Recently, BBC covered an incident where two young children were killed for defecating in the open, though the officials are still trying to track down the perpetrators. When the father of the children was interviewed, he stated, that as a daily wage labourer he could not afford to build a toilet. This incident was witnessed in Bhavkhedi, which has been declared Open Defecation Free. Well, to say the least, the children played quite a huge price for being poor.
Making India Open Defecation Free (ODF) was a long impending task that needed dire attention and kudos to the Modi government for having implemented it on time and on such a huge scale. From 2014 till date, the country has seen thousands of toilets being built across the nation. People in and around the world are all praises; the effort has received special mention by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This part deserves applause. But far away, in the hinterland, lie two major problems which have either being conveniently overlooked or genuinely missed.
Mostly, the new structures for the toilets are based on the single pit design, not the twin-pit one which the government recommended. The twin-pit design allows decomposition of faecal sludge in one pit while the other is being used, providing a safe way of emptying it. Single pits require undecomposed sludge to be emptied manually or through expensive suction machines. That is one problem related to design which needs to be acknowledged.
Building toilets cannot ensure that the people are necessarily using them. Research shows that even though toilets have been built in many rural households, the masses still prefer going out in the open due to various personal reasons; this is solely behavioural. This attitude requires a thorough change, else the fortune that has been invested in building toilets will go in vain. One point to be noted here is that this ideology doesn’t just come from poor households but wealthy ones as well. I have seen instances where people bathe twice a day yet litter the places around them.
Some people hardly ever shy away from urinating on the roadside. The garbage that should be thrown inside a bin on the road or at home finds its place on the pavement out in the open! Spitting, and leaving man-holes uncovered are other examples of how people don’t clean up after themselves – the list can be truly endless.
So, ODF cannot and should not be limited to just building toilets, an attitude shift is the need of the hour.
These two major issues should be under scanner right now. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Sanitation is more important than independence“. There is a resounding truth in that, considering that independence is not just limited to one’s physical being.
In my opinion, the light of developing civilisation, topped with multifaceted customs and rituals, human beings have forgotten their roots. Our forefathers built the best sanitation, read as: “Indus Valley Civilization”, which has been the case study and base model for forerunners. So, the design should and won’t ever be a problem for us.
But an attitude shift is required. Let’s all agree that we cannot force a person to do something – even at school or at work; force never gets the right output from anyone. A slight push in the right direction is required. An army of campaigners that work at the grass-root level and conduct awareness drives is the need of the hour.
Apart from the infrastructure for the toilets, some major thinking must go into nourishing and building the ground-water levels, because a toilet would be useless without water to drain it down! Teaching people about open defecation should be taken up in government schools as well as the ‘Anganwadi Centers’. The more people know about it, the better.
From scanty rainfall to flooding, India’s topography and climate have been through some rough patches in the last couple of years. Therefore, it becomes essential that we lay our eyes and brains to areas of developing better water facilities, in terms of recharging the water table. When there is too much rainfall, we need to put more emphasis on water harvesting, because, as we know from our school days, rainwater is the purest form of available water.
As we prepare ourselves to declare India Open Defecation Free this Gandhi Jayanti, we have certainly come a long way. And with the right policies and political attention, I believe India can be free from open defecation within 10 years, if not immediately, and move a step closer to realising Bapu’s dream of “Swachh Bharat: Clean India”.
It is going to be a gradual process, so let’s not rush into October 2nd, 2019 as the ‘freeze date’. We have started the journey, and the road looks tidier than before, and the little litter that remains shall soon be wiped out.