The Ground Reality Of Modi’s ‘Open Defecation Free’ India

Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared rural India open defecation free. On October 2, 2014, he had launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) to accomplish an ‘Open Defecation Free’ India by 2019. During his speech, he had mentioned various dos and don’ts of the mission. But what captivated me the most, was, a line in which he talked about the logo of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (the specs of Mahatama Gandhi) where he mentioned that it will symbolise Gandhi scrutinising each and every aspect of SBM. Now the question is “Is Gandhi content with the results?” and whether his words “Mai Kisi Ko Gande Paer Ke Saath Apne Mann Se Nahi Guzarne Dunga” (I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet) was kept in accordance during these years or not?

In 2014, PM Modi set the goal of achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by the end of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as the most anticipated tribute to him. According to Swachh Bharat Mission, around 10, 07, 25,000 household toilets had been built and 35 States and UTs have been declared Open Defecation Free since October 2, 2014. There is also an estimated increase of 62 % in sanitation and ODF between 2014 (38.70%) and 2019 (100 %).  Apart from the construction of toilets, the survey also elucidates on the augmenting behavioural change in the communities which will help in achieving the upcoming social and economic goals. After analysing the statistics, the  Government’s claim to achieve ODF is astonishingly successful and appreciable. But is it verifiable? Let’s do a reality check.

I guess there is a reason why private sectors are said to be more efficient than public sectors because even if they claim to be successful, it’s pretty obvious that there can’t be a 100 % success rate. Even brands like Dettol and Lifebuoy claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria.

Has The Swachh Bharat Mission Been Successful?

The Swachh Bharat Mission was divided into two segments: a) Rural SBM b) Urban SBM. When the mission was launched, only 38.7% of Rural India was under the sanitation coverage. Almost half of the country’s population were defecating in the open without any proper facilities.

Since then, 100 million household toilets have been built in 6, 30,000 villages still without any proper facilities. There have been many instances where people still prefer to defecate outside despite having a household toilet due to lack of water and overflowing latrines. Building toilets is just one step and if it’s not monitored properly then it’s just like a step backwards.

The safe disposal and management of human excreta is the other crucial pillar for sustaining the ODF status. According to the government, a majority of the toilets in Rural India are twin pit type which is basically constructed in the shape of honeycomb that does not require any additional attention. However, according to the report by NARSS (The National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey), only 30% are twin leach pit toilets and the remaining are closed and single pit ones. NARSS also ensures safe disposal via constructing these toilets mentioned above but the real challenge is the “means” of disposal. There exist no facility to examine how often and where excreta is getting disposed of. Furthermore, there is no provision to check whether the decomposed human waste is safe to use or not.

On October 2, 2019, the Government is planning to declare urban India to be ODF. The definition of ODF as per the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Urban) is, a city can be declared as Open Defecation Free if and only if not a single person can be found defecating openly. The situation in Urban Areas is akin to a rural area because of the low level of quality being maintained by the Municipal Corporations. According to North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the only non-ODF Corporation has failed to eradicate open defecation in their region.

Despite constructing toilets according to the norms of SBM, the quality of these toilets is found to be obnoxious making the situation more dreadful. Taking about the financial capital of the country, Mumbai, which was declared ODF in the year 2017 by the Quality Council of India (QCI) still grapples with the problem of open defecation. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), 118 open defecation spots were lowered to 20 across the city. Such mishap is basically due to the poor toilet to Individual ratio going till 125 people per toilet which is much behind the standard ratio of 25 people daily.

Children From Dalit Community Killed For Open Defecation

These are just some of the instances which describe the exacerbated condition or we can say the harsh reality of ODF. One week back, two children from the Dalit community were killed as they were defecating near the village panchayat building in Madhya Pradesh. According to the father of one of the children, his family never had a toilet. Only one toilet was allotted to his father and the rest of them were given to Yadavs (Upper Caste Hindu).

As per the Government Records, Bhavkhedi Village, (Shivpuri district, Madhya Pradesh) where the incident occurred is an open defecation free village which means every household in the village has a toilet. Such a mishap is the quintessence of “action without a plan is always a failure.”

A society whose value is still influenced by the condemnable Caste System can’t be changed within the span of a mere five years. What’s the point of getting financial support of $1.5 billion from the World Bank if we can’t change the contemplation of 1.3 billion people?

What Will It Take For Toilets To Be A Successful Initiative?

It took Thailand nearly 40 years to implement successful ODF despite being such a small country. Every initiative can only be successful if we are ready to accept it with all our differences aside. The sanitary foundations need to be dug deep in order to have a better implementation. A radical change is required, such that no one is left behind, whether in rural or urban areas. Talking about the present scenario, the question still exists whether the toilets are properly maintained and human excreta is safely handled or not. If the situation remains the same, the immense investment in counting such toilets will go in vain. The worse is also possible if the government shifts its priorities after declaring it a successful initiative. Such instances should be avoided at any costs.

In the end, for Indian toilets to be a success and have a sustained future,  proper coordination is required between people and the plan, as Mahatma Gandhi has rightly said: “So long as you do not take the broom and the bucket in your hands, you cannot make your towns and cities clean.”

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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