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Sunday, 4 May 2014

Menstruating woman denied toilet, 'inhuman' railways fined

MUMBAI: A consumer forum has held Western Railway guilty of deficiency in service for not providing free and accessible toilets for women commuters. The forum directed WR to pay Rs 25,000 in compensation to an advocate, who was humiliated and abused following her request to use the railway staff toilet at Dadar station after she started menstruating on a local train in 2007. 

Calling the behaviour of railway staff "inhuman", the South Mumbai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum said on Saturday that because of a non-functional toilet on a footbridge, the advocate suffered discomfort and mental agony. 

The complainant, S Rajan (name changed), was on a train from Mulund to Malad on January 3, 2007. She told the court that at 10.30 am, she had to switch trains at Dadar. While the train approached the station, she started menstruating. After alighting, she desperately began to look for a toilet and was told that there was one near the booking office counter on the footbridge. But the toilet was locked and despite several attempts by her, none of the railway staff at the station could give her any answers about the key. 

Unable to wait any longer, she requested the staff if she could use the facility provided to them. But she was rudely told to meet the station master. Despite pleading that she was unable to move due to her situation, the staff told her they were afraid she would plant a bomb in their toilet. 

She alleged that she was also physically abused by cleaners at the behest of other staff. She said the chief booking supervisor arrived at the scene 35 minutes later and seeing her crying, finally allowed her to use the toilet. 

In her complaint, filed on December 26, 2008, Rajan stated that she was mentally, psychologically and physically affected because of the behaviour of railway staff on duty at the time. She said she had not regained her confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. 

In its reply, the railways attributed Rajan's untimely menstruation to a gynaecological problem. It further claimed that she could have availed of the toilet facility at Dadar Terminus or a BMC toilet just outside the station. It also said that the footbridge toilet was locked due to security reasons. It said the staff concerned had been reprimanded and action taken against them. 

The consumer forum observed that by tendering an apology for the incident through the divisional railway manager (commercial), Mumbai Central, it can be held that the railways had admitted to deficiency in service as alleged by the complainant.

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