India is known as the defecation capital of the world with 638 million people defecating in the open. People have more mobile phones and easier access to banks than toilets. More than half of the Indian population does not wash their hands after defecation, making respiratory and gastrointestinal infections major killers among children and adults alike.
66 % of girls’ schools do not have a functioning female toilet in India resulting in a dropout rate of more than 40% after completing just year five.
Around 23 % of girls drop out of school every year in India due to lack of menstrual hygiene facilities including toilets.
Building toilets in rural India was one of the major promises Prime Minister Narendra Modi made during his speech from the Red Fort ramparts in his first Independence Day address on 15 August, 2014.
The government has since moved with alacrity, claiming to have constructed around 3.36 crore countryside toilets across India under Modi’s ambitious Swachh Bharat mission.
But a random assessment of the campaign shows that the ambitious move is plagued by crippling problems that threaten to offset the hopes among large swathes of population that seek hygienic living.
To gauge the programme’s success rate, Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation — the nodal agency for rural mission for the cleanliness campaign — engaged the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) for an impact assessment study.
Sources in the ministry said that one of the most common complaints coming from states like Uttar Pradesh (UP) was the lack of acceptability and proper usage of the toilets built in remote rural areas.
“Though several toilets have been built in this area, villagers still prefer going out into fields to attend nature’s call. At a few places, villagers have dumped the toilets under piles of husk. In some villages where they have constructed toilets, there is no proper waste management…so they are frustrated with the idea,” said an official in UP government, based in Badaun district, on the condition of anonymity.
A villager in Bareilly district of UP admitted that he felt “suffocated inside an enclosed toilet” and couldn’t bring himself to excrete until he went to an open field.
At least 50 per cent of the Indian population doesn’t have access to toilets. If we go to villages randomly, we will find one or the other problem.
The reason is that sanitation is primarily a behavioural issue, to be undertaken by people themselves for their own good. The role of government is only to facilitate this positive change by providing incentives and assisting people. The SBM-G has a clear focus on behavioural change.
Officials said the realisation by a person or community of the need to stop open defecation, and therefore take steps to construct and use toilets, is more important than a supply-driven approach.
The Centre has also said that state governments have the flexibility to provide higher incentive for household toilets constructed by sources other than SBM-G.
The construction of toilets is a major focal area for the Swachh Bharat programme, which aims to make India “open defecation-free” by 2019.
It aims at constructing 12 crore toilets in rural India by October 2019 at a projected cost of Rs 1.96 lakh crore.
Some NGOs are also working as a helping hand in Swachh Bharat Mission like Heeals is creating awareness at grass root level, national and international level about sanitation, menstrual hygiene, toilets and unsafe drinking water, and its effect on female education and health. Alongside awareness campaigns, HEEALS organization also ensures that communities are equipped to tackle these issues, by providing toilets in the areas most at risk, and by providing things such as water purification tablets, water tanks, soap and sanitary towels for young girls.
But a single organization can't do this alone and government funding is far from easy to secure.
So, each one of us have to put the efforts to make swachh bharat mission successful. Together we can reach every mother, father, and child in our local communities.
Let’s hope that the aim of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will be achieved very soon.