Recently, Our Prime Minister emphasized on building toilets before temples. It is thought provoking since public hygiene has been a social taboo and the previous govts have been squeamish about the issue. The new government’s idea in indeed a novel one.
The state of sanitation inn India is appalling. Less than a third of 1.2 billion, have access to proper sanitation facilities. According to a UN study, almost 58% of the population defecates in the public. This has disastrous implications in terms of public health and hygiene. No wonder, almost half of the children under five in rural areas suffer from chronic illnesses like entropathy, diarrhoea, dysentery etc. Consequently, the rates of child malnourishment does not fall despite various efforts by govt agencies. In terms of public safety, open defecation is a scare. The recent case of two young girls who were brutally raped and hung with trees when they went to relieve themselves in the fields throws light on this aspect of the issue.
The new government is dedicated to improve infrastructure in the country and plans to build 5.2million lavatories by December. However, the more pertinent question is whether it would translate into better sanitation?
The answer is that it might not necessarily lead to an improvement. As, this is not solely an infrastructure problem. Rather, it has a cultural dimension attached to it. According to an Economist at Princeton it was found that even among households with working lavatories, 40% preferred to go outside. Hindu tradition encourages defecating away from home to avoid ritual impurity inside homes. Especially Hindus in the north hold this tradition steadfastly. Another psychological barrier is that rural men feel that enclosed spaces are meant for children, women and elderly.
This suggests that along with building Infrastructure, there is a dire need to generate awareness about health and economic benefits of sanitation. The day their attitudes alter, their customary practices would undergo a change. Therefore, we will see a truly modern India!
Roli Verma ,Social Activist from India