Over half of India’s population defecates in the open. That is over 600 million people not having access to or using toilets. They have to relieve themselves behind the bushes, in the fields or in the open with no privacy and dignity. What is even more staggering is that not a single state in India is open defecation free. While it is something to be really ashamed of, we have to understand that this has wider social repercussions than just health and hygiene which are huge anyway. It has affected the safety and security of our girls and women who have been raped and killed while answering nature’s call. And it is a big reason for girls dropping out of school.
PM Modi has brought the emphasis back on building toilets and cleaning India through the “Swach Bharat” Campaign. But, the task ahead is herculean and urgent.
If you thought this issue only affected the poor and uneducated folks living in the villages, think again. The dignity of every woman is at stake with open defecation. While growing up, I remember that we used to make these road trips to our grandpa’s house. The entire time what plagued my mind was what if I needed to go? There were no toilets along the way and the only recourse was to use the open fields. It was disgusting but what choice did we have?
Even today embarking on a road trip is an exercise in restraint and anxiety. Restraint in terms of restricting fluids and anxiety of finding a clean loo along the way. The condition of public toilets in India is deplorable. Sometimes, they are so filthy that every time I approach one I am filled with trepidation. Tragic, isn’t it for a country that considers itself a force to reckon with.
Now imagine the plight and sheer trauma of those who have to live with this situation day in and day out. A girl who has to venture out in the fields every time she has to go. A Babli who has no access to a toilet in school. While walking to my college in Mumbai, I used to see a line of naked butts squatting to defecate in the open right on the busy road. The passersby would turn their eyes away and walk past hurriedly ignoring the stench and the sight. Oh yes, every single morning I saw this. And then the local train tracks. You could see people lining up to do their business along the tracks, their dignity shed to pieces. It broke my heart, not as much as it must have broken their spirits daily. Also, they were at a risk of contracting diseases like diarrhea and hepatitis. Children are even more vulnerable.
The issues that need to be addressed are:
Infrastructure: Build toilets. Let every home and every public space have toilets. Have the necessary infrastructure like water, sanitary lines and maintenance.
Change mindsets: It has been reported that despite having toilets, some people still prefer to defecate in the open. This could be because of the mindsets that have been conditioned over years. The benefits of using toilets must be educated to people including prevention of diseases and safety aspect.
Cleanliness: It is important to educate people at large about keeping our public spaces clean. Those using public toilets must keep them clean and fit for use of the next person. Educational campaigns may help here. Couple this with teaching personal hygiene. Simple act of handwashing can save lives. These behaviours need to be taught and ingrained.
Support campaigns: Many NGOs and corporates are working relentlessly in this field. Support them. You can bring about the change in the lives of millions of kids, by showing your support for the Domex Initiative.
Let us bring dignity and privacy to the lives of all women. Let us end open defecation and support initiatives that aim to make India Open defecation free in the next decade.