As soon as class ended, I headed out to the departmental washrooms on our floor. To my disappointment, the place was a heap of rubble and sand. It was undergoing renovation. My immediate reaction was to run downstairs, but the only available washroom there had a long queue outside it. I called my friends at Worldview to inquire about the availability of washrooms but everyone reiterated that the washrooms around campus were undergoing renovations. No one seemed to have a clue about a functioning toilet for women.
This incident I narrate is from early last year when COVID-19 had still not entered our lives and classes were going on as usual at Jadavpur University (JU). In fact, during the course of that week, I chose to stay at home on menstruating days because I was unsure about the state of the washrooms in campus. The other option for those menstruating is going to South City mall for its washrooms – a six-minute auto ride away from the university.
sad truth of the matter is that this is an everyday reality for college-going menstruators in the city of Kolkata.
During my undergraduate years at a different institution, we would sneak out to the nearest sulabh shouchalaya (public toilet)if we had to use the washroom. The few washrooms we had in our building were always in a miserably unhygienic state – leaking pipes, bins overflowing with used sanitary products, broken stall doors etc. Going to the washroom entailed having someone to accompany you to hold all your belongings or to keep someone from barging inside.
I remember how at every college fest, the primary concern was the availability of functional clean toilets. When we spotted clean stalls or bottles of liquid soap and working faucets in washrooms, we would immediately regard the institution with greater respect.
The ‘Bleed Eco Project’
The primary reason for deciding, therefore, to go forward and work at The Bleed Eco Project, a campaign under the Youth ki Awaaz Action Network, or Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), is because I had never come across organisations which specifically stressed on the deplorable state of washrooms in educational institutions, particularly across the city of Kolkata. As one of their first projects, they drafted a petition to look into the unhygienic and disability-unfriendly washrooms at JU. It has been in circulation since August 2020 and we have managed to secure more than 61,000 signatures.
As months progressed, the Bleed Eco Project – a relatively new campaign hit with the limitations of work from home due to the pandemic – found a friendly nod among fellow menstruators from the city. Testimonials of students with graphic descriptions of the everyday horrors of the JU washrooms poured in. In fact, to raise more awareness about the campaign, members of the team recorded a video of the washrooms in the UG Arts building to emphasise the need to look into them without delay.
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Arjun Gourisaria, a producer, editor and director known for his documentary, Gulabi Gang (2014), is also an alumni of the department of economics, JU. He testified that he was both “pained” and “shocked” to see that nothing had changed about the washrooms in the university campus in 20 years. Several faculty members from various departments, especially the English department, have extended their support to the project.
We are currently drafting a letter to the vice chancellor of the university and we are sincerely hoping to find more support for our organisation and the cause we stand for. In fact, we are hoping that when universities re-open, the usual nightmarish experience of every washroom user, especially menstruators, can take a turn for the better.
Ahendrila Goswami is pursuing Masters in English Literature and loves everything about spring, reading and opinions. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Bleed Eco Project. You can find her on Instagram @ahendrila_.
Featured image credit: Reuters (representative image)