Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis recently announced that the government has instilled a mechanism called ‘Open Defecation Free (ODF) Watch’, where people will be “shamed” if they defecate in the open. Rather, construction of toilets was BJP’s election campaign agenda in 2014, Modi, canvassed with the slogan “toilets before temples.” The PM declared his intention to end open defecation in India by October 2, 2019—Gandhi’s 150th birthday. He allotted more than $40 billion for a latrine-building and behaviour-change blitz called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), for which the World Bank threw in another $1.5 billion in loans. Modi aims to build more than 100 million new toilets in rural areas alone by 2019. Whether he’ll succeed is one question; whether the toilets will make much difference is another. Indian governments have been building low-cost latrines for at least 30 years. Millions of these simple, freestanding structures mark the landscape, but many are decaying. And many more are used to shelter small animals or to store tools, bikes and grain—while their owners head out into the fields with their water pots in hand. Forget about villages, I have grown up in Mumbai and travelling by local train from past 20 years, no matter which government rules here. I see many defecate early morning on or alongside railway tracks. Visit any slum, children and adults are seen excreting on gutters or pipe lines. Who will you shame when they are already shameless and have no hesitation doing these routine activities openly.
Unless and until the people are not provided with clean and neat toilets, they will prefer going out. Government has constructed many toilets but they are in dire straits. The government should be ashamed of open defecation by its very own citizens. The government must put in place the proper infrastructure to stop defecation in the open. They must ensure construction of sufficient number of toilets with running water and cleaning facilities before taking any action against people. 90% of toilets are unusable. Forget about common toilets, visit any railway station from Churchgate to Virar and other side, the toilets on station are so horrible woman use it out of compulsion but men still prefer doing it in hideouts. Before shaming the people, government should make sure to build enough public toilets. Shame them who are corrupt in administration, but they will never do that. 48% of Indians do not have access to proper sanitation. Coming from a slum close-by, they squat among the few trees and bushes along the railway tracks and defecate in the open. To many, this is a daily morning ritual despite the hazards of contracting diseases such as diarrhoea and hepatitis. It can be even more hazardous for women since each time a woman uses the outdoors to relieve herself; she faces a danger of sexual assault.
Recently, two teenage girls from the state of Uttar Pradesh were gang-raped and found hanging from a tree after they left their village home to go to the toilet. Their house, like hundreds of millions of others in the country, did not have any facilities. Actors like Akshay Kumar may come up with movie like “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” but that is not enough to educate people. They will understand your appeal if you address their concern.
A new World Health Organisation (WHO) report says more than half a billion people in India still “continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy”. Access to sanitation is a challenge that India’s politicians want to tackle – both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised to put an end to open defecation in their 2014 general election manifestos.
Indian government offers cash incentives to subsidise construction of toilets. It has also initiated hygiene and sanitation awareness campaigns, such as the “No Toilet, No Bride” slogan launched in the state of Haryana in 2005, urging brides to reject a groom if he did not have a lavatory at home. The Gates Foundation too has offered grants to create latrines that are not connected to water, sewer or electricity and to improve the treatment of human waste. Apart from poverty and lack of urinals, one of the reasons often cited to explain open defecation in India is the ingrained cultural norm making the practice socially accepted in some parts of the society. Just building toilets is not going to solve the problem, because open defecation is a practice acquired from the time you learn how to walk. When you grow up in an environment where everyone does it, even if later in life you have access to proper sanitation, you will revert back to it. India will be free of open defecation only when “every Indian household, every village, every part of Indian society will accept the need to use toilets and commit to do so.
With the right policies and political attention, India can be free from open defecation within 10 years. Defecating in the open is as old as humankind. As long as population densities were low and the earth could safely absorb human wastes, it caused few problems. But as more people gathered in towns and cities, we gradually learned the link between hygiene and health and, in particular, the importance of avoiding contact with faeces. Today open defecation is on the decline worldwide, but nearly 950 million people still routinely practice it. Some 569 million of them live in India. The percentage of Indians who defecate in the open has declined substantially in recent decades. But with the population growing rapidly, census data suggest that most Indians now live in places where they are more exposed to others’ faeces, not less.
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