My last series of the blogs were focused on one particular slum, the Pedda Jalaripeta Slum in Visakhapatnam, India. I am starting off a new series of blogs focused on Infrastructure, Culture, and Gender issues in slums as well as rural parts of India. I choose to do my first blog in this series on ‘Open Defecation’. For most of us who take the toilets in our homes for granted, we may not be aware that  ‘open defecation’  (which means toileting in fields, roadsides or by train tracks). Today open defecation is on the decline worldwide, but nearly 950 million people still routinely practice it. Some 569 million of them live in India. Walk along its train tracks or rural roads, and you will readily encounter the evidence

Title: Percentage change in Open Defecation from 2001 to 2011

No country in the world has more open defecation than India, where one in two people defecate outside. Every year, 200,000 children in India die from diseases caused by fecal contamination. On April 2017, Bill Gates wrote a compelling blog which outlines India’s mission to fight open defecation by building 75 Million toilets by 2019 – as part of the new initiative Swatch Bharat Abhiyan(Clean India Mission). Thanks to the Clean India Mission, open defecation reduced by 31 percent since 1990. Current Prime Minister of India allotted more than $40 billion for a latrine-building and behavior-change blitz called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), for which the World Bank threw in another $1.5 billion in loans.

Title: Government constructed affordable PIT latrines

Despite the heavy investments in physical infrastructure, why are India’s open-defecation rates so much higher than those in other developing nations. Since India is richer, has higher literacy rates, and has more access to water?

In a 2014 Qualitative study conducted by RICE Institute, the rural population strongly believed that open defecation is part of a healthy, wholesome rural life. The residents firmly believed that the government constructed affordable latrines with internationally recommended pits are polluting.

Sanitation challenges in Indian Cities are not just physical they are social and cultural.  A recent Bollywood movie, ‘Toilet -Ek Prem Katha’ (Translates to Toilet – a love story) tackles this question of changing social-cultural norms around sanitation in a Satirical Comedy. The story is set in a rural village in India, where the protagonist Keshav serenades, liberal-thinker Jaya, a woman from his neighboring village in Uttar Pradesh. They marry but it doesn’t strike Keshav to tell her that his house doesn’t have a toilet. Jaya is woken at 4 a.m. on that first night to go to the field with her mother-in-law and neighbors. This then becomes the grounds for Jaya to file for a divorce.  In rural India, it is a scandalous thing to do. The rest of the movie showcases the cultural, financial and bureaucratic hurdles that the protagonist overcomes to build a toilet and get his wife back.

Can a movie change the negative attitudes about latrines and reduce the Open Defecation rates in India?






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