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Norwegian Ex-Convicts Build Restrooms for the Women of India

Thousands of women travel through Mumbai Central Station in India every day. However, Mumbai municipality estimates that there is only 1 toilet per 6,000 women in the city.

This number is so high because two-thirds of Mumbai’s toilets are reserved for men. Even if this was not the case, a decent amount of the toilets are so poorly maintained that women are likely to contract diseases from using them. It is also likely that women will experience sexual harassment at the few places they can change and use the bathroom while traveling about the city.

Most Indian women end up drinking less water and holding their bladder for up to thirteen hours because of this fear, which is dangerous and unhealthy.

“The right to sanitation is equal for all, but unfortunately among all the public toilets [in India], most are for men,” said Alexander Medin, a yoga instructor from Norway. “It is a disgrace for all the women who travel back and forth to work, the poor who don’t have any toilets, and the women who feel unsafe going to the normal, public toilets.”

Medin, along with Akshat Gupta and Keith Mascarenhas from the clean energy company Samatech, designer Tanya Singh, and 10 Norwegian ex-convicts and drug addicts have teamed up to build a progressive restroom system for Indian women. The ex-cons are from Medin’s yoga group Back In The Ring (BITR), a project that seeks to empower people struggling with addiction and to help get their life back through yoga and volunteer work.

The group put together eight paid toilets and three unpaid toilets, and more unpaid will be added in the future. Also, an attendant will be present in the facilities at all times, to ensure safety. JSW sponsored the restrooms, along with donations from the Norwegian team.

“[The restrooms] address specific needs for feminine hygiene, offer child stations for mothers, and changing rooms for commuting professionals. The design concept is practical. The materials are easily maintainable and locally procured. While safety is the cornerstone, the design embodies sophistication and a modern edge. We will create a sustainable template to overcome the toilet insecurity women face everyday. It’s about time,” said Singh.

The unveiling of the toilets went viral! The word was spread on Facebook and other social media sites, and videos of the project received millions of views and comments. However, Gupta says that a majority of the comments were negative and trashed the Indian government for not taking more initiative and for relying on help from abroad.

“The message people should focus on, instead of blame, is how these Norwegian ex-cons, whose lives were full of self-blame through drug use and crime, wanted to stop living a life of blame and start helping. That’s what we need,” said Gupta. The reality is that if the people of India want their city to be better, they need to take the initiative and help.

The Norwegians did a majority of the hard, physical labor and their work was inspirational to the other team members. Medin instructed daily yoga classes, and the team worked at least six hours a day. The participants said they felt “more useful than ever,” while volunteering, and Gupta said that watching them grow and hearing their stories was “uplifting.”

Medin hoped that BITR would help people find meaning and hope in life and through daily yoga and this retreat to India, he believes that it has been entirely successful in doing so.

Featured Image by darkday on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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