Some women demand mobiles not toilets: Jairam

In an off-the-cuff remark that left many flabbergasted here at a function, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Friday said that a section of women in the country demand mobile phones, not toilets.

"Sanitation is the much more difficult issue. Now, we are talking of behavioural changes and women demand mobile phones. They are not demanding toilets. That is the mindset we have," he said after launching the Asia-Pacific Millennium Development Goals prepared by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) here.

The minister’s remark left many stunned in the gathering. Apparently, uncomfortable with the minister’s remark, the host of the event reminded him of a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh who was recently honoured after her insistence on toilet facilities at her marital home which compelled the villagers to take up the issue in their area.

Addressing the gathering, Ramesh said that India is a “land of paradox” as it accounts for almost 60 per cent of those relieving themselves in the open at a time when the country has 700 million mobile phones. “We build toilets but the toilets are not used," said Ramesh, who is also in-charge of the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

When asked about his “understanding” of women’s “reluctance” in using toilets, Ramesh said there were “certain cultural norms associated with open defecation”.

He accepted that Total Sanitation Campaign of his Ministry has been a failure in ending open defecation. It is a token sanitation campaign for which only Rs 3,000 being given to the poor to construct “useless toilets,” he rued.

“The one that directly concerns the achievement of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is water supply and sanitation. The single most serious problem as far as water supply and sanitation is concerned is that, there’s severe under-funding both at the Centre and state level,” he said.

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