NEW DELHI — According to UNICEF, around half of Indian citizens — some 600 million people — habitually urinate and defecate in the open in 2015.
This issue has created growing alarm within the Indian government, which has recently begun to create initiatives aimed at reducing instances of public defecation that pose numerous health and sanitation risks to Indian citizens.
While running for prime minister, for instance, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on India’s sanitation problems as part of his campaign, promising “toilets first, temples later.” Not long after coming into power, Mr. Modi then spearheaded the “Swachh Bharat” or “Clean India” campaign on Oct. 2, 2014 in New Delhi.
Aimed at helping to clean India’s streets and strengthen the country’s infrastructure, “Swachh Bharat” has also helped to sharpen focus on one of the country’s most pressing issues: the common practice of using the streets as a toilet.
This campaign, in turn, has inspired an offset of localized efforts within India aimed at combating India’s bad toilet habits.
The Indian city of Ahmedabad, for instance, which is nestled in the Northern state of Gujarat and home to around 3.5 million people, recently started a campaign which pays people one rupee to use public toilets.
Government officials in Ahmedabad hope that this monetary incentive will encourage its citizens to consider using newly installed public urination as a place to relieve themselves, rather than the city’s narrow streets.
Agra, an Indian city to the South, has also recently began to crack down on public urination and defecation as a result of the “Swachh Bharat” initiative.
Citing section 34 of the Police Act (punishment for certain offenses, such as inconvenience, annoyance to passengers or residents in public places, roads, etc.), Mr. Gopeshnath Khanna, superintendent to the police, ordered officials to roam the streets on June 26 in order to catch people in the act.
As a result, 109 people — found urinating on railway property in central Agra — were sent to jail for 24 hours. This marked a historic moment in the city’s crack-down on an extremely common practice.
Nationwide, Mr. Modi’s efforts have also helped not only to inspire localized efforts to change India’s sanitary situation but have also helped change people’s attitude toward the issue.
On Indian Independence Day last year — August 15 — for instance, Mr. Modi pointed out how lack of toilets in houses and lack of separate toilets for girls causes a considerable nuisance to India’s female residents, who often have to wait until the cover of nighttime to go outside and relieve themselves.
Mr. Modi then demanded that more has to be done to help provide private toilets for female residents, for whom public urination and defecation runs the risk of sexual assault.
Undeniably, Mr. Modi’s efforts to raise awareness about India’s toilet situation has helped to bolster localized efforts aimed at curbing the practice, such as in Ahmedabad, where bribery is used as an incentive, or Agra, where intimidation is beginning to be used to discourage public toilet acts.
Additionally, Mr. Modi’s efforts have also undeniably helped to raise awareness about the nuanced problems that defecating in the open poses, not only for society at large but for marginalized segments within it, such as women.
Mr. Modi’s efforts mark an important turning point for a country that has long ignored and failed to directly tackle its public urination problems.
In a country where 53 percent of households nationwide, and 69.3 percent of rural households, do not have a toilet within the house, Indian officials hope that “Swachh Bharat” will continue to enable these numbers to steadily decline — and India as a country to steadily become clean.
– Ana Powell
Sources: Times of India, Time, Times of India, Reuters