Archive for RICE Institute: Get Involved!

two more!

Written by on June 11th, 2014

Two more of our articles came out today.

The first one, by Sangita, is titled Most rural Indians can afford a toilet but don’t want one.

The second one, by Diane and Dean, is called Can Modi’s next wave wash away open defecation?

Do read them.

Even America’s National Public Radio says a sanitation social movement may be in order

Written by on June 9th, 2014

Julie McCarthy of National Public Radio covers the recent incident of sexual and caste violence in Badaun and open defecation. She rightly highlights the importance of shifting social norms in order to eliminate open defecation, and even uses some statistics from the SQUAT survey!

The Gates Foundation’s Brian Arbogast says even affordable innovations won’t alone solve India’s sanitation problems. He says India needs to shift the mindset that open defecation is ‘natural and normal’ to ‘it is not healthy.’

‘You teach them that their children and their families are suffering a lot of sickness because of basically fecal matter being transmitted by flies or other ways to the food they eat,’ Arbogast says. ‘And once people really realize that, that can really be a triggering event for a community.’

Diane Coffey, an economist and Ph.D. candidate with Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School says simply providing latrines is no guarantee that people will actually use them. She studied five northern Indian states and found that 19 percent of women with access to a latrine still preferred to defecate in the open.

‘They’re used to it, for one,’ Coffey says. And she says the research is clear that ‘building toilets without addressing common norms, attitudes and beliefs around latrine use is unlikely to reduce open defecation in rural India.’

And she’s very right about Indians’ expectations of Modi. He better make good on his recent election campaign promise: “toilets first, temples later.”

Check out her article and radio segment here.


President promises a Swachh Bharat Mission

Written by on June 9th, 2014

In his inaugural address to India’s Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee outlined the new government’s agenda. Along with other things, he promised a Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission). This is exactly what he said:

15. We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. For ensuring hygiene, waste management and sanitation across the nation a “Swachh Bharat Mission” will be launched. This will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019.

We agree. We would have liked him to add that we must not tolerate germs and diseases arising out of open defecation. Hopefully, that goal will be an important part of the Swachh Bharat Mission.

This article was not based on the SQUAT survey. It says exactly what we keep saying.

Written by on June 9th, 2014

Pritha Chatterjee has an amazing report in the Indian Express from the area in Uttar Pradesh where horrible violence on young girls was reported in the media recently.

I do like it. We ourselves found many of these things in our surveys, and here are a couple of paragraphs that could well have been from the switching study or the SQUAT survey:

“It was in 2002 that the last survey to identify BPL families for the Indira Awaas Yojana was carried out in the village. Pradhan Kamal Kant admits that many villagers like Bhajan Singh who were sanctioned money for a room and a toilet under the programme never actually constructed the toilets. Of those who did, still fewer use them.

Ram Awas says he could spare money only for a simple hole encircled by a little cemented area for squatting. “People said there was no point using the hole as a toilet because it would fill up. So I started keeping cowdung cakes in the hole,” he says.

Bal Ram lives in a hut made of straw and hay. But in the courtyard, there is a toilet made of bricks, built from money allocated through the government programme in 2012. In the four years since it was built, it has been used mostly as a chulha (stove) or a room where neighbouring women gather to chat in the afternoons. Only about a few months ago did Ram’s wife Kamla Devi start using it, but only for urination.

“We have never done our business inside the home,” she explains. “What if the men hear us? Now, after so many years, I have mastered the courage to go there sometimes. But I cannot imagine defecating inside. It is too shameful to do it inside the home.” The men of the house always go to the fields.

Kamal Kant has a toilet at his home, built with his own money years ago. A Brahmin, he says the reluctance to use toilets is not defined by caste but by education. “Whether it’s Brahmins, Yadavs, SCs or OBCs, you will find toilets being used to store utensils or other household objects. People here have no or very little schooling. Many women come up to me fearfully requesting a toilet, but the men of the house take the decisions. They will use their finances to build rooms, but not a toilet because they don’t feel the need for it,” he says.

We don’t agree with the Kamal Kant, though. We found a lot of educated people defecating in the open and defending it. But thats okay. We agree with the rest.

The battle for toilets and minds – Rukmini’s op-ed in The Hindu based on the Squat Survey

Written by on June 8th, 2014

Rukmini S, who has written quite a few articles now on the importance of sanitation, reported the Squat Survey’s findings in an op-ed in the Hindu. We are of course, really thankful to her, and request you to read her really nice and insightful op-ed.

Its here, and very appropriately, its titled the battle for toilets and minds.

As a spoiler, here’s the neat infographic from the article. If you can, do check out the article in the actual print edition of The Hindu. Why? Because its in colour there 🙂

200th post, and 2 new articles

Written by on June 7th, 2014

Toilets that are not used.


WordPress tells us that this is our 200th post on the r.i.c.e blog. We thank you, our readers, for being with us all this while.

We wrote two new articles this past week. Actually, we wrote more, but only two of them have come out.

The first one, written by Dean for the website, argues that the goal of eliminating open defecation, as articulated by India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, makes economic sense. To know why, read the article here.

The next one, written together by Diane, Aashish, Payal, Dean and Sangita discusses the different problems of open defecation and violence against women. In particular, its a nuanced response to the media commentary on recent incidents of sexual and caste violence against women. Read here.

More articles, which discuss the findings of our recently concluded SQUAT survey, are on their way. Stay tuned.

India requires a “junoon” – an obsession – to end open defecation: Jairam Ramesh

Written by on June 6th, 2014

Jairam Ramesh, who in his short tenure as India’s minister for Sanitation (and in his longer tenure as Rural Development Minister) did a lot to advance the cause of ending open defecation in India, has a new article about ending open defecation in India today.

He argues:

Today a number of issues should unite political parties, not divide them. Extremely poor environmental and household sanitation is undoubtedly the most glaringly obvious of these; yet we seem to have reconciled and adjusted ourselves to this grim situation. 

We could not agree more. He also says,

Modi as Prime Minister must give a different call: For a “Khule Mein Shauch-Mukt Bharat” (Open Defecation Free India). If he does so, I’m confident all parties will extend their hand of cooperation.

Thank you, Jairam Ramesh, for saying that. We certainly hope that this happens.

news of a tragedy implies open defecation

Written by on May 30th, 2014

There is much that is tragic about this story: Rape Allegations in a Haryana Village Underscore a Social Fracas.  The crime itself appears to have been profound; the subsequent blaming of the victims, familiar; the terrible consequences of the social distance and caste hierarchy in Indian villages, all too common.

Although on this blog we tend to emphasize the population-wide health and human development costs of open defecation, there is no doubt that the difficulties and indignities of open defecation are particularly suffered by women.  Often, this is especially true of young, low-ranking daughters in law.  Indeed, we often have speculated that if rural Indian households were more equal places — so that the adult man, who often does not mind defecating in the open, were not making all the decisions — there would be a lot more latrines in use throughout India.

In this case, the news report strongly implies that the women were attacked while going to defecate in the open. To the author’s credit this is in the very first paragraphs.  But for some prudish reason, the report only implies this.  It explains they “performed a nightly ritual,” in the next sentence “relieved themselves,” and in the next paragraph “lacked basic amenities, including toilets” so “went into the fields.”  It appears, amidst the euphemisms, that what happened is that they were raped while pooping outside.

If so, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if the households in their village had the norms, habit and, yes, basic amenities, to use latrines.  In this case, that would be one more reason to work for widespread sanitation behavior change in rural India.  And that will require going uncomfortably beyond implication.

more mint on malnutrition

Written by on May 27th, 2014

Live Mint invokes a martial metaphor: Launching a war against malnutrition.  What would such a war look like?  Who would be the enemies?  How would they be defeated?

It is not an easy question.  Wars are usually things that states do these days.  But an important point of the article is that malnutrition in India appears to have deeply social causes: the social status of young women (who are mothers) and people’s preferred way to relieve themselves are both challenging forces for a state to oppose.  Perhaps the best a state could do is lead, experiment, and create a space for countervailing social forces and examples?  I don’t know; there is much to learn here.


I wanted to post the link but didn’t have much more to say, so I edited a poem:


Some say that kids are small ’cause mom is

Some say it’s poop.

From what I’ve totaled in the data

I hold with those who say excreta;

But if I could add an endnote

I think I know enough that’s sad

To say that where the subzi goes

Is also bad.

It’s probably both.


99 interviews!

Written by on May 25th, 2014

Today, the switching study team finished its final qualitative interview! We have learned a lot about sanitation attitudes and behaviors — from the banks of the Arabian Sea in Gujarat, to the foothills of the Himalayas in the Nepali terai. To tell you the truth, we feel quite humbled, because these interviews have taught us a lot about the precise ways in which it will be difficult to convince people in this region to make the switch to latrines.

We are grateful to all of the families in Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal who have opened their homes to us and so patiently shared their stories. I think it is fitting, though, that our very last interview was with a Muslim woman who convinced her family to invest in a latrine and valued it highly.

But that’s all I’ll say on our results for today. For now, we’re going to celebrate …


and take a rest!



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