Can Swachh Bharat control public urination?

Public urination has been an inconvenient convenience in India for many decades now. In the almost one year, 6137 community toilets and 1803 public toilets have been constructed across 20 states under Swachh Bharat Urban. While Swachh Bharat is busy building toilets, the swachh bharatis continue to struggle to keep their pants zipped.   In fact, we have struggled to keep our pants zipped for such a long while now that forget roads, neighborhoods, highways, lifts have also become easy prey to this stinky hijacking exercise. Our belief is to keep our houses clean and hygienic at the cost of littering, spitting and urinating anywhere and everywhere.

My 8 year nephew can vouch for this. The young boy had to encounter unusual urinating episodes in the lift of  his housing society. Eventually fed up of the stink, the society decided to install CCTV cameras in both the lifts of each of their ten towers.

May be our bladders are too weak, blood sugar levels too high or perhaps, we are easy lazy. Why bother with the hygiene of a street corner where we need not stand for more than 2 minutes each day? When I asked, the casual ‘scientific’ logic  of urine being a nitrogenous fertilizer for plants; these men claim are on a pee-ission to green the cities! Same as the excuse for throwing organic litter to self-compost on the road hedges.

God-ly tiles installed in a Delhi neighborhood near north campus
God-ly tiles installed in a Delhi neighborhood near north campus

Jokes aside, we have tried many ideas. The best among these being the installation of god-ly tiles in common walls. The aim being to target the religious sentiments of the common public. Statistics of how many of these tiles worked and which ‘god/goddess’ were the most ‘successful’ in this mission are unavailable but clearly, the co-existence of various faiths makes for a distinct sight. However inventive, this smart idea has it’s own set of loopholes. While quite religious overall as a country, we also carry amongst us polytheistic, multi-religious and atheists sentiments which these geniuses forgot to consider. What if we are coloring walls with Hindu deities in a Muslim or christian or Sikh neighborhood? That aside, my big concern is a somewhat dystopian future whereby the faith worshipers fight for the ownership of these godly walls creating a misopportunity for our sometimes not-so-secular mindset? But that probably, is too far fetched.

We explore the inherent neanderthal instinct of ours in full public view. We pee, litter, badmouth, contend for space, click pictures where they are not allowed, harass fellow lesser beings; characteristics that have often become the defining ‘Indian’ experience for the tourists. We basically consider it a victory to break rules in the garb of calling it street smartness. We implore our common sense and courtesy less and our wild-spirited neanderthal anarchic-side more.

The piss-drenched walls cannot retort back to this blasphemy. Throughout history, they have been polite ((kripya deewar ko ganda na karein’ (please do not sully the wall)), stern (‘yahan par peshab karna mana hai’ (one is not allowed to urinate here)) , pissed (‘yahan par peshab karne wala dogla’ (the one urinating here is a bastard)) and downright humiliating (‘Gadhe ke poot yahan mat moot’ (son of an ass, don’t pee here)) but to no avail.

Who can blame the pissers? After all, they aren’t breaking any law against pissing. Only now, after the well-publicized Swacch Bharat abhiyan have the law-makers begun to consider drafting a law under which spitting, urinating and throwing garbage in public spaces will become punishable offences. This development ironically coincided with Agra police caching 109 men in 48 hours and sending culprits for 24 hours of jail time. These arrests were made under Section 34 of the Police Act (Punishment for certain offences such as inconvenience, annoyance to passengers or residents in public places, roads, etc).

Last year, a self-appointed leader of ‘the Clean Indian‘ baron declared a war of tankers on these pissers in Mumbai. With their hoses and a large ‘pissing tanker’, they decided to piss on the pisser. The anonymous heroes declined to pay heed to the gallons of precious water being wasted while (almost) endangering gross injury to the pisser. Such vendetta driven actions might give a rush and an almost spontaneous satisfaction at having contributed to change, are far from being a solution. What shocked me more was their going viral overnight and being applcauded by almost all sections – youth, community groups and even some (well known) civic sector organizations.

In contrast, consider The Ugly Indian, an anonymous citizen group existing for many years now. With their roots in Bangalore, their cleanliness initiatives began much before the notorious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan took birth. From washing, cleaning, coloring walls, they have also put-to-life concepts such as WonderLoo to stop public urination. They are one of the most consistent and driven citizen initiative towards better civic infrastructure to come from India in recent times.

Considering it’s a typical urban nuisance, is the problem the lack of public toilets? We have toilets in most places of work, hotels, malls, markets etc. Otherwise, women would also be found crouching in every corner. The lack of hygiene in these public toilets seem more likely the problem to me. 1 out of 3 times, I have ended up with some or the other urinary infection after the every such unfortunate visit to a public toilet. Thankfully, I haven’t resorted to public urinating so far. In any case, men are less likely to contract a UTI (urinary tract infection).

So, where are we going wrong? We have tried shaming the pissers, attacking them with water canons, imprisoning, fining and of course, building more toilets. Where are we failing as a society? How in the world can India ever call itself developed unless it’s citizens learn public etiquette. I want to ask anyone who ever peed in public? Was the emergency so unavoidable?


Meanwhile, officials in San Francisco have begun painting city walls with a special UV-coated, urine-repellent paint. When an offender (yes, public urination is an offence there) attempts to urinate on a wall coated with the super hydrophobic paint, the urine, instead of running down the wall, will spray back at the person relieving himself, potentially hitting his clothes or shoes. Public urination is illegal in the US where the culprit can be charged under law that specifically criminalizes it as a public nuisance. The pissers can even be charged for indecent exposure and public lewdness, crimes that may require them to register as a sex offenders!

The question remains, can Swachh Bharat alone control public urination? We cannot sit back and wait for this pee-proof paint to reach India. Let’s try and keep our pants zipped till law against public urination is enforced, the toilets quadruple, the campaigns double during the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. We can probably start teaching bladder control exercises right from schooling and also stop celebrating our freedom to pee in public.

Between, my nephew is no less inventive. At 5, he self-taught himself to pee in plastic bags during holiday emergencies. Or take inspiration from Frank (30 Rock reference) who peed in glass jars and used that for his potted plants. I leave the choice to you.

–Arpita Bhagat

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