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Using toilets important too

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Using Toilets Important Too. A story, real or apocryphal, soon after the Independence was about an Indian minister visiting Europe exclaiming his...

The argumentative Indian has been debating what is more important: temples or toilets?As if ignoring his ideological mentors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured from the ramparts of Lal Qila on the Independence Day that he gave precedence to toilets.

A story, real or apocryphal, soon after the Independence was about an Indian minister visiting Europe exclaiming his admiration for the toilets there, saying: “I can even sleep there.” The newspaper headlines next day were on obvious lines, embarrassing one and all. A 1990s survey on school dropout rate said parents withdraw their girl child once in teens for lack of toilet facility there. Have we really progressed since then?

The argumentative Indian has been debating what is more important: temples or toilets?As if ignoring his ideological mentors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured from the ramparts of Lal Qila on the Independence Day that he gave precedence to toilets. Indeed, he set a timetable for an ambitious programme. Now, his ambitions would have to include creating awareness about the need to use toilets, even among those who have it, but do not use it. This is a perplexing reality that reflects badly on us.

The National Sample Survey data just out, combined with what the NGOs dedicated to water and hygiene say, shows that 60 per cent of rural households and less than 10 per cent of urban households in India do not have access to a toilet. Forty-seven per cent of the Hindu households cannot afford or do not have toilets followed by 31 per cent Muslims and 16 per cent Christians and Sikhs. Among Hindus, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and then OBCs have lower access to toilets. Perhaps, this can be appreciated due to their economic standing. Obviously, other priorities take precedence over toilets among those who can afford. But even those who have them do not use them, and their number ranges from two to seven per cent. Translated into numbers, it would be huge. Again, while women do, men, at least one member, do not. The surveys do not reflect on the reasons.

Being unable to provide toilets speaks badly on a society, more so when toilets, built more with private funds than public – the government’s failure is glaring – are not utilised. This social behaviour sullies a society that should be worried about hygiene, both public and private, the absence of which causes disease. And India has the highest incidence of water-borne diseases. We boast of the world’s largest pool of the young, but are these young healthy–both in body and habits? The question arises: is it a general Indian malaise? And would votaries of temples ponder over it–no matter which community since all of them spend visibly on places of prayer than a place to ease themselves? India has some of the world’s richest places of worship.

We never tire of talking about our ‘glorious’ culture. Boastful of being one of the world’s fastest growing economy, bold ones among us talk of being future superpower. But the ground reality – of ground that has pits to be filled, with or without a toilet around—is different. We grew up learning “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” We have failed to imbibe it.

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