This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aditya Raj. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Is Rural India Truly Open Defecation Free?

More from Aditya Raj

The quest for Open Defecation Free (ODF) status started in districts and states across the nation soon after the launch of Swachchh Bharat Abhiyaan in 2014. Turning it into a much talked public movement, the present central government idealised an India with zero open defecation. It was a herculean task for the district and state officials, especially when the total Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) was just 38.7% nationwide initially. With the target of achieving 100% IHHL coverage by October 2, 2019, it became a chase and a competition—a competition to become ODF district and state before others.

The Swachh Bharat mission sent India on a toilet construction spree, and resulting toilet coverage has now accounted to cent per cent. At the time of writing this article, out of the 35 states (including union territories), all of them had achieved 100% toilet coverage status (refer to the table below). However, toilet coverage should not always be understood as toilet usage. There is evidence across the length and width of the country regarding the defunct or unused toilets.

Source: SBM MIS website

Since October 2, 2014, almost 100 million toilets have been constructed throughout India under the SBM-Gramin, leading to a significant 61.3% increase in toilet counts. During these years, nearly 6 lakh villages, 2.58 lakh gram panchayats and 700 districts of India declared themselves ODF, as stated in SBM-G MIS.

Poor Sanitation: Reasons, Beliefs And Consequences

Abysmal and unsafe sanitation is a consequence of mainly two factors: poverty and age-old practice. Poverty leads to the non-fulfillment of the necessities of human life, causing distressed living. India accounts for two-thirds of the population considered to be living in poverty; deprived of basic needs toilets are not a priority for them. Whereas, the traditional or age-old practice of sanitation in the form of open defecation—because of no change in behaviour with time—also contributes equally to the web of unhealthy and unsafe sanitation.

Representative image. Getty

India offers a wide variety of demography with numerous cultures and traditions. Sometimes, religion plays an important role in this deciding unsafe sanitation practice. “Religion, caste, and social group norms have shaped Open Defecation (OD) habits in India. We know that Hindus are more likely to go for OD than Muslims, despite being on average richer and more educated” (Alexander et al., 2016 pp 17). Additionally, some consider toilets as “ritually impure”; whereas, in some cases, the females are not allowed to use them. Since time immemorial, people have used their farmlands, bushes, railway tracks and other desolate places for defecation. This practice of defecating in the open has been imbibed in people’s lives for ages. Women, who are socially considered to be vulnerable, prefer to go early morning or late evening. Defecating in the open has brought many ill incidences for them like eve-teasing, abuse, molestation, and even snake bites.

The decades-long orthodox belief of going out remains among the people, and this is the biggest hurdle coming in the way of clean India. Despite the efforts to bring change in people’s mindset, so that they can accept toilets as a part of their lives, not much has changed. Therefore, just an infrastructure built in the premise of every house is not enough. Interestingly, the toilet has many uses than one can think of. A toilet is not just being used for relieving purposes but serves many other needs as well; SBM-Gramin has perfectly evidenced this.

The Curious Case Of Bihar

Bihar, a less developed state with a headcount of more than 100 million out of which roughly 89% are rural inhabitants, has fared poorly in this regard (Census of India, 2011). Before the start of SBM, only 25.65% of households had a proper sanitation facility to use every morning. However, after the marathon construction under SBM-G, now it has shot up to the maximum: Bihar is an ODF state with 100% toilet coverage as per the MIS, which means all the 38 districts of the state are free from any case of visible faeces in the open, it uses safe technological options for proper disposal of waste and is free of any unsightly situation.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

However, a village in Supaul cannot be considered a part of this achievement. Amaha, a village and itself a panchayat in the Pipra block of Supaul district, is unaware of ODF status reality, but, MIS of SBM-G has also declared it free from open defecation. According to the census of 2011 data, Amaha has 2,701 households under 15 wards. Chotu Lal Paswan, sarpanch of Amaha gram panchayat, says in ward number 7, more than 350 households are covered, roughly 5% of toilets have been built in their premise. He says extreme poverty and migration is the biggest issue in the area.

Amaha is basically a Maha Dalit tola, and the majority of the population is from the “Musahar” community. With no surprise, the constructed ones are also poorly constructed and left unused, and no effort has been made to provide this marginalized community with this basic need. Since the panchayat is already declared and verified as ODF, they will hardly inquire in the future.

This situation is not strange or new, in most of the districts and villages, similar cases of the unused or defunct toilets are coming out. In the chase of moving towards zero cases of OD, gram panchayats and villages are declaring themselves as ODF. Since the target of achieving 100% ODF status is too lofty, the state administration is taking stringent actions to mark their area as free from open defecation, which sometimes results in making false claims—constructing toilets only on paper.

Coercion is also being adopted in the mission to initiate practice and sustain toilet usage. In Bhagalpur and Khagaria, complaints about the administration’s coercive attitude to forcefully attain and thereafter sustain the ODF status were found. Few ways of coercion reported were the imposition of fines and the authorities threatening people. The Wire also reported about similar ways adopted to stop open defecation. The report listed three types of coercive state actions: some households were threatened that their government benefits would be stopped, some people were barred from defecating in the open, and in some cases, they were threatened with fines.

SBM, through community-led total sanitation approach, has aimed towards the demand-supply aspect of toilet construction. However, it has failed to consider the caste and religion facet. Also, the construction of toilets cannot be justified with the usage of it because, in Indian culture, OD is widely accepted as a normal practice. Although the government emphasizes the importance of BCC/IEC (Behavior Change Communities/Information, Education, Communication), the majority of the budget is allocated to toilet construction in households, whereas BCC/IEC is allocated only 15%. Research has shown that countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam managed to yield notable success in fighting OD by singularly focusing on behaviour change.

The toilet-building component of the SBM has taken over as the sole motive of the program. Behavioral and attitudinal change regarding OD is a complex phenomenon and thus needs a holistic approach. The objective of SBM cannot be achieved by threatening and pressurising people or by imposing fines on them. There should also be a stringent audit process to verify the declared ODF villages, and if found wrong, the authorities must be held responsible. Swachh Bharat Mission strived strongly to fulfil the desired toll of toilet construction by 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2 2019; however, the communication tools also need to be used effectively to change people’s attitude towards OD. Only then, we can claim the status of Clean India in front of the world.

You must be to comment.

More from Aditya Raj

Similar Posts

By akhila cg

By Shrsti Tiwari

By Ecochirp Foundation

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below