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

Opinion: Without Annihilation of Caste, Swachh Bharat Mission Is Bound To Fail

On October 2nd 2019, when the nation celebrated Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) turned five.

Five years ago, Narendra Modi launched an ambitious programme, SBA, to fulfil Gandhi’s dream of a cleaner India. Furthermore, Gandhi’s 150th anniversary was chosen as a deadline to make India open defecation free (ODF). Going by their track record, no one should be surprised to see that the BJP turned this into a grand celebration.

Around the same time, it was announced that PM Modi would receive an award from the Gates Foundation, as an acknowledgement of all the good work that his government had done, with regards to the Swachh Bharat Mission.

But, unfortunately, there was no mention of the two children from the Dalit community, who were beaten to death for defecating in the open, in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh.

Swachh Bharat Mission And Toilet Construction

After the launch of SBA, the nation underwent a spree of toilet constructions. It was assumed, that having a toilet in the house, would automatically solve the problem of open defecation. But, I believe, trusting toilet construction to be a panacea to open defecation, was based on a faulty Brahminical understanding of Indian society.

The SQUAT (Sanitation Quality, Use, Access and Trends) survey conducted in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, MP, and Rajasthan, reveals the striking fact, that at least one person in every 40% of rural households with toilets, defecates in the open. The survey also suggests, that most Indians hate to use latrines. For many of them, having toilets at home is considered impure, and, this is the reason why they cannot stand to use them. So constructing toilets is not enough, in a country where every aspect of life is inundated with the Hindu notion of caste and purity.

The Realities Of Manual Scavenging

The problem of manual scavenging is like an elephant in the room; Indian politicians are ignoring the issue and SBA is reinforcing it. Manual scavenging stands on two pillars of social evil; the caste system, and patriarchy. About 90% of manual scavengers are female and from a lower caste.

Manual scavenging exists because of inefficient, underground drainage systems. According to Bezwada Wilson, National convenor of Safai Karamchari Aandolan (SKA), out of 9.16 crores toilets built, under SBA, 80-90 % are single-pit, having no automatic supply of water, with no underground sewage system in place.

This fact has also been substantiated by Avinash Kumar of Water Aid; he claims that 65% of toilets built under SBA are single-pit. In my opinion, all these collective measures, in the name of single-pit toilets, without looking into the problems of the underground sewerage system, were done to make sure Dalits could be coerced and manipulated into manual scavenging, forever.

How The Notion Of ‘Purity’ Plays A Role

Some time back, dustbins installed in common areas were replaced, by the door-to-door collection system, in which, the person collecting garbage would blow a whistle to announce his or her arrival. This was also symbolic of the pre-1993 era when latrines were emptied through the door-to-door service. The whistle announced the presence of a lower caste person with whom all contact was to be avoided.

‘Where India Goes: Abandoned toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of caste’, coauthored by Dean Spears and Diane Coffee, argues that the effort to create an India that is open defecation free, is unlikely to be successful, because of the issue of the concept of ritual purity.

It underlines that 46 of 55 countries with a lower GDP than India are better off, in terms of open defecation and concludes that open defecation in India is deeply associated with its social structures and norms.

Because of the caste-ridden mentality and Hindu notions of purity which do not allow the masses to use latrines in India, it is going to be a daunting task for the government to shape the behaviour of the citizens in line with SBA.

This is a country where toilets are built behind the house so that the scavenger cannot be seen while walking down the exclusive lane. It is the very same reasoning of purity, that prevents toilets from being built in temple premises.

In my opinion, when people cannot even bear to see toilets built near their premises because of the Hindu notion of purity, it will be ridiculous if we expect them to clean their toilets. The question remains; if everybody starts to use toilets, then who is going to clean toilets and go down into manholes?

We know that only people from the Dalit community are assigned to this job. The report published by RICE (Research Institute for Compassionate Economics) corroborates the same argument, that in rural areas, cleaning toilets is a job reserved exclusively for people from the Dalit community.

So, the success of SBA in the existing set-up is likely to increase the number of manual scavengers. But now, because people from the Dalit community have begun to assert their rights, and because of the work done by organisations like SKA, it’s harder than ever, to coerce them to accept these menial jobs.

I think it is safe to say, that all these developments in the name of SBA have helped consolidate caste, by coercing people from lower rungs of society into manual scavenging

In my opinion, on the one hand, the shrinking public sector due to a privatisation frenzy and the growth of joblessness, resulting in unemployment, are collective measures at the policy-making level, that have pushed people from the Dalit community into menial jobs.

On the other hand, to meet the targets of SBA, many states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, MP and Uttrakhand have coerced people into manual scavenging, violating the law against this practice.

Apart from coercion, I believe, people from this community are also being cajoled into accepting these meagre jobs via missions like ‘Swachaata Hi Seva’ (Cleanliness is Service).

Modi’s visual politics of washing the feet of manual scavengers in Varanasi and frequent praise of the workers related to SBA are manipulative tricks, to beguile them into the inhumane profession of manual scavenging. Under the veil of SBA, it was ensured that the Dalit community would stick to their assigned work. If this move by the government is scrutinised, in light of the recent NRC, then it is perfectly in line with making India a Hindu Rashtra; by ensuring that Muslims remain sub-standard citizens and Dalits remain in the clutches of Manusmriti.

SBA was launched hastily, without paying heed to the ground reality of a country which is so entrenched in the idea of caste and purity. Therefore, without altering the Brahmanical understanding of the country, the SBA movement is bound to fail. And in order to make India a truly clean country, there is no other way, than to eradicate the caste system first.

The author is a student of the campus law centre, University of Delhi.

You must be to comment.
  1. Deep Shikha

    बहुत ही अच्छा लेख हैं

More from अतुल जाटव

Similar Posts

By Sofia Babu Chacko

By Jaimine

By Akdas Hayat

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        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