Toilet Ek Prem Katha’s Message: Women Must Take Sanitation Forward
Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar starrer Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is not only about the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission, but also about women empowerment. This film is a biopic of Anita Narre from Madhya Pradesh, who left her husband’s house as her in-laws didn’t have a toilet.
In reality Indians are indifferent to toilets. In a first ever scientific attempt to determine demand for toilets, we (see Anurag N Banerjee, Nilanjan Banik and Ashvika Dalmia) asked respondents to rank the preference for having a toilet against 20 other consumer durables.
Against products such as cot, watch, mattress, chair, bicycle, water pump, mobile telephone, sewing machine, computer, and others, toilets were ranked a lowly 12 out of 21.
Northeast, Southern States Ahead in Using Toilets
India still has the highest number of people defecating in the open, around 600 million. Even targeted intervention has not helped.
Under Swachh Bharat mission government plans to build 110 million toilets across India between 2014 and 2019. Rs 62,009 crore is earmarked for this mission. The underlying presumption is India has a large number of poor people who cannot afford to construct a toilet, and there is thus a need for government intervention.
Our study brings out an interesting insight about women empowerment.
In fact, in Kerala communities like the Nairs and Ezhavas, and in Meghalaya the Khasi, Jaintias, and the Garo tribes (comprising a majority of the population) practice matriarchy, where women have powers of allocation, exchange and production.
Female Literacy Plays a Crucial Role
In the aforementioned regions, women are more likely to use toilets due to perceived benefits of dignity and safety. In contrast, households from Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu are less likely to use toilets in comparison to a household from Delhi.
The results seem to make a strong case for imparting education and public awareness especially among the female cohort. A household in which a woman has attained higher education (18 years of schooling) is 3.1 times more likely to use toilets.
These results have some obvious policy implications. First, the government should concentrate on creating demand for the use of toilets. Policymakers must ensure that a larger proportion of funds are directed towards social marketing and educating people about hygiene.
It is to be noted that in India almost half (48 percent) of the children under five years of age are stunted.
A reason for this is diarrhoea caused from open defecation. Polluter pays principle should be enacted. To enforce this, the government may think about creating green police whose job will be to impose fine on the offenders. Hopefully, this will stop people from littering in the open.
Second, as female literacy is important, it would be wise to target women and actively involve them in policymaking. It is not too uncommon to see women defecating in the open, particularly alongside the railway tracks and in the countryside. This has been the primary cause of another evil – sexual assault against women.
Finally, there is a need for government policies to specifically focus on improving sanitation in rural areas. Availability of water, absence of seepage, strong roof and walls, proper functioning doors with handles, etc., are all important factors.
A reason for India defecating in the open is because of unavailability of improved sanitation facilities. It is important to build adequate number of toilets and provide garbage bins. This to take care of the ‘I can’t find it syndrome’ in which people justify littering because of inadequate number of garbage bins.
Outsource Cleaning Activities
Few nudging strategies may come in handy. Construction of toilets in the vicinity of a field, provision of water, and maintaining clean toilets is expected to give results. The problem of water during bad rainfall years can be solved by educating villagers about rain water harvesting techniques.
Similarly, to keep toilets clean it is essential to outsource the cleaning activities to local NGOs, or any private third party. To prevent use of toilets for other purposes such as store rooms, emphasis should also be given for building community toilets.
The idea is to generate demand for a public resource in a safer, healthier, and cleaner environment. Indian government can save money as this is also a cheaper option than building toilets for every household in the village. Importantly, there will be employment generation opportunities for local youth who will maintain the public toilet facilities.
(The author is Professor, Bennett University and can be reached @banik_nilanjan. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)