When VS Naipaul wrote in 1964, "Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate mostly besides railway tracks...." his description of collective Indian shitting became something of a phrase celebre. Besides achieving some grotesque fame, open air bowel excavations were justified by spiritual gobbledygook. Regrettably, Naipaul did not have access to numbers or details of the health hazards he so graphically described. His objection was aesthetic.
Data published in the UN Millennium Development Goals report 2014 should shame us, especially those who own indoor toilets with 21st century appliances like the bidet.
It is estimated 800 million out of 1.2 billion of our population relieve themselves under a threatening sky. "The world does not offer us the decency to let us defecate in private", says a woman from Patna whose daughter was recently raped when she went into the killing fields.
While the Modi government is busy doing spectacular things like single-window clearance for foreign investment and identifying the date and year of the great Mahabharata war, one doesn't read or hear much about what it proposes to do for eliminating a shocking disgrace from our society. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze point out, "The history of world development offers few examples of an economy growing so fast for so long with such limited results in terms of reducing human deprivations."
An anti-poor spectre haunts the country. Only jholawallahs and garrulous lefties talk of rising inequality. Whatever criteria you adopt, 30 rupees or 40 rupees a day, one third of the `world's extremely poor' live in what is allegedly the third biggest economy on our planet.
In 2014, to write about the poor is to run the risk of being criticized as an advocate of the rejected politics of entitlement. It seems Mr Modi's victory is also a defeat for those championing special rights for 800 million people. Instead, we are told to follow the Gujarat template.
R.K. Misra reporting from Ahmedabad in Outlook says, "The Sachivalaya has undergone a major renovation. Gone is the old, staid sarkari look, in its place is a stylized corporate one carrying the distinct stamp of Modi. But barring the CMs newly constructed block, pass any other place and the toilets yell from a distance, making you hold your breath."
Those of our fellow citizens doing their `business' in the open would have remained a statistic had something worse not happened: Rape and defection got inextricably linked.
In the past year, the Bimaru states have experienced a sharp escalation in the number of sexual crimes. Soutik Biswas writing on the BBC website reveals, "Some 300 million women and girls defecate in the open. Most of them belong to the underprivileged sections of society". Imagine, 300 million of our citizens are potential victims of rape.
Cut to Katra village in Uttar Pradesh where the gruesome headline-hitting rape and hanging of two teenage girls occurred. Both the girls had gone to answer 'nature's call' in a nearby field when they went missing. As I write, their bodies are being exhumed. If these girls had toilets at home both would be alive. Barbara Frost of WaterAid says, "The vicious horrifying attack illustrates too vividly the risks girls and women take when they don't have a safe, private place to relieve themselves."
Journalist Geeta Pandey reporting from Lucknow spoke to Sarika (16) who had gone into the nearby fields for her evening ablutions on a pitch dark, cold February evening. On her way back, the following happened: "Shivam grasped my hand and asked me to marry him. I said, `No, how can I marry you'...I tried to run away. With the help of his friends, he dragged me into a secluded area and began to assault me with knives and axes. I was conscious for some time, but once they cut me in the head and neck, I fainted. When I became conscious I was in hospital".
Geeta adds Sarika and her family have fled from their village and land to stay with relatives 30 miles away.
Outrage is not enough. This barbarity must be stopped.
Since the Prime Minister enjoys a reputation for getting things done, I suggest he, under his personal name, launches a campaign to end the scourge. A time-bound programme with a six-monthly audit is the crying need. In five years India should be made open defecation-free.
If the PM can end this degradation, he will go down in history as someone who could translate words (he has promised, `toilets first, temples later') into action. This is a non-Hindutva project, yet it should be treated as a sacred cause. Mr Modi will earn the gratitude of pseudo-secularists like me if he launches such a project.
This was first published in the Times of India
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Maybe caste also plays a role in the lack of private toilets in Bimaru states. The mad upper castes there probably have rules preventing others from building indoor toilets.
Could not agree more with others on this forum: culture plays a huge role here. Gandhiji did get this one point right when he said that there is pride in self-sufficiency, even at the individual level.
I am not a fan of VM, but on this count I support him. India lacks the basic facilities which degrades the human dignity. Let the government start a fund where overseas indians can also contribute. Ask the business houses to sponsor one district each, and get toilets in every house in every village.
I do not take the villagers into consideration because we can always blame poverty and illiteracy for their habits.
Do you travel by long distance trains in air conditioned compartments? Check the toilets used by affluent passengers.
Did you notice how people throw their garbage in the most upscale sections of any large Indian city? Did you notice how people spit on the sidewalks from the passing BMWs?
Did you experience the morning commute by any Churchgate or VT bound Mumbai suburban train keeping both your eyes and nose open to the human activities along the tracks?
Are we talking about poor, uneducated people? It is a cultural issue with all Indians - urban and rural, rich and poor alike.
I agree with DC on part of it (hygiene) being cultural issue, honestly. I recall from my childhood days when I used to visit our village (of course I grew up in city). I still recall that most of the houses of even decently well to do in village, including some of my close relatives did not have a pucca toilet. They were not rich but decently well to do to spend money on a pucca toilet. Some houses had a pit style latrine but no bathroom to take a shower. The males would take shower in open at the entrance of the gate where the tap was located. The females would use toilet and take a shower well before dawn as a result. And even the pit style toilet lacked a roof, it was open and possibly visible to neighbors if they are on their roofs. And this I am talking about a family with a govt job, house of its own and some agriculture income from contract (its own land). Undoubtedly, only reason for not spending on toilet/bathroom was it was NOT a priority at all.
Indians have disgusting habits about cleanliness and hygiene irrespective of their access to toilet and it is a part of the great Indian culture. Public toilets / urinals even in the airports and Indian Airlines flights ( flyers are certainly not poor) will tell you that lower economic disparity does not solve this problem. It is quite difficult for indians living overseas to explain to their children why people living in their parents' homeland are so careless about cleanliness and public hygiene.
Lack of access to public toilets is only one side of the story. There is a cultural side, as Ramesh Raghuvanshi mentioned, Indians have historically refused to clean their own faeces.
Please read a very recent article on this issue in the Economist. Mehta, like a typical Indian journo expectedly politicized the issue and avoided more resarch that such a serious socio-economic problem demands. On the other hand, the Economist article tried to show why lack of access to toilets due to poverty provides partial explanation to this problem.
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