National Commission for Women writes letter to Madras High Court over lack of female toilet at Ooty court complex

The National Commission for Women (NCW) on Wednesday wrote a letter to the Registrar General of the Madras High Court, seeking an action taken report within three days on lack of a designated toilet for women lawyers at the recently-inaugurated court complex in Ooty town of Tamil Nadu.

Taking cognisance of a complaint filed by Aditya Kashyap, the Commission said it was disheartening to learn that the women lawyers in Nilgiris have been demanding a toilet in the court complex for the past 25 years without any resolution. 

This prolonged neglect of their legitimate and basic requirement was not only a violation of their rights, but also hindered the ability of female lawyers to carry out their legal responsibilities effectively, said the letter written by NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma.

Addressed to M. Jothiraman, Registrar General of the Madras High Court, the letter said providing a separate and fully functional toilet facility for women lawyers was not only a matter of gender equality and dignity, but also an essential step towards creating an inclusive and conducive environment for all legal professionals.

As per the Commission, the new court complex was inaugurated in June, 2022. While the complex boasted of several amenities and facilities, it shockingly lacked a designated toilet that women lawyers could access. 

This oversight had left women lawyers in an uncomfortable and undignified position, having to struggle with basic sanitation needs while performing their professional duties, it added. 

Women lawyers of Ooty have been asking for a female toilet at the court complex, for as long as they have been practicing. Some of these lawyers have been members of the Bar for 20-25 years. 

The women lawyers said that initially, their male colleagues and male members of the local Bar Association would also make representations to the Principal District Judge and the Madras High Court Registrar, asking for adequate infrastructure facilities for themselves and for the women lawyers.

However, after a representation made in open court to the then District Judge Dr P Murugan, and another one made before then Madras High Court Acting Chief Justice T Raja failed to yield any result, the women were left to fend for themselves.

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud has been very vocal about proper washroom facilities for women. On May 24 this year, during the inaugural event of new building of the Jharkhand High Court in Ranchi, the CJI had pointed out that there were many courts, which did not have women washroom facilities. 

Earlier on November 14, while addressing the audience at his felicitation by the Supreme Court Bar Association, the CJI spoke about the qualms faced by women judges, including the lack of access to washrooms. 

He said at some places, women would leave their homes at 8 am and were only able to get access to facilities when they returned at 6 pm. 

For some, the washrooms were away from the courtroom so when a female judge had to go to the washroom, she had to pass by the undertrials who were sitting, which was very embarrassing for a judge.