Much has been written recently about public toilets, particularly, those at railway stations reserved for foreigners, some, akin it to an apartheid. Before becoming hysterical, let us candidly examine the causes. After all this has been done in a public place, for public toilets. The railway has not gone bonkers and reserved or locked up toilets for exclusive use by railway officials. They have not locked up all the toilets, there many available for commuters without complaints about congestion. Even though bureaucrats are generally renowned for “booru” decisions, this needs closer examination and “WHY” begs an intelligent answer.
Before we move to the genus of “locked up “public toilets in Sri Lanka, we do see them in some offices, where some toilets are kept locked for the executives. Is it because executives should be given rarefied space to ponder about corporate goals while passing motions? In some wayside restaurants and cafes highly frequented by travellers on the Colombo – outstation trunk routes, there are instances when one has to obtain the key from a custodian. Therefore, this syndrome is not new, but, one necessitated
Unconsciously, how many times have we when checking into a hotel room or a bungalow opened the bathroom door to see the condition of the toilet. How many times have we remarked while on a trip that if the rooms and bathrooms are clean, then half the problem is solved?
Public toilets have high visitor turnover, more so in railway stations, bus stations, airports, hospitals etc. Generally, in private sector establishments a janitorial staff looks after cleanliness. Well established private sector entities have dedicated staff outsourced from specialized janitorial organizations. These toilets are passable. The problem is mainly encountered in government-run establishments. Cynics might ask why, isn’t it the same people from the same country who frequent the private sector and public sector convenience facilities.
The snooty might say not so, there is a class distinction. There, is also a truth in that. Some of the better private sector establishments open to the public are habitually frequented by a class of people whose domestic environs are maintained hygienically. The public utilities frequented by the masses belonging to the lower middle class downwards conform to the wet toilet culture.
In most of these homes there is no separation of the bathing/shower area from the ablution area, in fact it is a total wet mess. People are not used to wasting time to use a plastic wiper with a long handle to dry the shower floor. Imagine in a family 5 with all of them leaving for work or schools each morning, the messy condition of a toilet.
This same genus of people with these ingrained domestic habits that use public toilets in work places, trains, restaurants etc., and in most cases with the same social attitude. While one who is properly toilet weaned, would feel finicky to walk into a wet toilet, to most others this it is normal. Add to this, dirty cauldron one more ingredient, the general Sri Lankan culture pervading very freely now, the one that is TOTALLY SELFISH and the one espousing no respect or regard for others. Stand in a queue, at a bank or to pay a bill, there will always be that body who will pass all others, even have the audacity to put one’s hand over the shoulder of the person who now reached the head of line after wasting much time and call for service without any shame.
Sadly, they are people with no compunction about urinating on toilet floors, not bothering to flush, leave with taps opened, urinate without closing doors, leave toilet doors open, and generally exhibit the worst in the Homo sapiens species. Take long distance trains. Seasoned travellers will know when trains arrive in the morning from the Maradana Railway Yard, the toilets are clean. Even cats have better habits.
How many government and private sector offices are plagued with this problem, and regrettably sometimes caused by their own staffers.
Reading citations about restrooms and toilets at Changi Airport in Singapore one understands the acme of good living and upkeep both by the users as well as the janitors, after all, this is one of the busiest airports used by multitudes of Singaporean locals and tourists. On the flip side, what a sad spectacles awaits a traveller at Bandaranaike International airport, foreigners who venture into them come out with wrinkled noses and faces looking as if they just had bitten into a sour lime fruit. Thus, in two similar situations of two facilities used by locals and foreigners and maintained by janitors but in two different parts of the world, the inference is clear, it is part social culture, part standards of maintenance, and part enforcement. Three factors Sri Lanka has got in total disarray.
It is often said that the culture of a country can be judged by the Driving Habits, which in Sri Lanka has been amply proven by the number of fatal and other road accidents that seem to escalate each day.
The corollary that could be added here is that, “Toilet etiquette of the people are also indicative of the country’s culture”.
All this is happening when we are stating that the tourist arrivals have gone up, the railway is promoting long distance travel for foreign and local tourists.
Therefore, before we condemn the closure or the locking up of toilets it is high time people paid a lot more attention to toilet etiquette, consideration for other users and make life pleasant for all.
After all in a toilet one “relieves” oneself. So to ensure that RELIEF is an entitlement to be enjoyed by all, “etiquette” is the key social word.