By Mayank Jain:
A young girl of 8 who wants to go to school. Her parents want her to attend classes and learn. She is excited about her books and new friends. And finally, when she does get a chance to go, she finds that the school has no toilet for her. Her parents can’t afford a private education and they decide to put a full stop on the girl’s education instead. She is back as a labourer assisting her father on the workshop.
“Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya”, the war cry by then PM candidate Narendra Modi invigorated the country’s faith in him. It resonated with supporters and the opposition alike and sanitation problems of the country were once again at the forefront of public discourse. Our next Prime Minister was already talking about building more toilets instead of temples, and things looked to be getting on track, at least on the surface.
Under the surface of glitz and glamor of a majority government in a developing country lies a deeper structural and infrastructural deficit. The lack of toilets in the country is eminent in our sanitation statistics appearing almost every day in some newspaper or the other. It can also be seen much nearer when the stench of the nearby garbage dump infiltrates our nose, or even on the railway tracks full of human excreta. The proposed bullet trains will run over them.
It is unclear if not giving girls a space for sanitation is part of the disciplinarian approach our education system emphasizes upon, but girls do not have bladders of steel and the government should realize that. 80% of all the schools are government run or supported. The government is the biggest provider of education in the country, but the state of government schools in the country across all the states is nightmarish.
A report about the number of toilets in country’s government schools reveals multiple problems that lie at the heart of the fast dipping enrolment ratio, especially at the upper primary level.
While Bihar leads the pack with almost 18,000 schools with non-existent toilets. Other states aren’t far behind. Even the ‘highly developed’ Gujarat has 87 schools without girls’ toilets, and many more with dysfunctional ones. Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal are worse performers with more than 21,000 schools without girls’ toilets. In total, more than 25 states out of 29 don’t have appropriate toilets for girls in their schools.
The problems don’t just end with the lack of toilets for girls. Boys aren’t too well off in the country’s schools either. An equally high number of government schools either don’t have toilets or they are dysfunctional. The numbers are mind boggling and point to a deeper problem of hurried thinking. Why were the schools built without toilets in the first place? How unimportant is the availability of toilets in schools that they don’t get repaired/built? Take a look at the chart that shows the data of schools with dysfunctional as well as missing boys’ toilets.
The deficiency cuts across the country and divides the states into have and have-nots. From Bihar, Assam, Chattisgarh to even Tamil Nadu, some 10+ states have more than 5000 schools without boys’ toilets and literacy rate will stop rising soon if we don’t bring facilities to our children. The case of dysfunctional toilets is even worse since they end up spreading diseases and bacteria. Madhya Pradesh has almost the same number of schools with dysfunctional toilets as without toilets, and the story is similar with West Bengal and Tripura with more than 20,000 such schools with deficient boys’ toilets between themselves.
Schools attract students because of libraries, teachers and books, but toilets, clean water and sanitation facilities keep them in schools. The total sanitation campaign was taken up by the government with UNICEF, and marginal improvement has been observed. However, equal amount of work needs to be done in multiple spheres.
Plotting these deficient schools as percentages of total schools in states makes the picture clearer. Mizoram schools are highly skewed against boys as more than 30% of all schools are deficient in toilet facilities for boys. The same figure is much higher for states like Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa and even newly created Telangana where at least 40% of the schools don’t have toilets for boys.
The Infamous 5
When it comes to not being able to provide sanitation facilities to girls in their schools, Telangana and Meghalaya are neck to neck with almost 53.8% of schools with non existent or deficient toilets. Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir also figure in the worst performing states with their deficient schools making up for almost 40% of the total schools in the states. Meghalaya however springs a surprise and turns out as the worst state for female students. More than 62% of government schools in the state have eitherÂ missing or dysfunctional toilets.
Meghalaya ranks 17th among Indian states for its literacy rate and one of the clear reasons could be this lack of toilets, as revealed by this analysis. Bihar also ranks the lowest in the literacy rate table. Toilets aren’t just crucial for sanitation but for general wellbeing too. Badaun gang rape also ended up highlighting lack of toilets as a crucial problem we need to fix as soon as possible. Women have to wait until wee hours or late at night to go out and they end up being attacked by criminals waiting for an opportunity.
It serves as an eye opener for us to start prioritizing on getting toilets in our schools, homes and cities before we look forward to IITs and IIMs, which will end up as exclusively for the privileged, if this continues.
To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter atÂ @mayank1029