23 August 2016

Why Bhutanese Hide Their Toilets?

In November 2015 over three hundred volunteers helped Bhutan Toilet Org clean all urban public toilets in the country. On the World Toilet Day we put up a modest photo exhibition at the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu to showcase the state of our public toilets. The pictures were organised district-wise and the name of the Dzongkhags were printed in bold.

As intended people who visited our exhibition went first to their Dzongkhag corner and the most common remark we noted was, "I didn't know there was a public toilet there." Of course they didn't regret their ignorance after seeing the disgusting pictures. Among the visitors were the members of parliament, who actually came for another event there but nonetheless paid us a courtesy visit. I took lot of joy in showing them their constituency toilets. Interestingly most MPs didn't know about the existence of public toilet in their constituencies.

That's the level of success we have achieved in hiding our toilets. We are like squirrels who hide acorns and never find them. In Thimphu there are over a dozen public toilets and if you can find five of them you are Terton. In Bajothang there is a public toilet that's never used because no one knew about it. In Trongsa there are three toilets you will never find. In Tsirang and Haa have a public toilet each that are covered in overgrowth. In Bumthang even if you found the toilet you won't find the toilet pot. The story is no better with other Dzongkhags.

In one year we have put all the toilets on the map, at least for the locals but we couldn't do anything about the location. There is no way we can relocate them. But started wondering why our toilets were hidden.

The answer came to us as we began building and managing toilets during public events. The organisers would give us locations where no one can find us. Because they 'know' toilet will be dirty and therefore the act of hiding the toilet is a good-intentioned precaution. 

Continued in August 2021:

The misconception that a toilet will be dirty no-matter-what and therefore it's best to hide them is in a way surrendering to an ancient mindset without a fight. Quite true to this perception, not only are the most hidden toilets left insanly dirty but also vandalized. It will be interesting to do a research to find out dirty toilet casuse the planners to hide them or if the hiding caused the toilets to be dirty and vandalised. It's quite like the chicken and egg story. 

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