It is an indisputable fact that individual health and hygiene is largely dependent on the availability of safe drinking water and sanitation. Since 1999, the Government of India has been investing its revenue on achieving these objectives in rural India where the hygiene and sanitation is awfully poor. The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was renamed as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) to accelerate sanitation coverage in the rural areas. What is the ground reality? Does it work? Can we neglect its contradictions?
The residues of the toilets built as part of Total Sanitation Programme (TSP) could be found in the rural areas being used as cattle yard or for other purposes such as places to keep firewood. Even today the toilets built under NBA are unused at large scale and open defecation remains unchanged in most part of the Indian villages and slums.
As the name indicates the total sanitation could never address the issue in the comprehensive manner addressing all the nuances of the issue which is unfathomably complex in nature. It is evident that issues of rural sanitation were not just absence of structure of toilets. And it has ramifications beyond the economic backwardness.
The community participation has become the rhetoric of every new schemes and programmes implemented by the state for the success and sustainability of the objectives; however they are doomed to fail due to the failure to prepare the community for a change prior to the implementation. The institutions including Panchayati Raj, other village committees like School Management Committee and Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committee remains as the hollow structures and a system merely established for the bureaucracy to prepare and submit documents to the department concerned, though the state envisaged the community participation for better accountability and effectiveness of the system.
Rural population has been practicing open defecation for years and it was inconceivably an odd task for them to use latrines. They have many misconceptions about various aspects such as the septic tank‘s capacity to contain the human waste, if it’s hygienic to have toilet at home etc. The old generation could not break their habit and women and the persons with disability accepted the practical inconveniences as part of their routine life even to some extent it was the moment brought joy of being together in the wee hours of the day to share the ‘morning news’. The availability of open space, human reluctance to begin a new habit, misconceptions about the hygiene of toilets, beliefs embedded by religious practices and ignorance compounded by the grim socio-economic conditions in the rural areas prompt the majority of the Indian population to continue their age old habit of open defecation and poor sanitation practices. NBA also failed to influence the young minds through campaigns at schools and other educational institutions to prepare them for a change.
Untouchability was prevalent in pre-modern India and some castes were assigned mandatory to follow traditional occupations which were labeled unclean and impure. Manual scavenging was the duty of the untouchables. Cleaning the waste was never practiced by the higher caste. It has to be examined if the present generation of the higher caste prefers open defecation to using toilets as it is free from the task of cleaning.
What about the public toilets in Anganwadi, schools, health centres and hospitals etc? Most of them remain unclean or unable to be used as no one is accountable to maintain cleanliness. Though casteism exists, higher caste people do not dare to assign the task of cleaning toilets to the people from backward caste now, though such practice happen in interior areas of some states. In some schools, it is the duty of the children from backward class to clean the toilets and school premises while in some schools it is done in rotation.
Sanitation is defined as ‘prevention of human contact with hazards of waste’. What about the state that designed a total sanitation campaign? The paradox in its policy is conspicuous in its failure to provide logistics to the labourers who get into drainages and manholes to remove the blockade. The situation is not different for the thousands of ‘Safai Karmacharies’ who collect waste in urban and rural areas. The situation is bleak for the last grade staff, sweepers of different state departments including railways who maintains cleanliness without even gloves or other protective equipment for safe collection, separation and disposal. It is not surprising to see that ‘the kacharawalas,’ whose absence a day would annoy the pleasant life of the rest of the community, belong to the socially and economically backward class, the modern ‘untouchables’. The grim life of the rag pickers worsens with their contact with contaminated objects while collecting them to earn their bread.
A well designed research could find myriads of other contradictions in the state policies to establish good sanitation practices in both urban and rural areas. Ultimately sanitation is not only an individual issue but a structural problem.