While a large population of society has become aware of the importance of toilets in maintaining health and sanitation, the queer community in India is still suffering from a lack of basic things like safety in public washrooms. On World Toilet Day, it’s high time society also realizes the need for unisex toilets in India and gears up just like Navel Nazareth.
Navel Nazareth, a teenager, had hardly discovered his true self when he would often fall prey to the bullies of his schoolmates, especially in the washrooms. What could be the possible reason for the same? To one’s horror, it was merely, he being “different” from the societal standard set for a “boy.” The bullies escalated to an extent that Navel even purposely failed his class 9 exams so that he could be sent to another school, and ultimately, he changed three schools in total. No doubt why he advocates the need for unisex toilets in India now and is actively working in that direction.
It would not be a matter of contentment that even after four years of decriminalization of Section 377 in India, the population count of the LGBTQIA+ community can hardly be traced in the government or official sources. In such a situation, it is much more likely for various problems concerning the community to be ignored, not just by the state but also by the people. Likewise, one of the major challenges still being faced by the community is the fear of safety in the washrooms.
Not surprisingly, people living in metropolitan cities are also not deprived of this fear, as Nazareth was born and brought up in a city like Mumbai, where he faced a traumatic childhood. He still remembers how his mates would question him standing next to them in the washrooms while many would accuse him of peeking. “Washrooms are the most intimate places where queer persons are vulnerable to violence at the maximum. They are striped and even beaten up in the toilets,” Nazareth says.
Back in his school days, Nazareth was locked in the washroom. He only used to go to the toilets during recess when people were scattered everywhere. However, he acknowledges that these experiences helped him start an online platform called Closeted Stance in 2018 to spread awareness about the existence and problems faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.
Through this initiative, Nazareth, media personnel and a teacher with the Dnyan Ganga College has recently sent a proposal to colleges like St. Andrews and Prahladrai Dalmia Lions College to open a unisex single washroom for students. “The major motive behind this is to ensure that students from the queer community avail the washrooms without having to worry for their safety. A single toilet will help avoid violence against the community,” he adds.
Experiences leading to the initiatives
In addition, Nazareth mentions that most colleges or educational institutes house an “inclusion cell” that works for the benefit of people belonging to various communities. Those can be made to understand the value and importance of a single unisex washroom. St. Andrews college has asked for a specific time to work on Nazareth’s proposal.
As a matter of fact, to act on a proposal like the one sent by Nazareth requires a lot of consideration, and he is well aware of this fact. “The first and foremost thing for the colleges is to understand who will fund the initiative,” he says, adding that he is reaching out to various social organizations and NGOs for financial support. Moreover, Nazareth has also sent a proposal to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to make it mandatory for the schools to have a single unisex washroom.
Another problem that might occur in executing Nazareth’s proposal by the colleges is the lack of space. Housed in a congested city, colleges in Mumbai already deal with space problems and have fewer washrooms, according to the number of students. In such a situation, the construction of a new, that too, single washroom might pose a challenge to the infrastructure of the colleges.
On the other hand, there is a profound lack of understanding and awareness about the LGTBTQA+ community among students, teachers, and higher authorities associated with educational institutions, which can also act as a hindrance.
To address this concern, Nazareth has been organizing various gender sensitization sessions and programs in colleges. Until now, he has conducted three such sessions at colleges like St. Andrews, Dalmia, and Dnyan, attended by nearly 200 to 250 students. The results of such sessions have also been evident to Nazareth, who was once reached out by a teacher who, after inspired by the session, admitted how she was wrong in humiliating a male student for carrying a “tote bag” — as she believed it to be an accessory of a female.
Many students also reach out to Nazareth after such sessions and tell him that they resonate with the session. “Once a student had come up to me to mention that she was surprised to know how her college, St. Andrews, allowed people to openly talk about gender and sexual identities and how she was pleased about the change,” Nazareth says.
Even though Nazareth’s initiative is reforming the minds and big education institutes in Mumbai at a snail’s pace, he still has a long way to go in turning his proposal into action and execution. But, despite many shortcomings, Navel Nazareth is looking forward to implementing his proposal in the colleges by next year.
Nowadays, when a lot of precision is given to creativity in washrooms leading to one-liners on the boards like — “Sir on the left because madam is always right,” it is on us to decide if society needs gender-based creative washrooms or a focused implementation of safe and secure toilets for people across the gender and sexual spectrum.