Today is Gandhi Jayanti, which marks the first anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission. r.i.c.e. marked the occasion a few days ago by hosting a Conference on Purity, Untouchability, and Open Defecation: Starting a Conversation for a Swachh Bharat.
At the conference, researchers and policy makers alike agreed that in order to have a chance at eliminating open defecation in India, the SBM must address how beliefs in purity and pollution and the continuing practice of untouchability hinder the use of simple, inexpensive latrines that save infant lives all over the rest of the developing world.
Today, the media agreed too. An editorial in the Indian Express says:
“For it to succeed, Swachh Bharat will also have to account for the culture of purity and pollution rural sanitation is embedded in, and more carefully negotiate issues of caste on the ground. A recent study in the BMC Public Health found that “strongly ingrained beliefs around impurity and pollution and the required rituals for purification and cleansing post-defecation in Indian society may play a big part in the choice to continue defecating in the open”. Modi’s use of his bully pulpit has focused much-needed attention on a dirty reality of Indian society, but a cleansing will take more.”
Anumeha Yadav, in her article in Scroll, also talks about the problems faced when beliefs in purity and pollution are not tackled. She visited an ODF village in Rajasthan in which a number of households were forced to build latrines and took out large loans in order to build latrines with massive pits. Latrines with smaller pits that nevertheless safely confine feces in the ground could be built for much less. She says in her article:
“Till 15 years ago, Dausod had a system of dry latrines which were cleaned manually by dalit communities. With the arrival of flush toilet, the practice ended. But because of the lingering association of latrine cleaning with manual scavenging, wealthier families which constructed toilets first built latrines with large single pits so they can put off emptying them for as long as possible.”
An article in Hindustan Times echoes the same issues:
“In this hurry to achieve the construction targets, what we are losing sight of is the fact that building toilets is just one part of the challenge. The other objectives of SBM — eradicating manual scavenging, implementing effective scientific municipal waste management, effecting behavioural change among the people, generating awareness on the link that exists between sanitation and health and augmenting the capacity of urban local bodies — are equally important and have to be put in place if India is to achieve the 2019 target. This is because without water supply and safe disposal of faecal matter, toilets would become non-functional.”
You can download the presentations from the conference here.