All the villages in India have declared themselves to be Open Defecation Free (ODF), announced Prime Minister Narendra Modi, On October 2, 2019 in Gujarat. He was speaking at an event organised to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.
However, serious questions are being raised about the validity of this announcement. For instance, Prajavani, a Kannada daily, published a series of articles based on various surveys in Karnataka, throwing light on the validity of the PM’s statement.
The Karnataka government, on November 19, 2018, had declared that 26,935 villages in the state are free of open defecation; and according to the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), under the Rural Development Ministry, every person in the state owns a private toilet. However, the above mentioned surveys say this data and claim of the SBM and the government is far from the reality.
One of the reports in Prajavani read, “there are not as many toilets as shown by the data. At many places they have just built walls and have put a sheet on the top and have shown these structures as toilets and have billed the work. Many gram panchayats are also part of this corruption.” According to the same report, a survey has found out that 3.48 lakh families in the state do not have toilets. A total of 1.8 lakh toilets have so far been constructed and construction work for the rest of the toilets is yet to begin.
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Take the case of Kodagu district, which was declared ODF district three years ago and was also bestowed with the national award for being an ODF district. However, according to these surveys, this is far from true, as it was found out that houses in the hills and remote villages still did not have toilets.
On the one hand, the scheme is reportedly full of corruption and the claim that everybody in the state has toilets is not true, while on the other, people in many villages are simply refusing to use the toilets. One of the SBM officers in the district panchayat of Mysore told Prajavani, “Only 85 to 90 people use toilets. The rest even to this day rely on open defecation. How much ever we try to tell them, they don’t listen.”
It was also found out that 20% of people in the town of Surapur and 80% of the rural areas still defecate in the open, whereas 60% of people in the rural regions of Shahpura taluk and 50% of the people living in the urban regions still defecate in the open.
In the district of Shivamogga, it has come to light that the people living in makeshift houses, hamlets, huts have not been taken into account by the government while surveying the presence of toilets. Thus, the district administration has been saying that they have been 99% successful in building toilets.
The Prajavani report has also brought into light the condition of the hundreds of families belonging to the Sindooli community staying in a corner of a bypass in Shivamogga. Most of the members of these communities are daily wage labourers, some of whom collect hair to make wigs and are mechanics. There are around 350 such daily wagers who live there and none of them have houses. They rely upon bushes in the dark corners around the bypass for defecation.
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The mission of building toilets is also plagued by inefficiency. In Yadgir district, the reports note that the constructed toilets are not functional and are locked because of lack of water. The reports also cited people in Yadgir and Surapura taluk who claimed they could build toilets because their houses were located on rocks.
The reports note that there are 123 gram panchayats in Yadgir and only 33% of the district has toilets. Out of 4,776 applications submitted in the district, demanding the construction of the toilets, 2,527 applications were still under examinatiion as of October 6, 2019. So far, 1, 858 applications have been approved, 175 were found without supporting documents and 380 were rejected.
These examples from Karnataka clearly show that the state is not ODF, which means the country isn’t too. So, the PM’s announcement India was ODF sounds more like a political stunt. If the country has to become ODF, then as shown by the examples above, there are larger problems plaguing the country that need to be addressed. As seen in the case of Shivamogga, housing still remains to be a luxury for many communities and for families; Yadgir shows that a scientific approach in planning the construction of toilets should be adopted, mere doling out money wouldn’t help.
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On September 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the ‘Global Goalkeeper’ award from the Gates Foundation in New York for leading the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan under which, 1.1 crore toilets have been built and the country has been declared almost 100% open defecation free (ODF).
On the same day, in a small village called Bhavkhedi in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district, two children, Avinash Valmiki (age 10 years) and Roshni (12 years) were beaten to death for defecating in the open. As Subodh Varma writes in Newsclick, “The barbaric incident symbolises one of the many aspects of the much hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that have been efficiently brushed under the carpet by the spinmeisters of the government by coercion, especially against the disadvantaged and socially oppressed. The killing of Avinash and Roshni may be an extreme example, but coercion through fines, denial of rightful benefits, caste-based ostracism and physical violence have been part of this much applauded ‘Mission’ led by the Prime Minister himself.”
Instead of approaching the problem of open defecation scientifically at the policy level, the SBM is using coercion. The barbaric killing of Avinash and Roshni in Madhya Pradesh is one such incident. In another case, Zafar Hussein, an activist in Rajasthan, was lynched to death by municipal council employees reportedly at the instigation of Nagar Parishad commissioner Ashok Jain, who ordered photographing and making videos of women from the Bagwasa Kachi village when they were going to defecate in the open. According to a report in the Business Standard, “Zafar himself had submitted a memorandum to the Nagar Parishad few days back protesting against the campaign of public shaming and bullying of women for defecating in the open, the statement added.”
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