OPEN DEFECATION AND WOMEN SAFETY

By: Yashasvi Raghuvanshi (Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow)

The lack of toilets puts India’s women at risk of assault. This has been affirmed by the incident in which two young girls were raped and hanged from a tree in Badaun – a remote spot in India’s largest state – which has become the centre of another gathering storm. There is acute shortage of toilets across the country and this has come to the fore with the instant incident.

The lack of toilets impacts the safety of women and this has been highlighted by Amnesty International (India) when it had noted that “besides being a health hazard the lack of adequate sanitation facilities across India also poses a serious threat to the safety of women and girls forced to practice open defecation, making them more vulnerable to violence.”[1]

However, had these girls had an access to toilet at home, the double rape and death could have definitely been averted! These two teen did what millions of women do each day in India only to be preyed upon that fateful night.

According to UNICEF, in India 620 million people defecate in open areas[2]. This amounts to more than 50% of the Indian population. Lacking Open Defecationtoilets at home, large number of women who go out to relieve themselves, are harassed, sexually assaulted or raped.[3] In the state of Bihar, the police reported more than 870 cases of rape in the year 2012.[4] A senior police official Mr. Arvind Pandey said that over 400 women would have “escaped” rape in the same year if they had toilets in their homes.[5]

Presenting studies or statistics is not going to mean anything. Giving figures and numbers to supplement studies won’t yield any results either. Innumerable examples only prove that we have failed at many levels. Who is to be blamed then? Should we blame ourselves as Indians in general and as citizens in particular because we failed to help our fellow human beings? Is it the Government which is to be blamed for having miserably failed to provide (a) education; (b) adequate sanitation facilities; and (c) effective administration and security? Or is it our society and leaders who have supported criminals. For instance, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav while addressing a rally in Moradabad said, “ladke, ladke hain… galati ho jati hai (boys will be boys… they commit mistakes).”[6] Another public figure and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, instead of expressing grief and sorrow for the bereaved family and condemning acts of rape, shot back at the journalists as he said, “Aapko toh khatra to nahi hua? (it’s not as if you faced any danger)”[7] While these views of a few must not be termed as the ‘patriarchal mindset’, such thinking is quite common among the men-folk in our great country! There are innumerable male chauvinists who will say that it is not the rapists’ fault.

Open defecation is a widespread problem in India which is almost exclusively associated with areas of extreme poverty.[8] It lies at the root of many development challenges, as poor sanitation and lack of access to toilets impact public health, education and the environment. Besides, the lack of education has led to the thinking among many that long standing practice of going out into the fields and defecting openly is ‘normal’ and a ‘daily routine’. This unending cycle of the lack of education and subsequent lack of concern is a dangerous trend and can only be done away if we are able to provide education to our people.

The problem of open defecation is aggravated when it is the monsoon season and people have nowhere to go as the fields are waterlogged and full of snakes and other animals.

Open defecation, besides seriously prejudicing women’s safety has several other impacts. “UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s fund, explains that open defecation increases children’s risk of diarrhoea, which makes them more vulnerable to malnutrition and infections. Frequent illness in turn impacts the learning abilities of school-age children. The organisation notes that nearly half of Indian children are suffering from some degree of malnutrition.”[9]

While highlighting that open defecation causes pollution and spreads diseases the inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations have been very subtly hinting at it as the cause of rape and sexual harassment.

Dangerous as it is, for women who have long been subjected to the ordeal of taking to the fields in the dark to relieve themselves, armed with just a torch to light their way, it is very unlikely that they will be able to escape if a miscreant attacks.

So, would building more toilets work? A lot of people have been dedicated to building public toilets for the population. One of the biggest examples is that of the man, known in India as the “toilet guru” – the social entrepreneur Bindeshwar Pathak. Mr. Pathak’s ‘Sulabh International’ has been successful in providing toilets to a vast majority of the population. In the state of Haryana, Pathak has already transformed the village of Hir Mathala with his simple two-pit design.

However, in most parts of the country where he has built a lot of public washrooms and toilets, people still choose to defecate just outside the facilities which have been made for them. Even when the number of public washrooms has increased, population resorting to open defecation has constantly been on the rise. So what is the underlying issue which needs to be addressed alongside construction of more and more toilets? The mindset of the people needs to be changed besides enlightening them about the unhealthy and dangerous outcomes of open defecation. All this can be done if proper education is imparted alongside carrying on with toilet construction projects. Here, we are not to fight a system or the government but rather assist the government.

We need to adopt a two pronged idea of education and facilitation. We have to educate the people about sanitation and personal hygiene and at the same time provide them with adequate facilities.

 


[1] Perappadan, B.S. (2014):Lack of toilets proves a serious threat to women’s safety, 1 June, The Hindu, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/lack-of-toilets-proves-a-serious-threat-to-womens-safety/article6070523.ece)

[2] Khullar, Arshiya (2014): Can Mr. Poo stop public defecation in India, 21 April, CNN, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/20/world/asia/unicef-latest-anti-public-defecation-campaign-in-india/).

[3] Tewary, Amarnath (2013): India Bihar rapes ‘caused by lack of tooilets’, 9 May, BBC, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-22460871).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Fareed, Md. F. (2014): Mulayam’s shocker: Boys will be boys, they make mistakes… Will you hang them for rape?, 11 April, The Indian Express, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/mulayam-singh-yadav-questions-death-penalty-for-rape-says-boys-make-mistakes/).

[7] Asked about UP rapes, CM Akhilesh Yadav says, ‘But you’re safe’, 31 May 2014, The Times of India, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Asked-about-UP-rapes-CM-Akhilesh-Yadav-says-But-youre-safe/articleshow/35800676.cms)

[8] On World Toilet Day, World Bank Warns Over 600 Million Indians Defecate In The Open, 19 November 2013, Viewed on 13 June, 2014 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/19/world-toilet-day-india_n_4302900.html).

[9] Ibid.

 


 

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