The Untold Story Of People Who Carry Human Feces On Their Heads
By Mayank Jain:
Uttar Pradesh is known for making headlines for more wrong reasons than good, but there is one thing that’s totally disturbing about the state and it is the prevalence of open defecation and widespread use of dry toilets in the state. Open defecation is only a part of the bigger problem, which is blatant ignorance of issues like sanitation and the focus of authorities and governments alike on playing petty politics or building empires for themselves.
To bring the point home, one can look at the facts and clearly understand how big a pile of feces we have landed ourselves in. 90% of open defecation in South Asia happens in India and the ‘fast developing’ states like UP and Bihar lead the pack. India is home to 59% of the people in the world who practice open defecation. The thought of finding an animal’s fecal waste on the road is stifling enough for us (who live in cities and watch movies at multiplexes) to feel nauseated but people in our very own country have been living with human waste all around them. It actually does flow in the streets. Right in the heart of East Delhi, there are slums where open drains and dingy streets stink of fecal waste and people don’t have access to toilets and hence they just leave the feces wherever they find convenient.
The conditions in Delhi are fast improving, though. All thanks to the political and strategic ‘importance’ of the city and it can’t be put to sidelines. What about the rest of India, though? If I may ask, why do we need so many war tanks and nuclear bombs in our arsenal when one is enough to wipe out half of the continent, can’t this money be better spent on helping people secure at least a healthy life for themselves with clean drinking water and sanitation?
I have been to the interiors of Moradabad with UNICEF’s team and have seen the conditions myself, so this can’t be rubbished as yet another armchair activism post. There is a huge gap between the sensibilities of people which vary from village to village and unfortunately, there is a huge deviation in the government’s efforts as well. According to the government, it costs only Rs 10000 to create a toilet in a home and the government is providing Rs 9100 out of the cost as subsidies and the rest has to be borne by the beneficiary. This comes out to be Rs 900 but apparently, this is too much for the people who were found talking on their smartphones and driving bikes and cars to their homes. This might be a case in isolation and people are actually poor in other parts of the regions as well but this highlights the gap in communication and action. People are being gifted toilets from above as god-send but until they will be explained the importance and need to have a toilet in their home, they won’t come forward and ask for it.
Some parts of UP do have a lot of demand from the people and government is having a hard time fulfilling those but the others still choose to ignore toilets as ‘unhygienic’ and ‘western’ while they don’t realize that the whole point is to stay clean and hygienic. The other innovation apart from open defecation they have taken to, is dry toilet. No matter what it sounds to you, dry toilet is probably the gravest thing I have encountered in my life. Those who feel shy or don’t want to go out choose this means where they leave their fecal waste in one corner of the house and in the morning, a human scavenger comes to clean it and carries the whole waste on their head to dump it anywhere away from their home. This is done in return for a sum of just 30 rupees for 6 months! This is an inhuman crime being carried out all over the villages and it is a massive source of diseases and health issues. People don’t realize how unhygienic it is to live with their own waste in the house and those who carry on their heads find themselves perpetually ill with diarrhea or poisoning and they still choose to do it for that extra money.
The story gets worse once you talk to them about their children and you discover this profession gives birth to huge discrimination and people don’t dare touch them or talk to them nicely because of what they do in the morning. Story of human scavengers brings to light the vicious cycle of poverty and misery but the web is intermingled with shades of caste-ism, religious sentiments, traditions and cultural hierarchies that have grown to this level now.
It is a crime as per Indian law and the women who do it ran away when we tried to talk to them thinking they will be caught or punished and I could only wonder where this country has reached so far. Even after 60 years of independence, the Indian in a tier 2 city is largely ignored and unaware of the opportunities or dangers that lie ahead for them and things as basic as fresh water supply and clean toilets are not being guaranteed.
UNICEF is doing a lot in this regard and all hope is not lost. They have tied up with many on ground organizations and their campaign Poo2Loo is making waves all across the country. This is a huge effort to at least bring these issues to limelight so that people start talking about them to debate and discuss. What we need now is not just monetary growth but a growth in the quality of human life which can only happen if each one of us contributes. A post shared here or a discussion with your friends or peer group somewhere might someday translate into a big change of someone’s life so all I can count on is our own will and sensibility, the common men in cities who understand that life should rise beyond the struggle of basic necessities.
Government will also come along once efforts start flowing in from all directions. It has to. A ruler maybe rich but he can be only as happy as the poorest person in the empire.
Youth Ki Awaaz has tied up with UNICEF India to give you the opportunity to speak against the menace of open defecation, and get your ideas, solutions and discussion points delivered directly to the President of India. Click here to join the discussion.