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Girls Forced to Use Boys’ Washrooms for Five Months in Chennai School

Although the girls’ bathroom renovation was completed by August, it wasn’t open for use until November.

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In 2013, the union government introduced the Nirbhaya fund via the annual budget to enhance the safety of women in the country. Ironically, at the Chennai Middle School, located at Ram Nagar, Triplicane, the safety and security of girl students were compromised on the account of the Nirbhaya fund. 

In April last year, several crores were allocated from the Nirbhaya fund to 159 Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) schools to either renovate the existing bathroom or build new bathrooms for girl students. Similar to many other GCC schools, the renovation of the girls’ bathroom at the Chennai Middle School began in June, when students returned from their summer break. As a result, the girl students were forced to use the same bathroom as that of the boys.

Although the girls’ bathroom renovation was completed by August, it wasn’t open for use until November.

The school’s headmaster (HM) Indira told The News Minute that they had been waiting for the GCC to send an official to inaugurate the bathroom since August.

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According to a source who wished to remain anonymous, the toilets’ latches in the boys washroom were broken.

“Boys had at times opened the door without realising that girls were using the toilets. Those five months between June and November were very traumatising for the girls,” they said. 

Girls Allege They Developed UTI

Several girls had allegedly developed Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) as the washrooms were unkempt. Girl students have also alleged that the caretakers who clean the bathrooms used “vulgar words” when they were questioned about the unhygienic state of the bathroom.

“There were seven and eight year olds who were suffering from UTI. They kept complaining of a burning sensation while peeing and were crying in pain for days together,” the source said. 

One of the parents who wasn’t aware about the UTI feared that her daughter was sexually assaulted and rushed her to the hospital. “She was crying in the hospital, but was eventually relieved to know that her seven-year-old daughter had only developed an infection,” the source said.

In an attempt to avoid any unfortunate encounters or infections, a majority of girl students had resorted to controlling their urge to pee during school hours. “Many of the girls from classes 6-8 refused to pee in school. They would rush home to pee because they were either uncomfortable given how dirty the toilets were or afraid that boys would walk in. The whole school was using the same toilets,” the source added.  

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'Menstruating Girls Were Missing Classes'

Additionally, the menstrual health of the students had also gone for a toss during those five months. “Girls who were menstruating refused to go to school in the first place, thus missing several days of classes every month. The school’s teachers and the HM were least bothered. Despite highlighting this, the school officials refused to open the renovated bathroom,” the source added.

Another source who is closely associated with the school said, “Young girls refused to drink water all day. Some of them had to be taken to the Royapettah hospital due to problems such as dehydration.” 

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‘School Waited Till Official Inauguration of Renovated Bathroom’

While the parents of the school protested the school’s decision to wait until the official inauguration in September to open the renovated bathroom, the school authorities pacified them by lying about pending plumbing and piping works. According to a source, the school had also successfully kept this lie under wraps by disallowing parents from entering the school during afternoon hours to give lunch to the children.

“Previously, parents used to go inside the school and give lunch to their children. They have been stopping parents at the gate over the past few months. Moreover, the authorities at this school ensured that the parents didn’t communicate about this problem to anyone outside for all of those five months,” the source told TNM.  

“One of the parents was so exhausted from fighting with the school authorities that they removed both of the girls from the school. The parents of all girl students were equally worried for their children’s safety, because we hear a lot in the news about schoolchildren falling prey to sexual harassment. Many parents have decided that they will shift their wards to different schools,” the source added.

‘Only One Bathroom for All Teachers'

A mentor who is often associated with the school, who also wished to remain anonymous, pointed out that there is only one bathroom for all the faculty members who work at this school. Hence, oftentimes, the male staff too used the same bathroom that the girl students were forced to use. They also highlighted that many of the students’ parents cannot afford to enrol their children in private schools.

“The parents are enrolling their children here hoping that their education and health will be taken care of. But for the girl students, both their physical and mental health had gone for a toss this year and that has, of course, affected their education and health,” they said. 

In November, the parents’ association protested inside the school campus to open the girls’ bathroom.

But HM Indira refused to do so. “I knew that the children were suffering, especially girls who were menstruating. But the fund came from the union government. If I had decided to open it without any authority inaugurating the facility, I might have been questioned by higher officials,” the HM told The News Minute

Sources said that a senior teacher was eventually made to inaugurate the bathroom after the parents refused to leave the school’s campus until it was opened in November. However, the HM has claimed that after the protest by parents, Gomathi, Assistant Engineer, GCC, inaugurated the bathroom. “We were hoping that the councillor of Triplicane would inaugurate it,” Indira said.

Although the girls’ bathroom renovation was completed by August, it wasn’t open for use until November.

The renovated bathroom.

(Photo: The News Minute)

When The News Minute asked Santhi, Education Officer (EO), GCC, to comment on the issue, she redirected us to the Assistant Education Officer (AEO). Nagalakshmi, the AEO, was unaware of this issue. According to the EO, renovation under the Nirbhaya scheme has been completed in 99 schools. 

Meanwhile, at the Chennai Higher Secondary School in Choolaimedu, HM Nalini Johanna had to instruct the girl students to use the teachers’ bathroom. “We have four toilets in the teachers’ bathroom. Almost 50 girl students plus 13 female staff used the same bathroom between September and November 2022,” Nalini said. 

It is learnt that several GCC schools did not have good alternative toilet facilities for girls to use while the existing bathrooms were being renovated or rebuilt. When TNM questioned the government’s decision to undertake this project during the academic year, the AEO simply cited that since it comes under the Nirbhaya fund, the order came from “higher officials who manage the city” and, therefore, had to be implemented soonly.

(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Students   Nirbhaya Fund   girl students 

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