Dear Indian Railways, You Think Hygiene Should Not Be Part of Your Services ?

I had to travel this last week to Kerala to attend the final rites of my maternal grandmother who crossed over the heavenly rainbow on 3rd January. For the uninitiated it is a 2 and a half days journey from central to southern India. Though I am not a great fan of long train journeys but some things just got to be done.

Vedic rituals over we were set to return back over the weekend and that’s when it happened. Those routine, special days of the month. First 2 days in the train. Any woman would know the drill that our mothers have imprinted into our psyche. Change. Dispose well. Anti-bacterial Wash. Repeat. Now here comes the surprise:

Indian railways has no provision inside the lavatory to dispose off a stained sanitary napkin or for that sake even a soiled diaper. The only garbage bin available is outside the lavatory, beside the coach gate, above the wash basin.

Now, anyone who has ever traveled in trains knows that this particular area is never, mark my words, never, devoid of people (read: men). In a country, where when a girl goes to buy a sanitary napkin in a II tier town – the shopkeeper is discreet by lowering his voice and asking which coloured one she wants, the onlookers make it a point to look at her once and the product is finally delivered to her over the counter wrapped in newspaper/ packaged in a black polythene bag. Mensuration is not a body function, it is a taboo. It’s bad blood. It’s an impure phase. You don’t talk about it in public. And in such a social situation, here we have the Indian railways that wants women to throw stained napkins in the only garbage bin available – outside the lavatory, beside the coach gate, above the wash basin, which is no less than a public gathering given the number of people hanging around the gates at any point in time.

Of course women don’t do this. Given the taboo around the normal body fluid and the abnormal glares they will encounter all the way to their seat and all through the journey, they just dispose the napkins off into the toilet pan that opens onto…the railway tracks! Yes, Indian railways is one of the biggest reasons why Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan could very well be a failure because they force women to dispose off napkins with body fluids like blood into the open!

Ask any person, even remotely associated with hospitals and they will tell you that body fluids outside the body can be the biggest source of bio-infection and should undergo disposal by means no less than incineration. And here were have owing to lack of disposal bins within the trains, body fluids being disposed into open areas to be in turn picked up mostly by untrained, unprotected children who do not even wear a mask as they go about collecting waste from the railway tracks.

Dear government, irrespective of all the vaccination campaigns you run, you are subjecting a large part of India to unprecedented hygiene issues and in-turn ruining the general health index, majorly.

Health index is not in the number of subscribers of health packages available at corporate hospitals, or the number of gyms that urban centres have or the number of people jogging at parks, in India it means the health of the many who live in sub-standard conditions and to top it are also exposed to the infections caused by inefficient systems.

Dear Indian Railways, wouldn’t a simple closed garbage bin in the train lavatories, that are cleaned out at regular intervals, make India more cleaner and healthier? Please be the biggest contributor to Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and not the biggest reason of its fall.

I have started a petition addressed to the Union Railway Minister, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, requesting that the ministry consider keeping garbage bins inside train lavatories. Please sign the petition HERE if you too believe that Indian travellers especially the women deserve to travel with dignity and hygiene. After all this is not just about the comfort of the travellers, it is also about the health of the country.

A chance at basic health and hygiene practices is not just a constitutional right, it is also a human right and no one should live a life deprived of it.

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