Open defecation is a rampant problem in the country which requires the immediate attention of the centre and state governments. The nuisance that is created by open defecation is not unknown, and indeed actions need to be taken. But the question remains, what tactics should be employed to drive the point home?
Recently, a village in Solapur district of Maharashtra witnessed something bizarre as a means to tackle the problem of open defecation.
An IAS officer in Solapur district went ahead in pursuit of the mission’s objectives and allegedly “shamed” some women by garlanding them for defecating in the open.
The Indian Express reports that Solapur Zilla Parishad’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Rajendra Bharud was on his routine visit to the Chikmahud village in Sangola tehsil. The visit aimed to take stock of the open defecation issue in the village.
Creating awareness among people about open defecation and convincing them to build toilets in their homes were the significant issues that needed to be harped on during the visit.
While on his visit, the ‘good morning squads’ that are formed by the enterprising state government of Maharashtra, brought few women in front of him. These women were reportedly caught defecating in the open.
The squad comprises representatives of local bodies, self-help groups, NGOs, students and social workers, which has been formed by the state government to monitor open defecation.
These women who have been caught by the squad were brought in front of the CEO of the Zilla Parishad were reportedly garlanded by the in the presence of Bharud after they agreed to get toilets built at home.
The ‘felicitation’ that took place in front of Bharud was apparently to bring to light how open defecation is still a prevalent problem and needs to be tackled. Photos were taken of those women who were garlanded.
On being questioned later, Bharud stated that he was not the one to put garland around the necks of the women; the members of the ‘squad’ did so. He also denied taking any photographs of the entire episode claiming that the photos that were circulated were clicked by his colleagues.
Why is it unacceptable?
In spite of Bharud’s complete denial, the incident has attracted a lot of flak from politicians. The action has been seen as being disrespectful to these women.
And rightly so.
There is no need of reiteration that dealing with open defecation is essential but that however, does not allow anyone, not even government officials, to shame anyone who is involved with the act. It is essential to understand that execution of policies is not always same as framing them. The different ground realities often end up being significant hindrances for well-meaning government policies.
On 2 October 2014, the Narendra Modi government had launched it’s Clean India, or more popularly known as Swachh Bharat, campaign. While the primary goal of the campaign was to engage people in cleanliness drives across the country, it also focused on naming and shaming those who urinate and defecate in public or throw garbage on the streets.
Swachh Bharat and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India is such a dream which is easy to visualise, easier to dispense off policies but becomes a hurdle when one takes into consideration the execution part of it. A government policy needs to take into account the economic conditions of those who are defecating in public; if they are being forced to do so.
While the primary goal of the campaign was to engage people in cleanliness drives across the country, it also focused on naming and shaming those who urinate and defecate in public or throw garbage on the streets.
In June, a 55-year old man was lynched to death by civic officials in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan when he attempted to stop them from taking photographs of women defecating. What does it say to us? Is public shaming the only way by which a positive change can be brought about? Surely not.
Indian villages face severe water scarcity and building toilets in the villages is not the best way one can combat the problem of open defecation. These toilets would be requiring adequate amount of water to keep it clean. The society and (or) the government which is super concerned about protecting the ‘dignity’ of women also need to understand that the stench and the dirt would not do any good to these women.
It is interesting to note, as pointed out in an exclusive by The Wire, how in the Kosi region of north Bihar, the groundwater level is very close to the surface, so most people prefer to have their toilets farther away from home or they think defecation will contaminate their drinking water supply.
A recent study conducted in the peri-urban area of Bengaluru found that seepage from soak pits actually contaminate groundwater, so it makes perfect sense for the people of Kosi to avoid building toilets near their homes.
It is important for the government to take into account the subtleties of the areas before clamouring for making India open-defecation free.
There has always been a subtle encouragement on the part of the campaign for people to photograph those dirtying their surroundings and to upload the pictures on Facebook, Twitter and even government websites. The government’s motive was to cause embarrassment and humiliation to offenders, forcing them to change their habit.
Solapur is a district which is almost 82.56% open defecation free. The Maharashtra government aims to make the state open defecation free by 2018.The efforts of the government are undoubtedly well-intentioned. But one needs to look at the modus operandi that is being put to use.
Recently, in Madhya Pradesh, a 6-year-old girl was made to lift her excreta with bare hands after she was caught defecating in public. Although the kid was unable to realise the impact of the incident she was made part of, such actions from people are unacceptable.
Public shaming is never the answer as this would only worsen the situation, and people would turn averse to the situation. Every citizen of the country has equal rights to live a life of dignity, and no one can take away that right.