Long overdue

The Supreme Court has done well to give state governments a six-month deadline by which they must provide schools with drinking water and proper toilet facilities. It has underlined the need to provide toilets for girls. One of the most important reasons for high drop-out of girls from schools is believed to be the lack of toilet facilities and the absence of privacy. Parents are reluctant to send their daughters to schools that lack toilet facilities. A survey by civil society groups found that 10 per cent of government schools lack drinking water facilities, 40 per cent lack a functional common toilet and another 40 per cent a separate toilet for girls. Many private schools too deny children such facilities. It is shocking that what is considered a very basic necessity worldwide is an elusive luxury in this country. Toilets do not cost much; there are inexpensive, eco-friendly options. It is not the lack of funds that have failed our children but the absence of sensitivity on the part of our governments.

If children and particularly girls are unable to attend school because of the government’s failure to provide toilets, it means the government is violating the fundamental right of a vast number of children in this country to free and compulsory education. Providing toilets and drinking water in schools will not only help arrest the surging dropout rate but also, it will contribute to improving the health of our children. Defecation in the open claims the lives of over 1,000 children from preventable diarrhoea every day. The use of toilets at school will sensitise children on issues of hygiene, sanitation and civic cleanliness. Seeing its benefits they will hopefully convince their parents of the need to have toilets at home too. This is important as many Indians do not believe they need a toilet. They often see spending money to build a toilet as a waste of scarce resources. But toilets are closely linked to health and poor hygiene results in high medical bills.

To live with dignity is important to all human beings and denying people toilets undermines this need. Over half of India’s population is forced to defecate in the open. This must change. The Supreme Court order is a step towards ushering in this change. Will our governments summon the requisite political will?

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