Millennium Post

Never in the open

The government has done right to have set a goal of 10 years to turn India into an open-defecation-free country. The rural development ministry has earmarked Rs 3,500 crore during the financial year 2012-13 for this purpose under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan, with rural development minister Jairam Ramesh having said that each gram panchayat would be made open-defecation-free in the course of the next 10 years. This is the correct approach and there is a need to bring to an end this unsanitary practice that is unfortunately a part of the daily routine of millions of Indians, particularly in the rural areas. India leads the world as far as open defecation is concerned with as much as 58 per cent of the population practicing it. The effects of open defecation are many. Primarily it causes ill-health as it helps the spread of water borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera. It has been estimated that at least 800 children below the age of five die each day because of diarrhoea in our country. Open defecation also pollutes ground waters, and  contaminates agricultural produce. It is also a dehumanising practice, exposing an individual to public gaze in the absence of privacy. Further, it pollutes the air and serves as breeding grounds for harmful insects while individuals are at risk of being bitten by dangerous reptiles. Women and children are among those who are the most affected as they are compelled to go out into the open before dawn or after dark.

Yet, ending open defecation is not as easy as may appear and earlier experiences of efforts to improve sanitation towards this end as well as experiences in other poor countries strongly suggests that it is not simply a question of the provision of facilities such as toilets towards which money has to be spend. Practices such as open defecation get deeply entrenched into the behaviour patterns of communities and there is stiff opposition in many villages when the use of toilets is advocated. What is required is therefore required is a process of education and communication. Their is a need  to sensitise communities so that people are motivated to change their behaviour and their thinking about open defecation. Thus, any government programme that aims to bring an end to open defecation must not only promote toilets but also bring about the necessary cultural change so that people demand these and not resist them. 
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