Is ‘open defecation’ preferred in India?

From Dr. Nipun Vinayak

The thing has come out in surveys etc., and therefore, one is tending to say it, but I, based on what I have seen in fields, totally disbelieve this.

It is a habit, yes. It has been practiced over centuries, and therefore, has begun to kind of ‘not accepted’ I‘d say, but ‘not resisted’. However, certainly, if one is able to talk through to people, they’re certainly very very inconvenienced by it.

The matter is similar to say child marriage, or let’s say that ‘girls shouldn’t study’ etc. – things which were/are social norms and since no one wanted to change it (lack of leadership), began to be dubbed as being the right things or ‘preferred.

The sights of places where people, especially women, have to go and shit is scary, to say the least. I vividly remember my disbelief and shock, when women pointed to uneven bushes – places where people like us wouldn’t even go – as the place where they somehow sit. And so also the clamour with which old women pulled my hand to show how their neighbours defecated in front of their houses, and how worst they felt. The readiness, with which at least women begin to use toilets, once constructed, also shows that they do not prefer open defecation.

This is just, perhaps unmindfulness. One has seen her mother, dadi, friends go out, and therefore, she even if she is now little educated, does not dare to tell her husband, she needs a toilet. In fact, it is worse for her now to go out because – there are lesser open spaces to go to and more lecherous eyes. But she will definitely pick up the first opportunity, if her village collectively is doing this task. There are villages in Maharashtra, where women asked their men to put bangles and said they’d do it for themselves.

Why the society/villages have come to such a dependence state, is another bigger question. Certainly, people alone are not to blame for this.

Therefore, I strongly feel, based on feedback I get from seeing/meeting families (it’s no different in Odisha and Jharkhand than Maharashtra) that OD is not a preferred option. At least for women. And therefore, for once, I don’t buy these survey findings. A person, incapacitated by the problems of life, will definitely not tell a surveyor, that he is not constructing a toilet because it has not occurred to me, or because no one else in the village is doing it, or because he is interested in subsidy and waiting for it, or that he doesn’t care about his wife and daughter, or that he wants to do it, but is just unmindful- wants someone else to take lead; he gives an easy answer – I prefer it!

*The writer is Dr. Nipun Vinayak, Director, Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India

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