I’m sitting down at the Ants Café, a cozy little eatery-cum-handicrafts shop. Finally, my cup of tea! Relaxing, yet inspiring, this place and this cup are definitely made for me.

That’s what tea is all about, isn’t it? That’s why I’ve asked for an infusion of mint leaves, steeped in a pot of boiling water. It’ll help me think about all the things I’ve seen in this city.

I’ve been in Bangalore for about 3 months now. As a neo-feminist who advocates for equality for women, men, and other genders, and as a women’s rights activist, my eyes were geared towards these issues. With my advocacy lenses on, I began to sense several areas where life could be improved for women.

The first thing that hit me was the public toilet (WC) facilities. Or, shall we say, the lack of? This is what hasn’t been my cup of tea in this city. I spent a day walking around Indira Nagar, entering shops such as Satya Paul and Staples on 100 ft Road – the high-street on this side of town. As the day was rather warm, I kept sipping from my Sigg© water bottle which I filled at home. After a few hours of sipping, I had drunk nearly 32 ounces of water. If the empty bottle didn’t signal that, my bladder did. I was desperate to use a clean, western toilet (because my knees don’t permit me to squat in an Indian style one).

Searching for a few minutes, I came to a sudden realization: there weren’t any. Not one single public toilet—never mind the cleanliness factor and whether it was Indian style or not! Later, I did some online research and found that the city has a total of a mere 77 public WCs spread out as follows: 33 in the East zone, 24 in the West, and 20 in the South. Technically, these aren’t publicly funded either: a substantial amount was donated by the Infosys Foundation.

If only I were a man! I’d be able to unzip in public view. Sidewalks in this city are great for men since that’s what they seem to be built for (Ladies, beware: if you’re walking on a sidewalk, hike your sari up!).

I’ve been watching closely and thinking over my cup of tea. I’ve found that I’m not alone in my quest for a bathroom. It’s not just me with my western views. Marketing agents and sales girls don’t have many options either. Day laborers just have to keep hacking along after traveling 2 hours on buses to get into the city. I even met a young woman who told me that she just doesn’t drink water because she doesn’t use the unhygienic washroom while on trains—not even over a long haul like Mumbai to Cochin. Imagine going one whole day without drinking water or peeing!

Women go through a lot every day, wherever they are, and especially in this city. Keeping hydrated and being able to relieve oneself is a must for basic health. This is not just a short-term concern for women, but something that affects them separately each day and in the long term.

For now, without a toilet in sight, whether it’s emotional or physical stress, we just have to hold it in.


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