Society and Culture

Shame is lame: Increase toilet coverage only by consensual not coercive means

Five states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Haryana – have declared their urban areas open defecation free (ODF).

Oct 3, 2017
Five states – Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Haryana – have declared their urban areas open defecation free (ODF). These claims will be scrutinised but the important point is that public discourse and government involvement in sanitation and eliminating open defecation have soared since Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched three years ago. In India, 48% of children under 5 are malnourished – with poor hygiene, sanitation and water supply causing diarrhoea, which is blamed for 50% of child malnutrition. So the importance of ending open defecation cannot be overstated.
 
Toilet coverage in India was just 38% in 2014, and official statistics show this has risen to 68% now with 5 crore toilets built and 2.5 lakh villages and 214 districts declared ODF. These lofty claims are marred by reports of low toilet use among some sections of the neo-converts and the use of coercion. The former indicates that the “triggering” process, which aims to change social behaviour through sanitation activists visiting villages to highlight evils of open defecation leading to people themselves demanding toilets, has loopholes and needs sustained monitoring. Moreover, states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and J&K with low toilet coverage are lagging much behind others.
 
As for coercion, it is antithetical to the idea of a collaborative and consensual approach to ending open defecation which SBM promised. Open defecation has continued for long in India and the sudden recourse to naming and shaming, fining and disrobing, reported from different states is a gross violation of SBM guidelines. Those continuing with this unhygienic practice may be doing so for a variety of reasons: poverty, lack of awareness, damage to toilet, no water availability or just an inability to shake off an ingrained habit.
 
With so much top-level political commitment invested in SBM there is temptation among local politicians and bureaucrats to deploy punitive measures. They must not lose sight of the SBM goal of restoring human dignity. The urgency to meet the 2019 goal of universal toilet coverage must not lead to a situation where toilets are poorly constructed, deserving beneficiaries are overlooked, and verification of construction and usage is given the short shrift. Even as more toilets get built Indian cities are in crying need of solid waste management. SBM must focus its attention in this direction too
 
Times of India, October 3, 2017

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