The Potty Project

Researching sanitation in low-income urban India.


About The Potty Project:

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We are happy to announce that we have launched the Potty Project website —

We are at SACOSAN IV to launch the site and get feedback. Let us know what you think. 

Dance depicting the awakening of the Lankan Lion at SACOSAN, Colombo. 


We are at SACOSAN IV, Sri Lanka and are excited that we are going to be launching the potty project website on Wednesday! Watch this space for more!! 

The Potty Project team is currently working as part of the team behind the upcoming UnBox Festival, a “festival celebrating action at the intersections of different disciplines. It is an attempt to build momentum around design thinking and inter-disciplinary collaborations as the means of driving more sustainable and impactive social and cultural change in India.” Applications for the festival’s fellowships and for the weekend-long conference are due January 10th - we look forward to receiving yours!

The Chennai Municipal Corporation does its bit to make sanitation ‘creative’ !

Spotted at the Carnatic Music Festival in Chennai. Traditional Kolams made with bleaching powder to disinfect the roads. Who says sanitation has to be about boring solutions ?

And on an unrelated note Happy New Year ! We appreciate all the love and support :) 

(Photo Source : Radha Sriram) 

Key Takeaway 17 is “the design and planning of the built environment of a toilet establishes the rules of use.” When users clearly distinguish the toilet as a space being one that is indoors, they use it more responsibly. When users walk into a facility, there is a clear demarcation between the street outside and the space indoors. Since a clear distinction is established, users are less likely to litter indoors or defecate outside the toilet doors as they do in toilets that open directly onto an open courtyard.

Toilets are seen merely as a space for defecation. Sanitation facilities serve to mark out a space that different members of the community use to defecate - either inside or outside. Peer supervision discourages irresponsible use. Enclosed, unsupervised spaces provide cover for activities that are socially disapproved of. For example, not having toilet doors ensures that people won’t waste time and that others waiting in line for the toilet automatically know who is flushing and who isn’t

Key Takeaway 16 is “by disaggregating the tasks involved in using a sanitation facility, users’ sense of waiting time is altered.” For example, three queues of five minutes each are perceived to be less tiresome than one queue of fifteen minutes. In some toilet facilities, users are required to first queue up for collecting containers, then for filling water and finally for using the toilet booth. While the total waiting time for the users may be marginally less if all these facilities were available inside the toilet, having to go to different spaces and thereby breaking up the tasks creates a level of socialization that mitigates the frustration of waiting.

Key Takeaway 15 is “as caretakers of sanitation facilities, women have an upper hand in inter-gender negotiations.” In the context of toilet use, women are able to shame men into adhering to rules with regards to payment, proper use and cleanliness. In one toilet we visited, a mother sits with son because he would get bullied by people who don’t want to pay. With her around, she can force them to pay and they don’t quarrel with her.

Key Takeaway 14 is “efforts required for toilet care-taking are disproportionate to the incentives offered.” Terms on which the caretakers are employed are usually lop-sided. One caretaker we met is required to give Rs.475 per day to the contractor. Any amount in excess of that is his incentive, along with a set Rs. 2000 per month salary. However, to ensure higher use (and hence collect higher incentives), he is required to enforce payment by users, take care of law and order at the facility, run the facility smoothly (taking care of cleanliness, repair, maintenance) - most of which he is ill equipped to do, making the effort and incentives highly disproportionate.

Sharing responsibility amongst close family helps tide over the financial inadequacy of the role and responsibilities of a caretaker. One caretaker makes his son fill in for his absence when he visits from their village. The sharing of responsibility amongst close family or friend allows for supplemental income by creating additional time for other jobs.

Key Takeaway 13 is “toilet facilities are gender and age specific but not gender and age sensitive.” There are many gender and age-related considerations which toilet designs fail to make. For example, for women, menstrual waste is a bigger shame than feces. Even though the toilet facilities are free for use by women, they contribute money once a week to pay the cleaner for cleaning all their sanitary waste . And even though Saraswati Ben, a resident of Mirzapur, has built her own toilet, she uses the public toilet to dispose her own sanitary waste and pays the caretaker a random sum of Rs.5-10 per month along with other women.

Toilets that segregate entrance based on gender/ age also fail to address other more pertinent sensitivity issues that users’ might face. For example, adolescent girls stop using children toilets much earlier than the boys their age. Also, pregnant women and older people have to wait in the same lines and climb slippery stairs to get to the toilet booths.

There is also a “dead-zone” in which children are too young (that is, physically small) to use community sanitation facilities and are too old to continue with sanitation behavior considered acceptable for kids. Kids below the age of 3-4 years old end up defecating at open spots near their house, either in open drains or in the open space near the community toilet. However, kids that are 5-6 years old typically still haven’t grown large enough physically to use the community’s sanitation facilities properly, though they’re usually considered too old to continue defecating in open areas within the community.

Key Takeaway 12 is “in a marginalized and an insecure community, an anchor helps mobilize collective action.” Organizations give anchor and vision around which action can be mobilized. For example, Saraswati Ben in Mirazapur, Ahmedabad has been working with SEWA for the last 35 years. Through SEWA she has been able to inform residents of the slum networking project and mobilize support and patronage.

Fear of standing out is a deterrent for individual action and responsibility. Individuals are generally reluctant to stand out proactively and demand better civic service delivery for themselves or their community. To illustrate, Saraswati Ben in Mirzapur said “no one was willing to take the permit in their name for conducting the festival. I took the permit in my name because I have no fear.”

However, there are individuals within communities who are more progressive and civic minded than others. They are willing to be  part of change initiatives. Dhanraj is an island of progressiveness at GP Block, Pitampura in Delhi. He is a tailor by profession, sells insurance policies to earn extra money and volunteers at an education focused NGO that teaches kids in his community. Over the past few years he has invested Rs. 3000 of his own money to build two public urinals and has participated in shaming drives to prevent open defecation. Individuals such as Dhanraj and Saraswati Ben can be catalysts in their communities when it comes to implementing sanitation facilities and initiatives.

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