For a long time, many girls’ schools, especially in the countryside or small towns, rather overlooked the need for bathrooms. There was a kind of casualness about girls’ education, not conscious perhaps, but built into the value system of planners and local educationists. The lack of a proper bathroom, one that also took in its stride the fact of menstruation, was repeatedly cited as one of the reasons girls dropped out of school after a certain age. Schools often did not have drinking water either, or blackboards or separate classrooms, or they might even lack a roof. All this was considered and meant to be taken care of by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Much may have improved since, but the bathroom scene remains depressing. A recent survey of bathrooms in government schools by the department of school education and literacy, ministry of human resource development, has uncovered disgraceful data. Not only do numerous schools in many states not have bathrooms in girls’ schools, but they are also lacking in boys’ schools. More, where there are bathrooms, these are dysfunctional. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, out of 45,714 government schools, 9114 girls’ schools and 19,275 boys’ schools do not have bathrooms, while the bathrooms in 8329 girls’ and 5374 boys’ schools are dysfunctional.
What this proves – and Andhra Pradesh is better than many states, except that it has the second largest number of boys’ schools without bathrooms — is that India’s callousness towards the needs of children has no gender bias as far as basic school architecture is concerned. The country breeds men who instinctively ‘go’ ‘outside’, by the road or on the field, not just because rural houses lack bathrooms but because their schools do too. What hygiene, or manners, or healthy habits can schools without bathrooms teach? Girls may stop going to school: apparently no one cares. Boys can just ‘go’ outside. West Bengal leads the country in dysfunctional boys’ toilets and is second in the race to have no toilets in girls’ schools. Bihar leads in lacking bathrooms in boys’ schools while Odisha comes close. West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, therefore, are least bothered about the comfort of their children, their bodily needs, security and their education. Only Union territories with a manageable number of schools score well. It is a dismal scene.