research institute for compassionate economics

news of a tragedy implies open defecation

Written by Aashish Gupta 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.