The toilet grants flushed down the hole—a plea to save India

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Whenever there is a talk about the sanitation and hygiene issues in India, the first thing we do is to blame the government for not taking adequate measures, and the sanitation workers for not doing their job properly.

However, let’s try remember, when was the last time we blamed ourselves for any of these problems. I’m sure the answer for most of us would be – “Never!” There won’t be anyone remembering or being ready to blame oneself for throwing trash out on the road or in public spaces even once in one’s lifetime. It’s easy to blame, but never easy to accept the same. Anyhow, hygiene is a vast subject in itself and going through each and every aspect of it through a single article is impossible. What we’re going to talk about through this article is the shit that some of us are spreading here, there and almost everywhere. When I say shit, I literally mean it. Yes, we’re talking about the human waste. Feeling disgusted already?

The idea is not to offend any of my readers. The graphic description is meant to make you feel the gravity of the situation. I could have posted 100 times more disgusting pictures, and used several times harsher language but didn’t, knowing that I might have discouraged you to read further. So, please do read further. The idea is if you find reading these names or looking at this picture disgusting, how disgusting is it that a huge Indian population is defecating in open, when there is a possibility that as soon as you turn your head you’re watching a pile of human stools, or the next time you land your foot it is down soiled with it.

According to a report by WHO-UNICEF 58 percent of Indian population defecates in the open. The shocking revelation in the report is that it’s not just the rural population which is slave to such a malpractice, but urban too. While 18% of urban population defecates in open, the proportion for rural population is unfortunately sitting high at 69%.

Open Defecation by Yaniv Malz
Image credits: Open Defecation by Yaniv Malz under CC license

Now, I am sure the next question that comes to your mind is what is government doing about it? But what I am more concerned at this stage is what are we doing about it?

On 2nd October, 2014 honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially launched a campaign known as “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” or “Clean India Mission.” Out of several specific objectives of the mission, one of the main objectives is to eliminate defecation in open. Several ambassadors were named by the PM, many of the celebrities came out in the open (and gave a shot at broomsticks) to deliver the message and television awareness campaigns were started (one of which is focused on building toilets). Besides other things, monetary help in form of grants are being given to build toilets (at least on papers) to those who cannot afford to build them otherwise.

Moreover, this is not the first time government has come up with a similar project. Governments have launched similar missions in the past too, including Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) in 1986, Total Sanitation Campaign in 1999, and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 2012. Despite the efforts the problem stays as it is.

Now the question that arrives is what happens to the money that is to be spent on building toilets? Well, tragically, the money is spent everywhere but in building the toilets. That brings us to two unrelated issues, yet playing a significant role in shaping the future of India. One is corruption while the other is poverty. Although some of the money is still spent in constructing the toilets (public or private), but majority of it becomes victim to these other issues. A substantial amount of money goes into the pockets of those officials who are mediating the process. Whatever little is left of the grant is not given to those who are in need but to those who can bribe for it. Hence, the money goes to the wrong hands. Alright, now let’s say some of the money actually reaches the right hands, do you think the money is really spent where it should have been.

A while back I was in Agra, a prominent city in Uttar Pradesh, hub of major tourist attraction for the whole world. It was there that I learnt, what happens to these grants. People are taking the allocated grant and using it to aid their monthly family expenses or buying luxury items There isn’t a proper surveillance mechanism to see whether the money is being spent the right way. The families receiving the grant for building toilets are supposed to present photographs of the toilets built. People click photographs of the neighbor’s toilets or nearby toilets and send it as the proof. So, on papers, a vast number of toilets have been built, but the reality is horrible. Despite the grant people are still defecating out in the open—in the street’s drain, in the city’s naala (a larger open sewer) or in the fields. Sad, isn’t it?

Urination in public

Now that we know the ground reality, it’s time to discuss what can be done. For the government, I think I need not tell much. There is the requirement of a solid and incorruptible system. The whole process should be transparent and scrutinized on a regular basis via a different department to avoid a planned misuse of the grant.

For the people who are defecating in open, they should be made aware of the perils of not using the toilets. Although some may argue that people are already aware and still deliberately doing so, the hard fact is a vast proportion is still unaware of the importance of hygiene. A study was conducted in 2005 as a part of urban community medicine by 4th semester MBBS students in Ambedkar Nagar, supervised by Dr. Anand Krishnan, CCM, AIIMS. Although the study wasn’t published, the results achieved were striking. Some of the findings of the study are as follows:

  1. People of the test population clearly lacked enough knowledge of the harmful effects of unhygienic practices.
  2. The prevalence of infections related to unhygienic practices was significant. The proportion was higher during the monsoons.

Being a part of the study, I myself had interviewed a lot of families and it was a sad experience knowing how people living in Delhi, the capital of India, were oblivious of the things those are essential for a healthy living.

Once again the question is what we can do. Although most of the people reading this article would have a proper toilet at their home, but the people around them might not. Think about the maid working at your house, the milkman delivering the milk, the vegetable seller you buy your vegetables from, how many of them have toilets at their home? Don’t you think in an indirect way their unhygienic activities have a role to play on your health too? Do you think you won’t catch a cold from their sneezes, or worms from the vegetables, or typhoid from the milk? If you care about yourself, your family, the people around you and the environment, you have to be the one to take steps.

Teach them. Tell them what the perilous effects of improper hygiene are and how it’s going to affect both their health and their economy. They might rather be using the received grant in supporting their families for the things which are essential to them, the bitter truth is if they are actually putting themselves at the economic risk of losing more money in visiting doctors and buying medicines. When they learn that the grant must be used for the exact purpose it’s meant for, hopefully, the proportion of people defecating in open would come down by significant numbers. It becomes the responsibility of us to come forward and start making a difference thus being the change makers to shape a better tomorrow.

If you agree with me, please leave your feedback in the comments.