The Times of India reported yesterday that the Secretary of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Param Iyer, emptied a latrine pit in Warangal district yesterday. Read why r.i.c.e. believes this is an important step forward in our op-ed in The Hindu.
It’s now well known that the history and continuing practice of untouchability play an important role in explaining open defecation in India. Several studies have found that many rural Indians associate emptying a latrine pit by hand with manual scavenging, work that Dalits have traditionally been compelled to do. Thankfully, the exploitation and exclusion of Dalits is being challenged in India, and many have abandoned the degrading work associated with their oppression. In light of this situation, though, rural Indians do not want to use the kinds of latrines that require periodic manual pit emptying, like those promoted by the Indian government.
It is therefore laudable that Secretary Iyer, the highest-ranking bureaucrat working on sanitation, set an example for representatives of each state by emptying a latrine pit himself.
But many rural Indians probably do not know who Secretary Iyer is and may not come across the articles covering this event, so it will be essential for others to pass on the message. I only hope that this is the beginning of many such demonstrations across the country. If the image of high-ranking people emptying pits becomes as ubiquitous as the images of high-ranking officials wielding brooms, this will be a new era in sanitation policy indeed.