National Geographic Feature on Open Defecation - Why People Defecate Outdoors in India?


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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Why People Defecate Outdoors in India?

Why People Defecate Outdoors in India?

Recently, a very information piece of Elizabeth Royte appeared in National Geographic, on open

defecation in India. The article contains useful information, with some bold pictures.

Briefly, Elisabeth says that while the open defecation is on the decline worldwide, 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.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi declared his intention to end open defecation in India more than a decade earlier, by October 2, 2019. He 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. Modi aims to build more than 100 million new toilets in rural areas alone by 2019.

The Swachh Bharat mission offers each household about $190 to construct a pit latrine—far more than other developing nations spend. In Jawda, however, nobody uses the latrines. “It’s for washing clothes or bathing,” says a woman. “We have a lot of open space. Why shouldn’t we use that?”

In surveys done throughout rural northern India, where open defecation is more prevalent than in the south, people express a keen preference for relieving themselves outdoors. It’s healthier, they say. It’s natural and even virtuous. Many rural Indians consider even the most immaculate latrine religiously polluting; a toilet near the home seems more unclean to them than answering the call of nature 200 yards away.

Get this:

Elisabeth says that in rural India it is considered the manly thing to defecate outdoors. Patriarchal advertisements indirectly reinforce that notion, imploring men to build toilets, not for the health of the whole family, but to protect their wives and daughters from sexual harassment out in the bush and from the shame of lifting their saris outdoors.

Many rural women ignore these messages and still head outdoors themselves. These women and girls may be reluctant to break with tradition or may feel cooped up inside a latrine, especially one they lack the tools or inclination to clean. Some may also prize the opportunity to get together with their girlfriends. Open defecation, as strange as this may sound to Westerners, offers young women a welcome break from their domestic confines and the oversight of in-laws and husbands.

F H Mughal
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan

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  • arno
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National Geographic Feature on Open Defecation

You will be interested in reading the National Geographic Featured article on open defecation in the August 2017 issue.

Sometimes it takes a high profile magazine with good maps and colorful photographs to raise awareness about issues of great importance such as the need for basic sanitation in many parts of the world.

Indeed I it wasn't until Scientific American ran a special issue on the environment prior to the UN conference in Stockholm in 1972 that interest in this novel area came into focus among the general public.

Curious though that i the National Geographic article there is no mention of CLTS as an awareness-raising and triggering tool.
Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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