Meena*, a part-time domestic worker in South Delhi, begins working at 7 am every day. Well into her 50s, she is employed by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to sweep roads and collect household waste from residences in Munirka. Once this work is complete, she also cleans the toilets in 3 to 4 houses in the area. She completes her work by 3 pm. During her workday of over 8 hours, Meena doesn’t use the bathroom, even when she wants to. She says, “I have never asked any of my employers if I can use the toilet.”
Similarly, Preeti*, a 30-something domestic worker from the same area, says, “I work in 5-6 houses, where I sweep and mop the floor and wash the dishes. Only one Aunty that I work with allows me to use the toilet in her house. Otherwise, I either wait till I go home to use the loo, or I relieve myself in one of the parks.” Both the women’s body language and embarrassed smiles suggest that to them, the topic of using toilets is evidently too private to be discussed openly.
Preeti and Meena’s stories are not unusual in India. According to Anita Juneja, a member of the National Platform for Domestic Workers, which is a registered union for domestic workers based in Delhi, the practice of denying domestic workers access to toilets is prevalent across a majority of households in India. She says, “The mindset in the society is that the toilet is the owner’s ‘private’ space, which is neater and cleaner than [the workers working there]. The workers are allowed to clean toilets in homes, but not to use them.” Juneja says that at most, domestic workers have access to a separate toilet built for them outside the houses that they work in, particularly if they work full-time. Read more