By Romita Saluja
When women are out in public in Indian cities, they struggle to find somewhere clean and safe to go to the bathroom. Public toilets are scarce, often dirty, and mostly for men. “Holding it in” is a constant annoyance and a health-and-safety problem for women in India—especially if they are menstruating or pregnant. A lack of adequate toilet facilities even causes some girls to drop out of school.
In the 4-million-person city of Pune in western India, Ulka Sadalkar and Rajeev Kher, who together run a company that supplies portable toilets to businesses, converted an old municipal bus into a mobile public restroom for women in 2016. Sadalkar said the idea was born after the two entrepreneurs held a brainstorming session with Pune’s municipal commissioner, Kunal Kumar. Their company was already providing portable toilets for migrant workers at construction sites and to event-management companies. Kumar “suggested that we take inspiration from a similar model in San Francisco that was converting old buses into restrooms for the homeless,” as Sadalkar recalled.
Over the next year, the government of Pune offered 12 decommissioned buses to be turned into women’s restrooms and stationed near major bus stops, recreational areas, and community centers.