Remember how you cringed the last time you had the misfortune of having an emergency of using a stinky public loo? Now, imagine what if that loo is a large open field or forest area or worse, open railway tracks that too for thousands of people?
EVEN HODOR CANNOT “HOLD THE ODOUR” FROM REACHING YOU, IF IT INVOLVES THIS MUCH SHIT!
Being traumatised by an awful odour whenever it rained for about a month during my first internship, I learnt about grim realities of “open defecation”, a very prevalent issue engulfing the roots of India.
The extent of open defecation in India presents a major health and safety issue. According to WHO stats, worldwide, there are one billion people who don’t have a toilet and Indians make up 60% of this number. Of this 60%, the majority comes from rural and urban slums.
Activists, NGOs, the government have advocated for the building of shared community toilets as a solution to the problem, but ingrained the fact that social norms and attitudes stop people from using them.
Meaning, majority of people in rural India would rather die from diseases than share community toilets with people of other caste or religion. (Looks like Kissan Jam “sharing” commercials went unnoticed for some!) And well obviously, religion >>> life in India!
Secondly, most people from slum areas have shown an unwillingness to discontinue their habits of open defecation even if they are given separate toilets. Many people who already have toilets in their house forgo its use in favour of defecating in the open.
In 40% of households that had a toilet, at least 1 member chose not to use it at all. They believe that defecating in the open is more natural and healthy and building a latrine in the house brings impurity to it.
So apparently, defecating in a loo with a well-structured sewer system brings impurity but not the shitloads of shit lying in the open, waiting to contaminate and spread diseases! #18thCenturyLogic101
Coming to safety risks, especially to women, the connection between toilets and violence against women may not initially be obvious but if we consider a woman without access to a toilet in her home, she is vulnerable to violence while travelling to and from public toilets, using the toilet, or venturing from home to defecate openly.
The two young girls from Uttar Pradesh, who went missing while looking for a toilet and were later found hanging on a tree, raped and murdered aren’t forgotten after all!
Which brings us to what good are the advertisements featuring Vidya Balan and other celebs if the mindset of people is still adamant? Is absence of toilets the only problem in the matter at focus?
Policies focusing on construction of sanitation infrastructure in fact is the least of the worries, what needs to change is the mentality of people who have adopted open defecation as a mode of their lifestyle.
What policies need to incorporate is an approach tackling the entire problem holistically and not just coming up with half-baked steps like construction of more toilets. The maintenance of the public toilets already existing in terms of water supply and cleanliness needs to be ensured.
More and more awareness programmes need to be adopted (and not just on social media), more and more people have to be physically reached out to stop open defecation (If Bangladesh can do it, so can we!).
So lets take a pledge to trigger people to get rid of “the dirty picture” this National Triggering Day On Elimination Of Open Defecation.
Lets make Modi ji’s Swachh Bharat dream a reality before 2019.
Lets say no to Open Defecation.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.