23% rural Indians defecate in the open despite having toilets: Study
Building state-funded toilets is easier than getting people to use them, a sample survey tracking the government’s Swachch Bharat programme has revealed.
A key aim of the Swachch Bharat mission is to end the practice of open defecation in the country.
At least 43% of people in rural areas in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, accounting for two-fifths of India’s rural population, still defecated in the open in 2018 because of “cultural and other reasons”. However, the share of rural population openly defecating has greatly reduced from 70% in 2014. That’s among key findings of a team of demographers led by Dianne Coffey, a visiting researcher at the Indian Statistical Institute. The team has been monitoring the sanitation scheme’s progress since 2014.
This 43% included people with or without toilets. Nearly 23% of people were those who had been provided with toilets under the Swachch Bharat mission but still preferred to defecate in the open. “Although rural latrine ownership increased considerably over this period, open defecation remains very common in these four states. These findings contrast with official claims of completely eliminating open defecation,” said Coffey, the executive director of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics.
Based on toilet ownership, the government has so far classified 86% districts, or 624, as “open-defecation free”. The researchers chose these four so-called “focus” states as they accounted for a huge rural share of population and had a higher prevalence of open defecation.
Their paper, “Changes in Open Defecation in Rural North India: 2014 – 2018”, also shows that the use of toilets had increased substantially among rural populations since the Swachch Bharat mission was launched by the Narendra Modi government.
In 2014, the team had undertaken a ‘baseline’ survey of rural sanitation behaviour in north India. The results reported in this latest study are from a survey undertaken in 2018 that revisited the same households as in the 2014 survey in the four states. “A number of prior studies have shown that ideas of ritual purity and pollution related to untouchability and the caste system cause many to fear the latrine pit filling up and needing emptying…(this) is a chief reason why open defecation remains so common in rural India, even despite latrine ownership,” said Sangita Vyas, one of the co-authors.
The toilet mission did not adequately focus on addressing “social attitudes and ideas about latrine pits” to achieve a more sustainable decline in open defecation, the latest study notes.