A few days ago, we wrote an editorial decrying the sad state of urban sanitation in India. The point was that basic sanitation is denied to a bulk of Indians and this leads to not only filthy conditions but diseases borne out of them. But rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who’s also in charge of drinking water and sanitation, was bang on — and brave — on Monday when he told a Delhi audience that Indians in general are the filthiest people by choice. Mr Ramesh pointed out that around 65% of rural homes had been provided with toilets but still didn’t use them. And you don’t need statistics to confirm a similar lack of hygiene when it comes to our cities.
Public urination is a particularly Indian (male) malaise. The male bladder, last heard, was as physically robust as that anywhere else in the world. So, one must assume that the problem lies in the mind. The shame of urinating in the open for the city man is as potent as that of a g-stringed lady in a Rio carnival parade. And it’s not only the wretched of the earth or the toilet-less masses who prefer a wall to a public facility. There are enough specimens that can be spotted who take the roads to be one giant washroom. The issue of garbage is pretty much the same. The chances of finding litter in between a line of dustbins are higher than finding the rubbish in the bins.
The general filthiness of India is something that not too many people like talking in public. But you’d have to be cut off from all your senses to not register it. It takes foreigners to sometimes point out the all-pervasive dirtiness that we deal with everyday. When they do, many of us call them drain inspectors without realising that it is a drain that is actually there that is being described. Mr Ramesh has someone like Mohandas Gandhi in agreement with him, lest it be thought that the minister is protesting too much. How he intends to change this mindset that even the Mahatma had little success with, we don’t know. But he’s got the drift, if you know what we mean.