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The following is an introduction to an embarrassing experience I had several months ago:    From a Tribune online edition, Chandigarh, India, for Thursday, October 7, 2004 (

Nation without toilets
Govt cannot afford to be callous anymore

Fiftyseven years after Independence, Union Minister of State for Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation Selja’s statement that over 70 crore Indians do not have access to proper toilet facilities does not come as a surprise. On the contrary, this reveals the gross failure of successive governments at the Centre and in the states to provide basic sanitation to most people. The country has no dearth of programmes and committees on how to improve sanitation. But what has been lacking is the political will to achieve this objective. Sadly, though India has made significant strides in science and technology over the years, most people are forced to defecate in the open in the absence of toilets. This is particularly devastating for women as it severely hurts their self-esteem, dignity, safety and indirectly their literacy and productivity. Studies reveal that poor women in most states, without access to toilets, try to avoid their use by not drinking water when thirsty or eat when hungry. This, in the process, has affected their health.

Lack of sanitation is the primary cause of many infectious diseases. Over five lakh children die in the country every year owing to diarrhoea. According to a study, over 180 million mandays — equivalent to Rs 12 billion — are lost every year because of sanitation-related diseases. Most public health problems can be checked if the government focussed attention on sanitation and hygiene.

The goal of total sanitation can be achieved if there is political will. The Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP), launched in the 1980s, failed because the subsidy of Rs 2,000 a toilet was too meagre, making the project unsustainable. Though the CRSP was scrapped, it raised the sanitation coverage to 14 per cent in the 1990s from almost zero in the 1970s. Organisations like Sulabh International have proved that affordable and sustainable toilets can be built for various categories. More NGOs should come forward to supplement the government’s efforts to meet what is the basic human need.

When I was at a wedding several months ago I became tired of waiting for my wife, Judy, to quit speaking to her friends, so I decided to go out to the car and walk our dog, Mia (more on Mia can be found in “My Pets,” on my website,

Because we were not among the first to arrive for the wedding, we had to park in the back of the lot which was over a block away from the front of the building. Before I finished walking Mia, I recognized that I had to have a bowel movement. I quickly returned Mia to the car and began walking to the rear of the building.

While I was walking toward the building, I realized that I could have driven to the front, but I was worried about finding a parking space and that Judy would not be able to find the car.

There were several doors in the rear of the building, none of which were well lit. I chose the nearest, found it was locked, and gave up trying the rest.

I went toward the front entrance, asked several men where the bathroom was, and shortly after I entered the restroom and before I reached the stall, nature took over. I had one of the worse bowel movements in my life since I was trying to eat the right foods and take a bulk laxative to avoid constipation! Fortunately, none of the stool dropped on the floor and no one else was then present. However, I felt very depressed, not only because of this very rare experience for me, but also because I was wearing one of my better suits, a dark blue wool worsted.

It was really gruesome! Even down the pants legs! I thought of but did not even consider looking for Judy like that because I was afraid feces would drop! (In the days when it was fashionable to wear thick knickers I would still have worried about leakage.) Then the management might have needed to close the whole place down (several halls were occupied with weddings)!

I went into the nearest stall, and remembering how my mother washed all our cotton diapers when we were children, proceeded to disrobe and wash each item in the toilet. Fortunately my suit coat, shirt, tie and undershirt were intact. However, it was not long before the restroom became occupied, and the visitors were realizing what I was undergoing. Many laughed the kind of laugh of people have when recognizing that someone was hurting (and consequently they were hurting) but with relief that it was not them. Despite my exercising due care and caution, I repeatedly had to wash the floor by the toilet. As a result, the management learned what I was doing and closed off the restroom.

I did not have my cell phone accessible, so I could not call Judy. I had forgotten the name of the reception we were attending, so I could not give notice of my predicament.

Soon Judy began wondering where I was, so she walked back to the car. She waited a while for me, and thought that I was in the bathroom. However, by then the bathroom was off limits. Judy asked whether I was inside, and apparently the guard at the entrance did not know I was still within it, so he said it was closed off and unoccupied.

Judy then thought that I was walking or had obtained a ride home, so she went home without telling anyone.

When I finally finished cleaning my clothes, I inquired where Judy was, and learned that she was looking for me. I informed a friend about my predicament and he searched for her with me. Not finding the car or her, I asked to borrow his cell phone, thinking that she might be home. Fortunately she was, and she came back to get me.

When I arrived home Judy washed my clothes and I had them dry cleaned. They still fit me well, and of course, are odor free!

If the reader sees me wearing a dark blue suit, you can be assured, as always, that it is safe to hug me. Even my masseuse states that I smell good and feels that she does not need to apply scented oils to my body!

For a while I did not want to speak of my experience. However, I soon realized, after reading that a disabled man had undergone the same experience while attempting to reach a bathroom at a large stadium, that my experience was not unique. I also learned a valuable lesson from it: Until that experience, I had not truly felt that I was the most important person in the universe to myself. I realized that I should have taken a chance that the car would be towed away and parked it at the front of the building.

When I was vacationing in Paris, France in 1960, I recognized the accommodating attitude the French had toward nature’s needs: They had public outside urinals. I do not remember whether they had outside toilets then, but the following website indicates that they have outside pay toilets now:

So my question is: When will we, as one of the richest countries on Earth, give greater consideration to one of our basic needs? Fortunately I do not know of any place in the United States that has such wretched living conditions as portrayed by the Tribune article above. We went through such growth experiences in the early history of our nation. However, it has been estimated that 20% of our population have irritable bowl syndrome, and for some of them it is disabling!

I have had to tell party store owners and video rental stores that I have an emergency---that I must go to the bathroom immediately or else I would go in my pants, before they would allow me to use their bathrooms. A note here: I could not find it now, but there is an old English common law case that gives a person a right to use an available bathroom. However, obviously you must get permission from the owner first or you might get shot!

David C. Hakim Rochester, Michigan December 7, 2007