Twenty years back, we were travelling to Puri by train. It was an overnight journey from Kolkata to Puri. The sun was already up in the sky when our train crossed Odisha border. I was looking outside sitting by the window with my father by my side. There were row of trees and wide-open paddy fields on both side of rail track. Suddenly, I saw some men (local villagers) sitting on their heels along the slopes by the rail track. It didn’t take me, a mere schoolgirl, much time to understand what was going on. I was completely shocked at the sight. How can they do this in the open? It automatically came out of my mouth, “Baba, ora ekhane ki korchhe?” (What are they doing here, daddy?). My father replied, “Don’t look there.” … and he shut the window. That was the first time I saw people defecating in open. However, the joy of seeing the sea was more than enough to override the bad feeling in my tender mind.
60% of people practicing open defecation in the world lives in India … a shocking fact
A few months earlier, reading the news that “60% of people defecating in the open in world live in India” triggered a flashback. According to a joint monitoring report by World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF a total of 626 million people in India practise open defecation. It is so unfortunate that the picture, I saw as a child, has not changed in 20 long years. Perhaps the government also reacted the same way my father did 20 years back. When you have a serious problem and you don’t know where or how to start to solve it pretending not to see it is the ‘best’ way to get rid of it.
It is even more shocking that women in the villages are bound to practice open defecation due to lack of toilets in the household. In a country like India where woman’s dignity is most important in the family… where married women don’t even have permission to take off their veils in front of other men – how this kind of act, which is disgraceful for a civilized society, can be practiced even in 21st century? The thought surprises me. Such paradox can only exist in India!
Open defecation is a deep-rooted social problem in India
Open defecation in rural areas is a deep-rooted social problem in India. Government report says ‘poverty’ is the reason behind it. But I doubt is it poverty all the time? Not lack of education? Not lack of infrastructure? When our Bunty (the name symbolizes young boys in the villages) doesn’t get the basic sanitation and health facilities who is going to think about Babli (representing all your girls in rural India)? After all, women are still treated as second-class citizen in many parts of the country.
I can relate to Babli’s problem and it’s my duty to speak for her
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. During hours of long drive from one city to another answering to Nature’s Call was like an ordeal. A proper toilet is rare to see by the roads. We had to wait until we found a restaurant where we could expect at least a toilet, even if it was not well maintained. But there were times when we had to surrender to natural instinct. That’s when I realized how dangerous ‘open-defecation’ could be, leave alone the matter of shame and indignity for a woman. I experienced this only twice or thrice in my life. When I think of Babli, rather millions of Bablis in India going through this woe on a daily basis it disturbs me deeply.
When I came to know about #ToiletforBabli campaign via IndiBlogger Happy Hour I instantly decided to write a post addressing the issue. I believe as an educated citizen of the country and being a woman I can do this much for Babli.
Why we badly need private and safe toilet for Babli
Most of time women seek deserted places or bushes for privacy which may turn out to be fatal for them. The dangers of open defecation for Babli and other children are many.
- She can die from snakebite
- She can develop urinary infection which is contagious
- She can develop deadly diseases such as diarrhea, intestinal worm infections, typhoid and cholera (Every year more than 200,000 children die from diarrhea – source: Forbes India Blog)
- She can be molested, raped and even killed due to lack of personal safety (We all read about Badaun rape case recently. In addition, BBC report says – “according to police and social activists most of the cases of rape of women and girls in states like Bihar occur when they go out to defecate in the open…”)
Reasons behind open defecation
If we delve deeper we will see that the reason behind lack of sanitation and private toilet at village households is not always due to poverty.
#1 Scarcity of water in remote areas – When you don’t have sufficient water supply at home will you not avoid making a latrine inside the house?
#2 Religious beliefs – I have heard from my mother that in her ancestral home the latrine was at least 15-20 yards away from the main residence. Why? They worshipped their ‘Kula Devta’ (ancestral god) in the house; hence “dirty” things like toilets were built away from the house.
#3 Lack of education – The last but most important of all is ignorance – absence of education and awareness. It’s not that the entire rural India lives in poverty. Yet according to UN report 626 million people in India miss sanitation and hygiene. Why? Nearly 50% of Indian population lacks education. Unless you are taught about hygiene (as we were in schools) how those who have practiced open defecation for ages, will suddenly realize the need for sanitation and private toilet?
Education and awareness is the key
Education and health awareness programmes are a priority if we want to save Babli from this misery. Though this is the duty of our government they, unfortunately, took so long to wake up. There are instances of successful sanitization campaigns such as Nandigram II block, West Bengal; Nirmal Gram, Gujarat and ‘Balmiki’ in Maharashtra. Well… better late than never! At least, Modi Ji has the courage to say “toilets before temples”, which no other PM have shown in recent times. So we can expect more activities from the administration.
#ToiletforBabli – a campaign to make India open defecation free
Currently, with over half a billion people defecating out in the open every day the situation is darn grave in India. It may not be possible for the government to handle the crisis alone. There lies the need for private initiatives to make India open defecation free. And Hindustan Uni Lever’s (HUL) sanitization brand Domex is doing this job successfully for a year now with its Domex Toilet Academy (DTA) programme. The objective of the programme is to make private toilet accessible in the villages and spread awareness about the benefits of sanitary toilet in the household.
Domex #ToiletforBabli is a unique online campaign (launched as part of DTA programme) through which you can also take part and show your support in this initiative. Visit www.domexforsanitation.com and click the button “Contribute Now”. For every single click Domex will contribute 5 rupees to Domex Toilet Academy fund for eradication of open defecation in India.
So, it’s just a matter of a single mouse-click. I have done my part. Now it is your turn to help Babli get a healthy lifestyle and live with dignity. You can also share the page in your network and invite your friends to take part in this endeavour.
Let’s join hands together for a cleaner, healthier and safer India.