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Purity, pollution, and untouchability: challenges affecting the adoption, use, and sustainability of sanitation programmes in rural India

Research, Sanitation1 min read

Authors: Aashish Gupta, Diane Coffey, Dean Spears

Published in: Sustainable Sanitation for All: Experiences, challenges, and innovations

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Despite decades of toilet construction, open defecation (OD) remains stubbornly common in rural India. The three authors, all associated with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), explore one of the reasons for this: the rejection of affordable pit latrines – particularly the emptying of them – because they are considered ritually polluting.

The research for this chapter was conducted as part of the Sanitation Quality Use Access and Trends (SQUAT) survey with Sangita Vyas, Nikhil Srivastav, and Payal Hathi; it was an initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Growth Centre. SQUAT set out to answer the question: why is OD so widespread in India?

People were interviewed in 3,235 households in the rural ‘Hindi Heartland’ – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. A parallel qualitative study involved in-depth interviews with 100 individuals in Nepal, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat (see Coffey et al., 2014a and b). This chapter draws heavily on these two studies. It goes on to suggest some ways in which the restrictive social norms related to the use and maintenance of low-cost sanitation facilities can be challenged.


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