Freedom from dirt and filth

Sanitation Concerns

The unfortunate incident of alleged rape and murder of two young girls in Badaun, while they were out to relieve themselves, and similar incidents elsewhere, has once again raised the issue of the acute lack of sanitation facilities in the country.

People still practise open defecation (OD) not just in rural areas but in urban areas as well.

Recently, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day address to the nation from the Red Fort had announced his Government’s decision to launch a ‘Clean India’ campaign with the objective that all schools in the country be equipped with proper toilets, with separate ones for girls.

According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), India continues to be a country with the highest number of people in the world practising open defecation. And regrettably, this adds up to about half of its population. Of the one billion people practising OD in the world, 597 million live in India!  Former Union Minister for Rural Development in the UPA Government, Jairam Ramesh, too has welcomed the PM’s proposal, but how and when this decision be formulated and implemented is a big question.   

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, sociologist and founder of Sulabh International, an organisation promoting human rights, sanitation, said, “After Mahatma Gandhi, he is the first person to raise this issue of clean India and toilets. Gandhiji had said that time that he ‘wants independence later but clean India first’ and this is what Modi is following. 

We all want freedom from dirt and filth, but for this the whole country has to come and work together. We are also planning to meet the PM and would like to carry forward what he had promised from the Red Fort.”

After his inspiring speech on sanitation, the corporate sector has also responded positively to his proposal. Two of India’s biggest companies, Tata Consultancy Services and Bharti has committed Rs 100 crore each to build toilets in schools for girls. Renuka, CEO of Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES), an NGO based in Anoopshahr, Bulandshahr district, Uttar Pradesh, said, “We have 1,300 girls coming to our school from 62 villages.

Eight years ago we saw a huge slump in the attendance of many girls and when we tried to find out the reason, we came to know that these girls didn’t have toilets in their homes. They had to go quite far to ease themselves which resulted in late comings and absenteeism. For them, they had only two options – to ease themselves before sunrise and after sunset.”

“Concerned about this, we constructed 87 toilets in the homes of these girls and each family contributed 10 per cent towards the construction cost. After the construction, the other challenge was to change their habit as they all are used to open fields. So then, we started our sanitation programme in the village.

And now these toilets have become a sort of status symbol for them. For those houses which didn’t have enough space for construction, we built Community Health and Hygiene Centre, which has 18 seats and six bathing spaces. This centre also has solar charging stations for lanterns and we charge Rs 45/month as membership fee for using this centre. Only when children are healthy, can they study and attend their schools.”

Ritu Mehra, founder of Pardarshita, another NGO in Seemapuri, in the City, working on the sanitation issue, said, “Although it is a great recommendation by the PM, but what about those places where there is no space to construct toilets, like the jhuggi areas. The public/mobile toilets that are provided are in the worst possible condition. They are now used by drug addicts and scrap dealers.

 In many government schools we have found that the toilets for the children are locked as there are no adequate staff to maintain them, but the staff toilets are clean. Also, in many Government schools there is no connection from the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) for clean water. Such is the state of the education system in our country.”

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