All posts by Nazar Khalid

Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen releases a commendable ad to promote twin pit latrines!

The Swacch Bharat Mission Grameen recently launched an advertisement campaign video with Hindi movie stars Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar. In the video the actors educate viewers about how twin pit latrines work. The ad also teaches viewers how the decomposed feces can be used for greater farming benefits and prosperity.
An important feature of the ad which distinctly stands out is that Akshay Kumar touches the decomposed feces with his own hands. We know from years of field research that misplaced beliefs and untouchability-related barriers around handling of feces is one important reason why such a high fraction of the Indian population still defecates in the open. The message of this advertisement is therefore really important, and its makers should be commended.

For the readers who don’t understand Hindi, here is a translation of the dialogues from the video.
Mishra [M]: [In an astonished tone] So many varieties of flowers and fruits…this is incredible!
Akshay Kumar [AK]: It’s all because of the latrine Mishra.
M: [surprised and with a disgusted look on his face] LATRINE?
Bhumi Pednekar [BP]: [disapproving of Mishra’s tone and disgusted face] Yes, the latrine..and that also with two pits.
BP: I had made it clear to him at the time of our marriage, seven years ago, that if there is no toilet in the house then I wouldn’t marry him.
AK: And what did I say then? If I get a toilet, it must be one with the twin pits.
M: [surprised] Two pits…why?
AK: One pit will get filled in five years with regular use. After that, start using the other pit by changing the lever.
M: What is the need to do all this…why not empty the filled pit itself and then start using again? They are just feces.
AK: These are not just feces…these are gold!
M: [Disgusted facial gesture] chhee chhee (eww)
AK: If this pit is closed and left for a year…this will turn into gold.
BP: [with a tray of decomposed feces] That is, sonkhaad (gold in the form of manure).
AK: [lifts the decomposed feces by his hands from the tray] Spread this sonkhad in your field and then experience the blessings of the latrine.
M [convinced and excited] Even I am going to build a latrine with two pits.
BP: [handing Mishra a tray full of fruits and vegetables] Give this to your wife as gift from us.
AK: This is a gift from the land, Mishra.
AK and BP [together]: The best latrine is one that has two pits.

Hunger and health: Royal Economic Society video highlights prize-winning r.i.c.e. research

In last few decades, India has seen a declining household per capita average calorie consumption. This throws a puzzle, as over the same time people in India have gotten richer. Dean and Josephine investigate how India’s improving disease environment can explain part of the calorie decline.
Their research matches data on infant mortality rates (IMR) and open defecation with survey data on per capita calorie consumption. They find that between 1988 and 2004-05, districts that had a larger decline in IMR saw a larger decline in household per capita calorie consumption. Also, those households that live in villages where more of their neighbours defecate in open are also the ones that eat more calories on average.
An implication of this research is that as more households use toilets, then the food that government provides to them can be used more efficiently and there could even be cost savings. Not only will children be healthier and more likely to survive, they will also have better nutritional outcomes. Additionally, the money that the government spends on food subsidies can also be put to better use. Access this article here 

Dean talks to the Institute of Development Studies on what motivated ‘Where India Goes?’

In this short interview, Dean talks to the IDS about what motivated him and Diane to write their book “Where India Goes: Abandoned toilets, stunted development, and the cost of caste.” While the book addresses the puzzle of widespread open defecation in rural India, originally, they were interested in a different puzzle- the puzzle concerning child health and well-being in India.  The statistical data, for example, revealed that India had a higher neonatal mortality and shorter children compared to many other developing countries with lower per capita incomes. In their effort to learn about child health they stumbled at the puzzle of open defecation in rural India.

There is a number of things that make situation tough for children in India. The lower status of women, for instance, means that young mothers do not eat a lot which shows in the health of their babies. Another important reason for this is sanitation and disease environment. India is a place with a very high density of population on one hand and a lot of open defecation on the other hand. Together, they create an environment, especially in rural parts of the northern states, where an awful lot of children are exposed to their neighbor’s open defection and their germs.

Where India goes is, in part, an attempt to share what they learned about open defecation and how important it is for children’s health and development, and for the population that they grow into. There is another important motivation for writing it: to share what they learned about why there is open defecation in rural India. The ideas of purity and pollution in the caste system and how people think about latrine pits filling up and needing to be emptied influence people’s behavior on the use of pit latrines that many are happy to use in other developing countries.

Aadhaar, biometrics, and the PDS in Jharkhand

Check my new article on ideas for India website.
The Public Distribution System plays an important role in the lives of poor people in Jharkhand. They tend to keep their ration cards safely, go to the ration shop every month without fail, and get angry when the local PDS dealer cheats them. The reason is not difficult to understand: in their fragile and uncertain lives, the PDS provides a modicum of food and economic security.

Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) is now compulsory for most users of the public distribution
system in Jharkhand. In this paper, I argue that “the success of ABBA depends on the simultaneous functioning of undependable technologies such as the PoS machine, remote Aadhaar servers, fingerprint recognition devices, and internet connectivity.The analysis of digital records, along with independent survey data, provides us with some important insights on the impact of the new system on the PDS in Jharkhand, and it’s only in the combination of digital records and the survey data, such as Drèze et. al. (2017, paper ), that a clearer picture emerges. Even in Ranchi district, a relatively ‘favourable environment’ for these technologies to function, the failure rates are considerable. This raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this technology for the PDS, especially in areas like rural Jharkhand.”