For the last two years, the women residents of Vincent road in Kottaimedu have been experiencing tremendous stress. Their anxiety and fear is linked to the most banal everyday activity - eating.
"When you eat something, it will obviously have to leave your body. And with no toilets in our area, the concept of food is terrifying," says 50-year-old Amina. "While the men have no problem urinating or defecating in the open, women face huge embarrassment and have to walk very far to do our business privately," she adds.
Residents of Vincent Road
According to residents of Vincent road, there were three public bathrooms and a total of 24 cubicles in the area but were demolished two years back. Corporation officials confirmed to TNM that the toilets were removed because it was in a 'dilapidated condition' but they refused to divulge exactly when the demolition occurred.
"The bathrooms were just fine. Atleast they had running water," alleges Amina. "Now we don't have even that. Our family lives nearly destroyed by the lack of toilets," she claims.
Social fabric affected
There are over 100 households on Vincent road, which are predominantly dominated by members of the Muslim community. Residents say that their houses are not over 300 sq ft making it impossible for them to construct toilets within their homes. And now with no public toilets nearby, women are allegedly leaving their husband's houses. Residents allege that alteast 50 brides from the village have moved out alone or with their spouses in the last two years. Young women from other areas are reportedly even refusing to marry men from the neighbourhood.
Houses on Vincent Road
24-year-old Benazir for instance got married to a man from Karur only 10 days back. She has come to stay with her mother but her husband has refused to accompany her. "The entire society is talking badly about me because my newly wedded husband is refusing to stay with me. He dropped me and left immediately because he says he can't manage without a toilet," she says. "How can I blame him for this decision? He wants me to stay with him in Karur," she adds.
That is not all, Benazir's sister-in-law has not lived with her husband for close to two years now.
"My sister-in-law stays with the two children in another area where there are bathrooms. She and my brother are married for seven years but she refuses to live in our home when there is no bathroom," says Benazir. "She and my brother see each other only two days a week. My brother can't leave my aged mother alone, forcing him to stay back," she adds.
Some others however, have deserted their own houses in Vincent road and choose to pay rent to reside in other areas.
41-year-old Ruksana and her husband now live in Madikarai , which is 15 km away, tells TNM, "People were refusing to marry our children. They would say -'You give us biriyani and chicken, but where do we go after eating all that? It was so humiliating for us."
She explains that with houses cropping up everywhere, women are afraid to publicly relieve themselves. Several of them are forced to wake up very early in the morning or venture out after nightfall, putting themselves in danger.
"We've complained to the Collector, to the Corporation and every official we know. But they have done nothing to help us," she alleges.
Toilets under construction
Corporation officials, who have faced major flak over this issue tell TNM that the construction of atleast one set of bathrooms will be completed in 15 days. They however dismissed allegation of delay in the project. "The residents will say whatever they want. There is no delay," one official claims to TNM.