During any given long journey on a train, you’d use the toilet at least a couple of times. Notwithstanding the smell or hygiene, one might even take it for granted that there are, indeed, toilets to use in Indian trains. However, until 1909, not all passengers in the country had the luxury.
Instead, they were expected to wait for the next station to use the restrooms. Unusual, isn’t it?
What led to the introduction of toilets in all railway carriages more than 55 years after the first passenger train in India became operational? The answer lies in an interesting letter written by a concerned passenger.
On 2 July 1909, a gentleman named Okhil Chandra Sen wrote a letter addressed to the Sahibganj Divisional office in West Bengal to set up toilets in trains.
In his letter, a disgruntled Okhil laments that he missed his train at the Ahmedpur railway station in his bid to answer “nature’s call”.
The letter, though lacking some of the finer nuances of English grammar, clearly expressed his disappointment and anguish at missing the train as it left the station without him.
After receiving Okhil’s letter and following investigation into the matter, railway authorities decided to introduce toilets in all lower-class carriages in trains travelling more than 50 miles (approx 80.5 km) at that time.
Today, a copy of the letter, a key document in the history of Indian Railways, is on display at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.
So next time you enter a toilet on a train, send a quick thank you to the ordinary Bengali who made it possible for millions of future Indians to answer their own “nature’s calls” in time, instead of spending hours in anguish, clutching their stomachs and hoping for the next station to arrive already.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)
‘A Man of Letters’ courtesy The Times of India published on 15 December, 2002
‘Indian Railways History – Interesting Story about Okhil Chandra Sen letter’ courtesy Change Started
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