research institute for compassionate economics

We don’t clean toilets!

Written by Nikhil Srivastav on April 13th, 2015

Anil K. Rajvanshi, an Indian academic and the Director of an agricultural institute in Maharastra, recently wrote an article titled ‘The Un-Swachh Truth’ in the Huffington Post. The points which the author takes up in the article resonate with our findings from the “switching study” that one reason people defecate in the open rather than use latrines is because they don’t want to deal with feces. In the article Dr. Rajvanshi reflects on one of the most difficult aspects of his job as director of the institute: trying to keep the toilets clean. Despite his efforts, the educated scientists in the institute remained reluctant to taking turns and cleaning the toilets themselves. In fact Dr. Rajvanshi said that even when he made it mandatory for people to clean the toilet, if they wanted to use it, most of his staff members chose to use the fields for almost two years.

Though the incident which Dr. Rajvanshi talks about is an anecdote, it is an important and meaningful one. In fact most people in rural north India have attitudes towards emptying their latrine pitsthat are similar to those of Dr. Rajvanshi’s staff towards cleaning toilets. Villagers similarly think it is not their job to empty the filled latrine pits, and they cannot imagine doing it themselves, even when there is no one else to do the job. Instead people choose to go and defecate in the open.

This similarity between the urban elites and the rural poor is surprising. It points the importance of ingrained ideas about purity and pollution for many Indians. For the Swachh Bharat initiative to succeed, in Rajvanshi’s words, ‘we need to think beyond constructing toilets. Our mindset needs to change before we can become a swachh and hygienic nation.’