Staying in the villages in the hills of Sirohi district for the last two months, some 200 odd kms away from Sabarmati River Front- the place where PM Modi made this claim- I have not only seen lack of toilets (or no toilets at all) in backward villages but also practiced open defecation in the last two months with tribal women.
Standing tall on the Sabarmati River Front, on 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, PM Modi has declared the entire rural population of the country as Open Defecation Free. This is a new addition in the lies Prime Minister has blatantly spoken as declarations- starting from the 15-lakh in every person’s account, black money and terrorism eradication due to demonetization, his degree of ‘Entire Political Science’, getting back Vijay Mallya to the country, to the recent ‘Sab Badiya Hai’ in the Howdy Modi event when India is in the middle of an economic breakdown. Coming up just after a week of the murder of Dalit children in Bhavkedhi village of Madhya Pradhesh due to open defecation, this is not just another casual lie to the country that PM Modi has given on Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. This is an insult- to those children, to the country and most importantly, to the Mahatma who staunchly practiced advocation of truth his entire life.
There is no ample of doubt in the fact that just like other rural development schemes, Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin)- which ensures construction of individual toilets in households of a village- is infested with lower level corruption: siphoning off government money by Panchayati Raj Institutions and district level administration , over estimation of the no. of toilets constructed, underperformance due to pressure of making district ODF (Open Defecation Free) in small periods of time and usage of sub standardized material. Senior district level probes in Sahranpur, Meerut, Bulandshahr and other districts of Uttar Pradesh have shown that villages were hurriedly declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ on paper, even before the construction of toilets. Corruption by village panchayat head and BDOs (Block DevelopmentOfficer) was also rampant. Similar news is also present from Jharkhand, where false images of toilets were put in the App as a part of corrupt activities. One such district is Sirohi, which was part of the 33 districts in Rajasthan that were declared open defecation free in April 2018. Living in the hilly terrain of Sirohi, for the past few months, I’ve been able to grapple the situation on the ground and also understand why people do not prefer using toilets, despite of their construction.
Only few villages have construction of toilets in the households- that is also skewed in nature. Credit does go to the Modi Government, that has initiated construction of these colourful small compartments used as toilets. In the hilly terrain of Bhakar region, which has settlement of tribal population of Bhil, Garasia and Rabari, you can hardly find any toilet constructed till now. Few in the village will have constructed them. Fewer use them for the purpose of defecation- with no cistern, no electricity, no space and claustrophobic small space- it does not make an attractive area specially for people who in their entire lives have done it in the open. Many toilets or ‘izzat ghar’ as they are called, have actually become store houses of the house.
The above picture shows how toilet is used as a store to keep the drum of water by the family. In a few years, this is going to be the state for most of the toilets in the district, giving urban intellectuals space to lament “how whatever is done in this country for village people, they just do not change or want to change” without understanding the context, culture and lifestyle of the people as well as the problems faced in these toilets. Notice the size and built of the toilet; they do not have any light once the door is shut. Even for someone who has never practiced open defecation, it was very difficult to use these toilets- with no water, no light, no space and claustrophobia.
Open Defecation leads to a lot of health and safety issues, specially amongst women and children. Anemia, infections of vagina and stomach, weakness and stunted growth, bites from insects and snakes, issues of sexual violence and lynching, incase you are dalit and children. It restricts eating schedules and drinking water, and also restricts the time when you can go out for defecation. In 2015, two dalit girls from Badaun were raped while going for open defection and their bodies were hanged on the trees. Similar cases can be found in recent times as well.
As a woman, Open Defecation is a Menace- But Waterless Toilets are a Greater Mess
In an event organized by Centre for Policy Research “How India Voted: Making Sens of the 2019 General Elections” on 27th May 2019, the editor of Print.in, Shekhar Gupta commented how people criticize Modi on how toilets are made but there is no water. “To kya, kam se kam toilets aayein hai, paani bhi aa jaayega”. Only if Mr. Gupta, for once, got up in the morning, walked for 1 km, handpumped an entire bucket of water, walked back for a km with the bucket and then used a toilet, he would have himself started using lota and going out in the morning with the community from the next day.
Most of the villages in India do not have piped water connections in the households. As a woman, one of the primary duties is to fetch water from different sources- ranging from streams, wells and handpumps. Now, in a setup where there are toilets without flush and cisterns (which is how most of the toilets are created in Swacch Bharat), a woman has to go and fetch 4-5 buckets daily for her entire family, just to use the toilet. Water table in Sirohi district, does not have the capacity for drinking water in summers, let alone for using toilets. The most backward and stressed regions of India, including districts of Uttar Pradesh (13 districts in Bundelkhand region), Gujarat (Kutch region), Odisha (9 districts including Nuapada and Kalahandi) and Maharashtra (Marathwada and Vidarbha region) have been suffering from the drought since the last five to seven years now. And given that, according to NITI AYOG, 21 cities and 600 million people are going to suffer from “high to extreme” water stress next year, as a country we do not have the capacity to stop the practice of open defecation. Other alternative is ofcourse construction of ‘dry toilets’, which have not been successful in functioning till now at a mass scale because someone is needed to clean the human feces. This additional responsibility is imposed on the dalits of the community and superimposes as another ceiling on their position in the caste system.
So why is Modiji lying?
The NSSO data of 2018 says that around 33% of rural population still practice open defecation. In reality, these numbers are going to go way up. So why is the Prime Minister lying and so proudly? One, because in the ‘world’s largest democracy’, even in the bits and pieces of the leftovers, people have accustomed to the fact that the Prime Minister-supposedly the most accountable person in this country- declares information and achievements which are untrue. We have simply forgotten what was the sanctity and dignity that the person elected as Prime Minister is supposed to uphold. In 2014, the Prime Minister made a gigantic target of making India ODF by the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Like a half-worked college submission, the assignment of ODF was hurriedly submitted half worked-to be before the deadline given, just with a small difference that the evaluation and marks were also given by the student himself.
Rather than declaring this bluff as truth, had he admitted that the process is taking longer, but there have been remarkable achievements in construction of toilets, behavioral changes and awareness generation due to Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, it would have been more respectable and bigger for his character as the Prime Minister. Atleast Father of the Nation’s soul would have been in peace today.