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Being The World’s Capital Of Open Defecation Is Extremely Shameful And Completely Unacceptable

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By Milan K Sinha:

“More than 1.1 billion people in the world practice open defecation. The largest number of these people are in India, followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria” – A Joint UNICEF and WHO Report

Surprisingly, however, in India the poor state of sanitation and lack of toilet facilities has been primarily a matter of academic discussion and deliberations at different levels. Prima facie, it is really hard to believe that 60% people of India defecate in the open even after more than 60 years of planning process; a state like Bihar which has been registering an average state GDP growth of more than 10% for the last seven years, is still known as a state where about 67 percent of rural population does not have access to basic sanitation facilities.

Mobile Toilets in India

The next few minutes would take you through some revealing facts about the basic sanitation scenario still prevailing in this second most populous country – a country having a GDP size of two trillion dollar and whose GDP growth rate has been better than that of many well off countries at least during last one decade.

It is interesting to note that “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan” – Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was launched way back in 1999-2000 which aimed at motivating rural households to build toilets and encouraging their use to finally achieve an ODF (Open Defecation Free) environment and also make the rural people realize the need for good sanitation practices. The main strategy for implementation of this nation-wide program has been ‘community led’ and ‘people centred’.

But, even after more than a decade, the sordid fact remains. India is termed as the world’s capital of open defecation. 53% Indian population lack sanitation facilities, whereas, it is only 7% in case of Bangladesh and Brazil. More than 60% of households in Uttrakhand, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are without toilets. Only 28,000 Gram Panchayats (GPs) are declared as “Nirmal Gram” under TSC program out of 2.4 lac GPs in the country.

By any scale of analysis and judgment, this can be said to be absolutely disgraceful and completely unacceptable. Even Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, did term it as a matter of shame and sorrow, anguish and anger while asserting, ‘Gandhi ji gave ‘Quit India’ call in Sewagram for freedom struggle and today I appeal to all of you to make villages open defecation free because it’s an issue of country’s pride.

In all probability, as a follow up action, the union minister initiated few commendable measures including spearheading an emotive and eye catching awareness campaign wherein one can see the Bollywood blockbuster film ‘Dirty Picture’ and ‘Kahaani’ fame actress, Vidya Balan in a nicely shot social advertisement stressing the need of having a toilet for each family in rural India.

No doubt, a few states have taken encouraging initiatives in this direction. Sikkim is one of them and it has earned the honour of becoming the first state in the country which is Open-Defecation Free. Kerala and Himachal Pradesh will soon be in that bracket.

Notwithstanding few such sporadic measures being taken at the level of central government and by few states, albeit belatedly, no one can deny the fact that the impact of deplorable state of sanitation over the decades has been many and multi-dimensional on health and hygiene of common Indians and also on the country’s much talked about stories of ‘economic prosperity‘.

It has been a painful reality that inadequate supply of clean and drinkable water together with lack of toilet and urinal facilities in schools are major cause of poor attendance and health problems of the children. As far as adolescent girls are concerned, they tend to drop out of the school due to these reasons. Generally speaking, women and girls, particularly in villages find it very embarrassing and insulting for not having the facility of a toilet at home as they have no other option but to defecate in the open only after sunset, that too at the cost of their health and personal safety.

It is a common knowledge that defecation in open is fraught with high risk of microbial contamination of water which is a major cause of diarrhoea and other intestinal infections among the children. Health problems pertaining to a large section of population due to the aforesaid reasons has a multidimensional impact on our economy in terms of productivity losses, increased expenses in the name of providing medical treatment by the government besides having damaging effect on the shining/rising India image internationally. If one calculates the net financial loss to the exchequer for not having the basic sanitation facilities, it would be an astounding figure.

Everyone knows for sure, where there is will, there is a way, and so is the cardinal truth that where there is a malady, there must have a remedy. And the remedy of this malady is not far- fetched either. It can very well be in place by initiating and/or accelerating few time bound action plans. State Governments have to incorporate it on their top agenda items for implementation and Central government to provide adequate financial support in this regard. All Gram Panchayats (GPs) have to identify the needy households and ensure provision of toilet within the stipulated time period of maximum two years by availing the required support from the local government authorities. In order to lend active moral support to this top priority government sponsored program, mass awareness campaign is required to be undertaken effectively on an on-going basis by all GPs and other elected bodies among the affected masses particularly the poor and illiterates. Yes, media has a great role to play in this regard. It must focus its full attention on this vital issue and report the progress and also the anomaly, if any, being adopted by local implementing machinery regularly.

It goes without saying that state governments have the prime role to play in these directions which all concerned need to demand as their Basic Human Right. Nevertheless, the civil society at large, particularly our educated youth must also come forward in a big way to act as an enabler and also as an informal monitoring entity of the whole issue of sanitation in the country on an on- going basis so as to effectively fight this shameful malady conclusively before long.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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