"Casteism is the biggest impediment to success of Swachh Bharat Mission" (say Dean Spears, Diane Coffey) - True or false? PC or not?


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"Casteism is the biggest impediment to success of Swachh Bharat Mission" (say Dean Spears, Diane Coffey) - True or false? PC or not?

Kris recently pointed out this interesting interview in two of his posts. I also saw it on twitter so I think it is making the rounds now, so it's worth taking a closer look!

The title is: "Casteism is the biggest impediment to success of Swachh Bharat Mission, say scholars Dean Spears, Diane Coffey"

I haven't dug into it but I assume the interview is based on a new publication by Spears and Coffey (?).

They have published "controversial" stuff before. I am actually a little puzzled and wonder which organization they are affiliated with. If I understand right, it's just their own organisation called Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE). So this makes me a little bit careful.

In the interview, they are basically (and simplistically?) saying that in some parts of rural India, people don't use toilets even if they have them because they don't want the pits fill up because they don't know how they would be emptied. And here caste comes in:

All around the world people use the simple pit latrine and when it gets filled, somebody has to empty it and either the family does it themselves or they hire someone to do it. It is unpleasant but it is not an enormously big deal. In India, it is an enormously big deal because it is associated with being a Dalit. The Dalits don’t want to be doing it either and they are looking at forward to a better future when they will be no longer oppressed.

A lot of families with latrines think that if they use them, it will pollute their home and they will never be able to empty them. To avoid all this, it is easier is to defecate in the open. It is going to be a hard problem to solve because it is rooted in these old and strongly held issues of social inequality.

They also compare (again) the behaviors of Muslims and Hindus in India. Here one has to be super careful to not fan prejudices and hate. They say:

Of course, (this is not the case) in all states but on average children living with more Muslim neighbours are going to have healthier environments than people living with Hindu neighbours.

I suppose everyone is wondering what makes India different? How can it have such high open defecation rates even though it is comparably "wealthy" by now? Are Indian pecularities like caste or Hinduism in any way relevant here? It should really irk Indian officials that neighboring Bangladesh which is poorer is now declared as open defecation free (see also this post by Mughal from 21 Aug: forum.susana.org/5-community-led-approac...idies?start=12#22409 )

Before we dive into this argument further, I wanted to draw your attention to a previous thread where we discussed a previous publication by the same authors. It was Sowmya who made a really detailed forum post about why this is probably not right and not helpful (?):
It was in the thread called "Open defecation solves the (lower) child mortality puzzle among Indian Muslims"

Sowmya warned us and said be careful! Don't just trust these publications on face value.

This is very interesting and very tricky. It reminds me a little bit of discussions here in Germany where in the past the media was always very careful saying things like "a higher proportion of criminals are foreigners compared to their proportion in the population, or they are overly presented amongst suspects, convicted criminals and prisoners". Even if statistically the numbers are correct, it is very dangerous/difficult to discuss this in a fair way as it can quickly lead to hate and racism. Luckily in Germany in general the media is quite sensible about this topic (critics would could call it politically correct (PC)!). At the same time, a fair and honest discourse is necessary to discuss route causes for higher crime rates e.g. amongst young people with a migration history. We are currently seeing a change in the way the media is reporting (e.g. in the past the nationality or ethnic background of a suspect was normally not mentioned; nowadays it is more likely to be mentioned, people are nowadays demanding more to know these figures due to a general feeling of insecurity).

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Ulm, Germany
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