming from low-income groups, they are unlikely to have had experience of going to proper toilets. Adds the principal: "Classes to educate students on toilet usage should be encouraged. Toilets will be constructed as per the court ruling, but it is their maintenance that becomes an issue. Using washable tiles and maintenance checks by the sanitary department are musts."

Vijaya, a government school teacher, refers to another ugly problem. "Though our toilets are maintained, some of the Class 12 children relieve themselves against the school walls. When they are told to use the toilets, they simply refuse to comply. With no stringent rules in place against public urination, these children reflect society at large – a callous urge to litter our streets."

A recent CRY (Child Rights and You) survey revealed that inadequately maintained rest rooms were a major cause for school dropouts. Says P. Krishnamoorthy, assistant general manager, CRY, "Lack of functional toilets is also one of the contributory factors for pushing girl children out of the school system. Inability to attend to the call of nature for the entire school hours has led to dropouts, with adolescent girls bearing the brunt."

Krishnamoorthy points to the need for separate toilets for girls and boys. "In our survey, more than 15 per cent of the respondents in Chennai said that schools near their locality did not have separate toilets for girls and boys, and 94 per cent said that separate toilets were important in schools."

CRY teachers and students have suggestions for improvement: adequate water facility; timely repair of damaged toilets; adopting hygienic measures; and appointment of sufficient non-teaching staff; education of children on proper toilet usage; monetary rewards for sanitary workers in schools as well as for prinicipals (for supervision and accountability); declaration of schools as litter-free zones; penalty on students urinating against walls; and introduction of compulsory community service such as cleaning walls – (Courtesy: grassroots, a journal of the Press Institute of India).

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In this Issue

Projects in suspended animation
Pedestrian power to take on lack of attention to them
Overpowering stench of apathy
The 'Father of Indian Cricket' in Madras...
...And founder of the MUC 125 years ago
An ideas man in the publishing world
The 'Radio Vadhyar' as a Tamil scholar
Songs, films and essays

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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