Two leaders on opposite sides of the political spectrum have expressed similar views on this. Both minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi have spoken about the need for toilets above temples. And they could not be more right.
More than 620 million people – over 50% of the population – have to conduct their ablutions in the open. Madhya Pradesh, where more than 70% families have no access to toilets, ranks second in the list of bad performers, according to the 2011 census report.
What is appalling is the manner in which the MP government plans to deal with the problem. A booklet published by it advocates catcalls, publishing names and photographing the people caught defecating in the open. These suggestions, that lack dignity at best and are downright stupid at worst, can be detrimental to the safety of rural women. The exhortation to whistle at or photograph a woman while she is defecating is not just an infringement of her privacy but also tantamount to outraging her modesty. If this was not enough, it carried an sketch depicting a girl being watched by men while she’s relieving herself with her mother muttering “Oh my god, my daughter is being watched”. At a time when there’s a demand to make India a safer country for women by changing its infrastructure — from bus services to public toilets — these suggestions are a throwback to regressive times.
These gems of wisdom get more absurd as one skims through the 36-page booklet, which carries messages from chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and rural development minister Gopal Bhargava. As part of its ‘triggering sessions’, the booklet suggests bringing about behavioural change by advising the facilitators of the scheme to place a small plate with food next to the faeces and let flies sit on the food. To make this demonstration thought-provoking, it advises that people be asked to eat from this plate. Further it says the same experiment can be done ‘with a hair previously dropped in shit, then dropped into a glass of water and then request people to drink from it’. It gets more disgusting. It goes on to suggest that faeces be flagged with the names of defecators.
This makes us wonder about the very sanity of those who thought this up. The simple answer to the problem is to build more toilets. Mr Chouhan, fresh from his third electoral triumph, heads the government that has charted out a plan to stop open defecation in urban areas by 2017 and provide sanitation access through individual household toilets by 2025. But this seems a decidedly odd way to start off.