Is it necessary that Women be shamed?
The well intentional Swatcch Bharat Abhiyan began in 2014 after the re-christening of its predecessor Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan for a noble aim of ending the open defecation in India. The Abhiyan since then has achieved a lot of success across India with several districts been declared open defecation free. Open defecation is an old practice in the country which now owing to the rapid pace of urbanization and less and less land left for open defecation manifests the feces discarded by human in streets, corners, and roads of rural and peri-urban India. So abhorred is this practice that in a novel published by Mulk Raj Anand, called Untouchable in 1935, he describes the Indian as “kala aadmi Zameen pe hugne wala”. Surprise as it may the practice still remains current in many parts of India sometimes for the lack of infrastructure and other times owing to the general habit which is hard to break.
I am writing this not to describe the anatomy of SBM as much as to analyse the methodology adopted to achieve the goal of it. Often the behavioural change to use the toilets made under SBM is done by triggering activities which can be as varied as the tour through the open defecation zones of the village with villagers to the mixing of the faeces in water and demonstrating to the villagers as to what happened to the water sources when we defecate openly. However, at some places this triggering activity seems to have gone terribly wrong. Though it has managed to achieve the goal set by SBM but it has re-enforced another kind of social blight- the subjugated status of women.
In many places in India the implementation of the SBM has involved shaming of women and that has found space even in the advertisements aired in the national media. They primarily are of the following hues:
“Build toilets or the girls will be raped as they step out to defecate in open”
“Build toilet because women defecate in public and it’s a shame” (while it’s no shame for the men folk)
“Toilet as a dowry”
“Built toilets as women who cover the face with veil can’t expose their bottoms in open”
These are only a few examples which go around in trigger activities for the eventual construction and use of toilet.
Knowingly unknowingly this has re-enforced the deeply entrenched patriarchal set up in the country. Toilet is seem as an “izzat”, “aabaroo” of the women who must be confined inside as her going out calls for various ills like rape, molestation, shame to the family. It is saddening to see that the purpose of toilet for sanitation is defeated by the purpose of defiling the minds of community against the status of women. It further brings about the legal justification for the women to be confined indoors as the government programs deem it fit to use such lop sided trigger activities.
While it may be true that building of toilets and a facility to defecate at home does avert untoward incidents like rape, molestations etc as it averts diarrheal deaths, but to tie the construction of toilets to prevent women’s shame is a patently wrong concept and must be done away with. Many women have come out to give the hard earned savings of their lives to the construction of toilets in villages as they are aware of the perils of open defecation, but using toilet as a tool to confine them back home will be a big blow to the concept of women empowerment.
Though this may appear as a very trivial issue but it has psychological ramifications for the adolescent girls who might find their wings clipped on this practice. It is a fact that the lack of toilets in village schools causes a massive drop out of adolescent girls. The antidote of this is to promote the sanitation need as the basic need and to not tie it with the dignity and shame of women. If at all the Toilet be it should be a tool of empowerment for women and not an excuse for their confinement. Every scheme or programme must be tailored to the special needs of women and must look at the gender empowerment issue very holistically lest we may be giving from one hand and taking from another.