By Krati Gupta

Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior editor, The Indian Economist

Narendra Modi, in his maiden Independence Day speech envisioned a ‘Clean India’ by 2019 as a gift to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary, who also laid great emphasis on cleanliness. He urged on the importance of toilets and requested the parliamentarians to invest their constituency funds into building of toilets and to achieve the goal of a toilet in every school along with a separate one for girls in the coming 5 years. This comes as an initiative under ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padao Abhiyan’. Our prime minister has in time realised that a clean India dream is equally important as a digital India. But the current statistics are in a stark contrast to his dream and will require a lot of work to be put in to complete this herculean task.

According to The Right to Education Act, for every 20 students there should be at least one toilet for girls and one for boys. But the data from MHRD site on government schools without toilets reveals an appalling picture. Bihar tops the list with 70673 schools, out of which-17982 are without girls’ and 19422 are without a boys’ toilet. Situations are no better in states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Meghalya, Chattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. Even if toilets are present they are either dysfunctional or there is no separate toilet for girl students. Due to unavailability of toilets students are mostly allowed to go home in between the classes to relieve themselves, which affects the studies and also wastes a lot of time.

Open defecation mostly in rural and economically deficient areas is also practiced on a large scale in India. According to WHO and UNICEF more than 620 million people, that is greater than half of the population are involved in this practice in our country. A current UN report suggested that more people in India have access to cell phones rather than a toilet and improved sanitation facilities.  What people in these areas fail to understand are the horrendous effects open defecation has on human health, particularly the children. The faeces contains germs, which children pick up in their fingers and nails due to poor sanitation, they further get transmitted to food and water and thus find their way into the body. Many diseases such as typhoid, polio, hepatitis spread through this; diarrheal death being the main cause of child mortality in India.  In a case study tracking the average heights of children country wise, it was revealed that Indian children are even shorter than those from Africa, which is poorer and lacks human development resources. This shocking revelation led to extensive fact finding and research, which has shown open defecation as one of the top reasons for this. Once a child is affected by diarrhoea, he becomes more prone to malnutrition and other infections such as pneumonia. This results in stunted growth of children and other abnormalities. This in turn affects the economy of the country as the children grow up to be less productive adults.

Rapes and molestation of women has also been increasingly linked to lack of toilets in rural areas. Women have to wait till midnight to relive themselves in the fields, which jeopardises their dignity and safety. The Badaun rape case being the biggest example of this; the girls were preyed upon while they went out to perform the simplest of bodily function. What if there was a toilet at their home? Wouldn’t the disaster have been averted then? The point here is not that open defecation is the only cause of rape but it surely is one of the major causes of it in rural parts of the country. In many places, it has been seen that even if there is a public toilet, women still choose to go out in the fields because they complain of men hanging around the toilets and cat calling them.

Merely building latrines will serve no good in these areas, as people still believe in medieval norms and our against using it. They need to be educated about the ill effects of open defecation and benefits of latrine use on a widespread scale. Government needs to encourage NGO’s in doing work for this cause, for instance: Sulabh International, an NGO which has built approximately 1.3 million toilets till date in Indian homes over the past four decades. New business models for low- cost low-maintenance toilets needs to be formulated and installed in the places where there is the need. Campaigns such as ‘No Toilet, No Bride’ have worked successfully in several parts where women left their marital homes due to the absence of toilet, they were supported by the law and finally their demands were met.

Following the PM’s call for clean India, Tata Consultancy Services, a leading service provider in India has come forward and announced 100 crore rupees for financing hygienic sanitation for girl students across 10,000 schools countrywide. This will not only ensure that girl student study effectively during school hours but in the long term, will also contribute to strengthening their position economically and making them inclusive in India’s development.

‘Toilets before temples’ is truly the need of India today and it’s time to understand and work in this direction progressively, to achieve the utopia.

Krati is currently a Pre final year student pursuing chemical engineering from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad. She loves watching movies and posing for pictures. Apart from juggling between the concepts of thermodynamics and heat transfer during college hours, she is a greenhorn at writing and is highly optimistic about exploring the vast horizon in this field . She believes penning down her thoughts will make at least a small difference to the world.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind