Recently, in Uttar Pradesh, two sisters were reportedly raped and murdered at night when they went out to relieve themselves. When an hour long discussion began in a news channel, the answers that the nation wanted to know were about the biggest problem rural India continues to face, lack of access to sanitation. All the threats including terrible health hazards that young girls and women faced because of this were questioned and answered. It came out clear that through all the stages of life, girls and women faced the burden caused by lack of toilets. Girls tend to drop out of schools more often because they do not have access to safe and clean toilets. They also risk harassment and sexual abuse when trying to use public toilets or when trying to find a place to defecate in open.
According to the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water about 825 million people — 82% of the 1 billion practicing open defecation — reside in just 10 countries to which India contributes 597 million people (47% of total population).
The census 2011 figures on the state of sanitation in Tamil Nadu present a grim picture with little improvement from the previous decade. Even today, 45.7% of the state’s population resorts to open defecation due to the absence of proper sanitation facilities. . The situation is worse in rural areas where only 2% of the population is covered by the pipeline sewerage system. As a result, over 73% of rural population defecate in the open.
The situation of the villages in Erode district of Tamil Nadu confirms the figures shown above. The villages of Thadaselhetti, Vijalhatti, Ittarai and Kulitoipatti show a very poor standard of sanitation. Though Vijalhatti, Ittarai and Kulitoipatti had a public toilet built, Thadaselhetti lacked that too.
“I’ve got used to it. There are no public toilets and hence we go on roads. I’m least bothered about privacy”, says 24 years old Parvati who’s a mother of two and a resident of Thadaselhetti. She risks her life everyday while relieving herself since the area faces frequent leopard attacks. She said that none of the 16 families residing in this village had ever used a toilet.
“I’m scared of leopards. I take my mother along at night. During day time I manage on my own”, says Bela, an eight year old residing in Thadaselhetti.
Tamil Nadu has reportedly been working towards the target with the help of a measure called Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) now renamed as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan(NBA). According to Joint monitoring programme for water and sanitation report, released by UNICEF and WHO in the year of 2012, observed that in India 59 percent of people (629 million) defecate in the open.
The problem lies not just in less number of toilets built but the facilities provided with them. Even though some villages in Erode district had public toilets yet nobody was using them. “We have group toilets but we prefer going in the open. There is no septic tank built by the government. They have just provided us with a hollow build up with no facilities”, says Srikant, resident of Vijalhatti. Also, the lack of proper water connections in the villages makes it tough for use as they have to use their hands for cleaning.
“I can’t use a public toilet. We’ve always defecated in the open. It’s natural and a part of the environment”, says Chenappa, 58, resident of Ittarai village. “Also, there are no water facilities in the toilets. They stink and also become a breeding ground for mosquitoes”, he added.
Nitesh, a member of SNEHA, a NGO that works with the sole purpose of improving sanitation in the villages of Erode district, said, “These people think open defecation to be a part of their natural environment. They do not generally catch diseases here since the environment altogether is less polluted as it lies in a forest are “Our aim is to teach them the benefits of using toilets. We want that every household should have at least one toilet and we have achieved 70% of our target in some villages”, he added. ”. SNEHA also carries out solid and liquid waste management.
However, the development officer, A Sundaram, said that the government’s focus is on the awareness on building toilets. “We specially try spreading awareness among school and college children regarding toilets. They are the ones who can go back home and teach the same”, he added.
The solution to this problem lies not in construction of hollow buildings and thus increases the number of toilets but increasing facilities and promoting the use of toilets. Sticking to toilet-using habit depends on construction aspects which should be good and well maintained user friendly structure that protects privacy, availability of water and making the owners aware of the benefits of good sanitation.
However, there cannot be blanket centralised solutions for all the parts of the country. There are significant differences among urban and rural populations in terms of the attitudes, perceptions, and resources available, local needs as well as by states as well as geographical areas, which need to be taken into consideration while meeting the sanitation needs of the people.
Thus while building 111 million toilets to end defecation by 2019 as pledged by Narendra Modi, the government should make sure that they’re not just setting concrete structures which are worthless for a common man.
References : Alka Pande (2012) No toilets for 53 per cent population of world’s third biggest economy.