No Toilets, No Brides: The Need For Sanitation In Our Country

Posted on October 28, 2012 in Society

By Bhaskar H. Narula:

India’s deteriorating economy is further depleted by a deep plunge in its health, nutrition and sanitation ratings. Soon after India’s economic position degraded to poor from being average its health, nutrition and sanitation followed. India does not even feature in the top 50. This steep decline is led by many factors. The latest in, is the comment of Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister for Rural Development, Water and Sanitation.

The Minister of Sanitation, Jairam Ramesh urged women to not get married in families which do not have proper toilets. “There are more Temples in India than Toilets” was his attempt to depict the condition of sanitation in India. Activists have taken it as an offence towards their religious beliefs. This has only become a common practice in India- if you try to voice your views; the charges of sedition are imposed upon you, as was the case of Aseem Trivedi. However, the comparison of temples with toilets does not seem to make sense but does convey an existing fact. Temples are places of worship where people pray for their well-being. Its comparison with toilets is pretty much a matter of disgrace. On the other hand, I second the concerns of the Union Minister. The problem of sanitation has always been plaguing our country. Open defecation leads to pollution at various levels and obviously imbalances the hygiene. Apart from hygiene, open defecation is widely accepted by the male community but women are badly affected. It is not only a matter of sanitation for them, it greatly embarrasses them too.

In villages, you will find women waking up before dawn, carrying a mug of water and moving towards the fields. Tiresome activities of the day would obviously have taken a toll on them, and if that was not enough, they are forced to face embarrassment by having to squat in broad day light. One can easily find various places in villages which are specially meant for defecation. They are close to water bodies or where small lakes or someplace where a source of water is present. I read in a newspaper recently that in a village in Haryana you can find a place which is basically only meant for squatting. You can find men and women squatting in lines and defecating openly. However, the embarrassment of women is openly visible. You will find women hiding their faces by using a towel or their sarees to avoid the shame of having to expose their bare bottoms. Can you recall a more pitiful state?

I can. Consider a case of weather encroachments in the defecation places. There are monsoons and floods which can make places very damp. As villages lack toilets, people will still be bound to squat in places near the water bodies. The water body will be then used for supplying water for drinking and cooking purposes. Can you imagine the ruckus it can create? This highlights the condition of sanitation in our country.

You can easily find women being mocked at when they urinate in the open. Has anyone given a thought as to what makes them do this? You can find girls not willing to go to schools just because it lacks a toilet or even if it has one, it is neither clean nor safe. During my school days I had some of my female friends studying in government schools. Sadly, in case they had an urge to urinate during the school hours, they would either have to gulp down nature’s call and postpone it till they reached their houses or would have to run to the nearby fields and ease themselves. Improper sanitation also contributes to illiteracy among the girl child. We say we are a developing nation and we are even proud of it. 70% of our rural population is still defecating in the open, so what is it that makes us so proud of being Indians?

In his recent statement, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh points out that out of 9,177 Gram Panchayats only 321 have become free from open defecation. “No toilets, No Brides“, certainly makes a sense to me. The problems stated above not only spoil our food chain, hygiene but is also a matter of the tainted dignity of women. Ensuring complete elimination of open defecation is not only important for hygiene; it is also a requirement for ensuring that our women are safe and comfortable.

When a girl is to be married to a suitable boy, everything related to him is diagnosed as if he is a descendant of an alien. Right from his past record, his marks and his job to his family issues. Astrologers play their games too, by formulating a greh dasha of the boy and the girl. Why is the issue of sanitation missed out here? No one ever bothers to see if the house in which a girl is getting married has a proper place for defecation. The minister wants the female population to check whether the house has a toilet or not the way they investigate other issues. His comment highlights, that a proper place for defecation is also as important as are the other factors like family’s source of income. Obviously there is no relation between a bride and a toilet but Mr Ramesh’s attempt to show the importance of proper sanitation is commendable. As far as his statement over the presence of number of temples in our country is concerned, in my opinion, people are more inclined towards religious beliefs and community issues rather than the problem of sanitation. The minister has bridged this gap as he tried to convey that sanitation should also be taken as seriously as we take religion. In his attempt to eliminate open defecation in the country he has launched the third edition of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.

Right from the red flags to the Union Minister Jairam Ramesh or charges of sedition against Aseem Trivedi, the good can never be stopped by virtue of criticism. We need to stop sitting idle and witnessing the worsening condition of our country. We need to take steps, not against the government but against the malign practices in order to make evil perish.

Note: This article is also published on the author’s personal blog.