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Leaving No One Behind

A 21-Year-Old Is Bringing In Positive Change In Kolkata’s Public Toilets By Making Them Transgender-Friendly

While the Centre has allowed transgender people to use either male or female toilets as per their choice, the community is still often not allowed access to public toilets

Tridhara Toilet
  • The initiative aims to give transgender people access to public toilets
  • Separate signage for transgender people has been installed in four public t
  • India has a transgender population of over four lakh

The scale of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is magnanimous in nature, and the building of over 4 crore toilets in rural India and more than 25 lakhs in urban India have already propelled the mission as India’s most successful sanitation initiative. But for any nation to be successful in eradicating the problematic practice of open defecation, behavioural change is as important as construction of toilets. And behavioural change does not necessarily mean just using toilets, but also making provisions for people from marginalised communities and allowing them access to safe sanitation The transgender community in India leads a life of harassment and denial to basic amenities, sanitation being one of them. Even access to public toilets is often denied to members of the community, but a 21-year-old from Kolkata has taken it upon himself to make public sanitation spaces across the city more transgender friendly.

Sobhan Mukherjee, an aspiring writer and a recent graduate had always advocated for the community through his writings, but also often felt that merely penning words would never bring in required change for the community. Despite the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation issuing guidelines in April 2017, allowing transgender people to use public toilets, the abundance of harassment and hostility deters the community from using public toilets. The state of the community with regard to access to public sanitation pained Sobhan and he took it upon himself to bring in a change.

I have written exclusively about the transgender community in various publications but their inability to access public toilets is a major problem for them and I realised merely writing about it will do nothing to resolve the issue. I had to do something that would allow people from this community to exercise their right of accessing public sanitation spaces, said Sobhan Mukherjee.

Sobhan realised that construction of separate toilets for transgender was not a feasible solution as constructing new toilets requires funds and a plethora of permissions from various levels of the government. However, the existing policy public toilets could accommodate transgender people and hence Sobhan went around several public toilets in southern Kolkata, requesting them to put up signage in the toilets which would signify that the pay-and-use toilets were open for access by transgender people. But requests to public toilets went unheeded, as many refused on account of how such a move will not go down well with the male and female genders. Some also cited that transgender people would not pay to use the toilets.

The Tridhara symbol is becoming synonymous with many of South Kolkata's public toilets

The Tridhara symbol is becoming synonymous with many of South Kolkata’s public toilets

Sobhan decided to approach his local ward councillor Anita Kar Majumdar with his proposal, who readily agreed and gave him permission to create and put up separate signage for transgender people in public toilets. Sobhan named his initiative Tridhara- which means the third source of power. The name was aptly chosen to signify the strength of the community and their resolute nature to survive amidst all the hostility shown to them.

For me, the name signifies the third source of power obtained from the union of male and female forces. Our local ward councillor showed tremendous enthusiasm for the initiative and gave me a go ahead to implement my idea in the four public toilets in the area, said Sobhan.

The first toilet where Sobhan’s initiative was implemented was near Bansdroni metro station in South Kolkata. Since then, four other public toilets have also seen the Tridhara initiative being implemented, all around the nearby areas of South Kolkata. For his initiative, Sobhan received immense praise from transgender activist Ranjita Sinha.

Sobhan’s initiative, despite him not being a regular activist has been amazing. Transgender people have a very difficult time accessing public toilets and we hope that his initiative will only allow more public spaces to allow transgender people to access public toilets, said Ranjita Sinha, transgender activist and member, West Bengal Transgender Board.

21-year-old Sobhan Mukherjee has been instrumental in installing signage for transgender people in public toilets

21-year-old Sobhan Mukherjee has been instrumental in installing signage for transgender people in public toilets

Sobhan is hopeful that his initiative will find favour among other public toilets and spaces for transgender people so that they too can exercise their right of accessing public sanitation facilities. The young Kolkatan also says the equally important is to remove generational stereotypes about transgenders, which associate them only with begging or creating a ruckus. A new generation of transgender people is studying, working and actively engaged in initiatives to ensure the community leads a better life. Sobhan believes that we should support their struggle in their inclusion into the mainstream.

Separate toilets for transgender people have been introduced in cities like Bhopal and Chennai. Panjab University in May 2017 also introduced separate toilets for members of the transgender community. The stigma related to allowing transgender people to access public toilets however, remains at large. Initiatives like the one undertaken by Sobhan pave way towards realising the real dream of a Swachh India, where sanitation facilities are accessible for all, irrespective of age, race or gender.

Also Read: Is The Transgender-Led Swachh India Fight In Madhya Pradesh Failing?

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