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.