By Rhythm Gupta
According to a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2012, only 32% of rural Indian households had their own toilets, and less than half of Indian households had a toilet at home. Shockingly, of the estimated billion people in the world who defecate in the open, more than half reside in India. Can you imagine that you’re a citizen of the country where there are more households with a mobile phone than with a toilet? This abysmal state of sanitation of our country, particularly of rural India, is hair-raising.
Poor sanitation impairs health. This leads to high rates of malnutrition and productivity losses. Children are affected more than adults, as diseases run rife in their bodies; inhibit their ability to absorb nutrients, thereby stunting their growth. According to the UNICEF, water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and respiratory infections are among the top causes of child deaths in India. As a matter of fact, according to the World Bank, India’s sanitation deficit leads to losses worth roughly 6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to a rise in the disease burden in the country.
When I came across all these alarming statistics during my research, a series of questions flooded my mind — “What is it about India? Why are we in such a pathetic condition? Why are our children dying, and why is the Government mum about it? Why is this issue not being prioritized by our Government? Why don’t we have effective yet sensitive health-related policies and leadership in place? And if it is, why is there such little progress? After all, we must have chosen a leader that really cared about the nation and its citizens, and wished to bring about a change as soon as possible.”
Interestingly, it is not very difficult to gauge through some texts, that this unhygienic environment today, is due to India’s historic neglect of public health services. The absence of good-quality and genuine public health services in our densely populated country has resulted in an extraordinarily high disease burden.
Even health economist, Dean Spears argues, “A large part of India’s malnutrition burden is owing to the unhygienic environment in which children grow up. Poor sanitation and high population density act as a double whammy on Indian children half of whom grow up stunted.”
It is not a coincidence that states with the poorest levels of sanitation and highest levels of population density such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh also have the highest levels of child malnutrition in the country. Unsafe water or lack of clean water, and poor hygiene practices such as improper hand-washing, are not only the causes of the continued high incidence of diarrhoeal diseases but a significant contributing factor in under-five mortality.
Inadequate sanitation meaning lack of toilets further exacerbates the problem. A lot of these factors have also been the underlying reasons for the spread of the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic in the country, making us the third hardest-hit country in the world.
With so much information clogged in my mind, I was confused as to how I could educate people about it as an individual until I came across The Tale of Makkhilal.
The Tale of Makkhilal, authored by Geeta Dharmarajan, and illustrated by Charbak Dipta, educates its young readers about the consequences of poor hygiene and choosing the wrong leader, in the form of a poem.
It is the perfect motivator for children to start a revolution towards anything that can positively transform the world.
While we, as children never got the chance to read such vividly illustrated books about the most basic yet most important topics of the hour, children of India in 2020, can become sensitized individuals today and empathetic leaders tomorrow, conquering every adverse situation in the world.
The most compelling aspect of this book is how Geeta Dharmarajan perfectly intertwined the morals of the right leadership and the identification of the right role model, with the, unfortunately, “not-so-burning” topic of proper sanitation and cleanliness.
While India is bettering with time, we still have a LONG way to go. To harness the country’s resources, knowledge and manpower efficiently, solid action needs to be taken, a clear strategy needs to be devised, and the “leaders” of our country need to be woken up and reminded of the mother who has lost multiple children because of a curable disease like diarrhoea.
My first step in the revolution of a healthier future was to read The Tale of Makkhilal, what is your first step going to be?
About the author: Rhythm Gupta is a volunteer at Katha. A B.Sc. Economics and Finance student at Ashoka University, she is fond of all forms of art and literature. She also likes travelling and understanding different cultures.