By Juanita Kakoty
I fully agree with Nitya Jacob who responds with “But do these figures add up?” to Narendra Modi’s speeches about how many toilets will be in place by 2019. In his article for The Guardian, titled, ‘Chain reaction: India needs hygiene education as well as new toilets’ (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/08/india-narendra-modi-toilets-education-hygiene) Jacob raises the pertinent point that it is not just building toilets that can ever be the solution in India for better hygiene, but there is an urgent need to tell people how to use toilets and why it is important to use them. And as I see it, although this is a major concern in rural India, urban India is no less.
In 2000, I had visited the Marwar region of Rajasthan as part of a team from Hindu College, Delhi University for an educational trip. We were in our final year of the BA Sociology program and were taken there for a field study of the social system in place. Amongst many things, we observed the prevalence of open defecation in the area. All the villages we went to had households without toilets. We were asked to ease ourselves out in the sand. The women in the villages suggested we follow their norm and do it before sunrise or after sunset. Those ten days, I don’t know how, but I did not crap! And passing urine was kept to about two-three times a day. In fact most of us from the team went about with our bladders bursting! Every time we thought of easing ourselves, we would be overcome by great shame. We were there for only about ten days. And we felt sorry for all those women who lived this shame everyday of their lives.
It’s not just Rajasthan, open defecation is a practice in almost every part of India. One only needs to be on a train early morning to see where most Indians go. Building toilets for them, therefore, is noble. It has been documented quite frequently how villagers cannot afford to build toilets in their homes. They would rather go out. So building toilets for them has been a project for many NGOs, and now the government has made its promises. But on the flip side, it has also been documented how the toilets that are built run into disuse because they become incredibly dirty. Women of the household might continue using these dirty toilets and risk health hazards, while men go back to the practice of open defecation. This means that educating people about the need to and how to keep their toilets clean should be a major programme. And this should involve not just the women who are mostly responsible for sanitation and hygiene issues of a household, but also the men. In villages this is a challenge that must be met because a household consists of several people, over several generations. And toilets often fall into the category of least pressing amongst their existential concerns.
Coming to the issue of keeping toilets clean, personally, even in urban households, I have seen that it is invariably always the women who clean the toilets. Men of the household simply use them and often are in such hurry that they even refuse to flush after they use the toilet! How qualified or educated one is doesn’t matter here. Going by how things are in India, it is important that toilet hygiene occupies a crucial place in all education programmes, be it within families, in schools, or through NGOs and the government. It has to be drilled from early on that toilets should be clean, that dirty toilets mean bad health for life. In the villages of western Uttar Pradesh, men and women have complained to me of stomach ailment because, they claim, ‘Giardia’ live in the waters of this part of the country. Giardiasis is a common waterborne parasitic infection caused by Giardia in testinalis (a single-cell protozoan). This infection can result in diarrhea, cramping and an upset stomach. People become infected by drinking or swimming in contaminated water, coming in contact with the feces of an infected person or a contaminated surface, and Giardiasis occurs most frequently where contaminated feces are out in the open or can spread easily. People can also spread this parasite if they do not wash their hands properly. In western Uttar Pradesh, people are living with the idea that ‘Giardia’ is in their waters and they cannot do anything about it. Sadly, nobody here is talking about toilet hygiene as a measure for prevention.
(Home photo:R21CLUB : r2iclubforums.com)
The author is a member of The Sanitation Scribes