research institute for compassionate economics

A Story to Inform the Swatchh Bharat Mission

Written by Nidhi Khurana on July 11th, 2014

Here is an interesting story from SQUAT survey in Jodhpur that I would like to share today. This story has some implications for the upcoming ambitious Swatchh Bharat Mission Plan of NDA government.

“Purna Ram and Ram Deen (names changed) are two childhood friends belonging to two different castes. They are neighbors and went to same schools as well. Child marriage is a commonplace in Rajasthan and to comply with this tradition, they got married on the same day as well. Purna Ram, an upper caste guy and from a stronger economic background now studies in the Jodhpur city. Ram Deen, being the elder son in his family and belonging to humble background couldn’t continue with his studies. He is running a carpenter’s shop in the same village now. Purna Ram keeps on visiting the village and spends most of the time with his childhood friend.

Purna Ram’s family has three houses in a row where all his brothers and uncles live together. They have everything in their house including television, fridge, mobile phones, and big underground water storage tank but not a latrine. However, he has a good exposure to latrines owing to his moving to the city for education.

Ram Deen’s carpentry skill has enabled him to make fancy furniture for his house including a small temple room. Before his father died three years ago, they had to build a latrine because he was sick. Now that latrine doesn’t have a door. He claims that they are using this latrine even without a door.”

The Finance Minister of India has presented the new annual budget yesterday. Item 30 in the budget speech says:

“The need for sanitation is of utmost importance. Although the Central Government is providing resources within its means, the task of total sanitation cannot be achieved without the support of all. The Government intends to cover every household by total sanitation by the year 2019, the 150th year of the Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi through Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan.”

True! It’s a matter of “utmost importance”. And it surely requires everyone to come on the board to achieve total sanitation. We appreciate the nice intentions of the mission but we are asking ourselves whether it will be able to change people’s attitudes towards sanitation.

Earlier this week, Payal also talked about government’s misguided 100 day plan that requires building a toilet per second. But the story I just told suggests that construction alone will not be enough. Considering this story, the problem clearly is not the lack of resources to build a latrine but the attitude towards latrines. Variables like education, migration, resources, social position have less to do with you owning and using a latrine in rural India. In fact, it has more to do with situations of emergency, sickness, or out of concern for women’s modesty.

I hope the Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan will be able to take into account many such stories. A lot of messaging to change people’s behavior would be a good starting point. So till the time the mission comes up with its framework, keeping the fingers crossed!