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Public lavatories a far cry in Lakhimpur

By Farhana Ahmed

NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Jan 11 - The district headquarter of Lakhimpur since its bifurcation in 1971, North Lakhimpur town has not progressed enough in the last 45 years. The town still lacks many basic civil amenities and one of the striking features of these is the lack of public lavatories for women. Women and girls thronging the district headquarter daily for various purposes from attending offices, courts and markets, travelling through the town or going for schools and colleges find it extremely difficult to respond to nature�s call as there are no lavatories or rest rooms for them at any public, official and market places.

One very usual but a scene of indignity is witnessed daily near the Deputy Commissioner�s office and the District Judicial Complex, are where the lack of public lavatory make the men folk urinate openly in various corners or alleys. But for women it becomes difficult to find a closed space for the same and they are too forced to do it openly under utter helplessness. The offices and courts, the Bar and other installations in this area have no public lavatory facilities. Similarly, all the branches of nationalized and private banks, financial institutions, market complexes and hotels and restaurants too do not have such facilities for the customers. In this case, women are the worst sufferers.

In 2010 the UN declared that access to water and sanitation are human rights. But this human right has been violated by the authorities in North Lakhimpur. The UN report in 2011 says lack of adequate sanitation affects women and girls in particular. Not only do women and girls have different physical needs from men but they also have greater need for privacy when using lavatories. Inaccessible toilets and bathrooms make them more vulnerable to rape and other forms of gender-based violence.

In the all co-ed academic institutions of North Lakhimpur, the number of separate lavatories for girl students are disproportionate to the number of students. As the district administration has allowed bus stands in almost all major roads of North Lakhimpur, women and girls find extra difficulty as there is no provision for any lavatory on these roads. Though the ASTC bus stand does have paid toilets, but they are not properly maintained for which users find them difficult to use. The public bus stand near North Lakhimpur Post Office however does not have any separate lavatory for women. The civic authorities have permitted the construction of huge commercial complexes in North Lakhimpur without considering the necessity of having toilets within them. As large number of women are engaged in various trading and commercial activities besides visits by many women customers daily, the lack of toilet facilities for them is a big concern.

In June 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the �Sustainable Sanitation: Five-Year Drive to 2015� a push to speed up progress on the Millennium Development Goals of improving global sanitation by 2015 and to ensure sanitation for all. India has launched several large government programmes to expand access to sanitation. The much hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in our country also seems to be failing in North Lakhimpur in this regard as a large chunk of the population, the women face daunting tasks for their daily response to nature�s call. The Bombay High Court�s order in 2011 to ensure clean and safe toilets for women by the civic bodies has not been honoured by the North Lakhimpur Municipality Board as they remain insular to women�s problems. Though the Public Health department has initiated various schemes in installing sanitary toilets in the rural areas of Lakhimpur district, the urban areas of North Lakhimpur is completely ignored.

Safe and clean public lavatories for women in the District Judicial Complex, the DC�s office, the District Bar, post office, banks should be prioritized by the concerned authorities. CSR programmes by NHPC in installing lavatories in schools should be extended to urban areas to address this serious problem faced by women in North Lakhimpur. Similarly charity organizations, the Lions Club and the Lakhimpur Chambers of Commerce etc., should also focus in this problem and come forward in installing clean and safe public lavatories for women in various parts of North Lakhimpur. The concerned departments and authorities, while permitting construction of commercial buildings, markets, restaurants should make it strictly mandatory to have lavatory provisions for both men and women. The existing installations should also be checked by the authorities to provide gender sensitive lavatory facilities.

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