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Politics around Washrooms


During visits to government-run primary or middle schools or even other institutions, finding locked washrooms, reserved for teachers/staffs with a signboard “only for faculty and staff” or “for staffs only” is not uncommon. It is the same in a few public and private institutions where students are debarred from using toilets and forced to relieve themselves in the open. It is interesting to understand this phenomenon and arguments behind such elitist preferences to a few and the political economy behind it. Is it just a conscious decision to maintain class hierarchy within the institution or over-consciousness about cleanliness and hygiene? The obvious argument is preferential cleanliness and hygiene. A few argue that they do not feel comfortable sharing the same washroom with students on account of cleanliness and hygiene as students often do not maintain hygienic measures. Why does this not apply at home or at airports and other public toilets? This argument is guided more by the teacher’s attitude and class hierarchy consciousness—where washrooms have become a symbol of representation of a larger system of social hierarchy and power relations, an apparatus of class subordination and a mechanism for the production of subalternity.

Non-tribal teachers have been reported to have said that sharing toilets with local tribal children is anathema to their caste privileges.

Though it is difficult to change such mindsets, the issue can be addressed through appropriate legislation and education. For example, despite the discomfort shown by a few the media reported that the Punjab state education department decided to break this hierarchy, notifying that teachers and students will use the same washroom across the state. This hierarchical behaviour also exposes students to unequal treatment which they learn and imbibe, defeating the whole purpose of achieving equality, justice, and education. The practice of having separate washrooms with clear signboards preventing their use by students not only promotes unfair treatment of students but is against the fundamental principle of education to teach inclusion in a nurturing, learning environment and ensuring growth for all.

Anant Kumar

Xavier Institute of Social Service,


Updated On : 1st Dec, 2017


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