It is that time of the year when the festival of nine days (Navarathri or Dasara) is celebrated in full swing. In southern India, ladies invite each other to view the sequential doll arrangements and gifts are exchanged along with snacks. Ladies and children are encouraged to sing the deity songs. In north, Dasara is celebrated with Dandiya and Gaarba dances. Ravana effigies are burnt to celebrate the good over evil.
Instead of writing about Navarathri festival and the traditions that are followed during this time, why have I chosen to write about a stinking topic? Let any number of festivals come and go, we cannot deny that our country has a dubious statistics of more than half of the population not having access to toilets and sanitation. It is a shameful joke that more Indians have access to cellphones than toilets. According to First Post India, our government has spent Rs 1,250 billion on water and sanitation projects in the last 20 years. For this fiscal budget, the UPA government increased the sanitation budget from Rs 13,000 crores to Rs 15, 260 crores. But, where is all these money going? To which drain?
If we set aside these lengthy statistics and step outside our houses everyday, a few feet of distance is enough to see men relieving themselves in full public view. You can piss in public but a crime to kiss in public. If we take many side roads and smaller village roads, it is a common sight to see adults and children defecating in open. As we are helpless souls, we pretend not to see and turn to the opposite side. My earliest memories(stinking memories) are the train journeys every year from Trivandrum to Chennai where we get to see the village people defecating in open when we reached close to the capital of Chennai. Even today, the scene has not changed much. I have not traveled much to North India or to the interior of villages, but I can imagine how depressing the scenes will be. If we think of railway stations and platforms we cannot exclude the stink from it. If one travels frequently to many parts of India either as a tourist or for work reasons, the lack of toilets will make his/her travel even more painful. Women and children are more affected compared to men. Women need more privacy and so they are forced to retain throughout the day which will lead to health problems later on. More children die due to lack of sanitation and hygiene problems.
'Pehle shauchaalay, phir devaalay' (First toilets, then temples) is the catch phrase of the prime ministerial candidate Mr Narendra Modi. Cleanliness is next to godliness. What is the point of going on constructing new temples while we ignore this basic requirement of humanity? Even if public toilets are constructed in many places, they turn out to be badly maintained and unusable after sometime. We can hope this slogan will turn to be a reality.
One organization which has consistently worked towards improving sanitation, promote human rights, non-conventional sources of energy is Sulabh International. Thanks to this non-profit organization, travel to many of the tourist spots and spending time is not a nightmare. This organization has constructed pay-and-use toilets in many parts of country.
Sulabh was founded by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak in 1970. Innovations include a scavenging-free two-pit pourflush toilet (Sulabh Shauchalaya); safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology; a new concept of maintenance and construction of pay-&-use public toilets, popularly known as Sulabh Complexes with bath, laundry and urinal facilities being used by about ten million people every day and generates bio-gas and biofertilizer produced from excreta-based plants, low maintenance waste water treatment plants of medium capacity for institutions and industries. (Source-Wikipedia).
Rajiv Gandhi launched Total Sanitation Programme to cover all Indian households with water and encourage to construct a toilet in every household, especially in rural areas. The mission was renamed Nirmal Bharat Abiyan which provides subsidies to rural and poor households to construct toilets. It is praiseworthy that the celebrity Vidya Balan chose to endorse this movement with the message 'Jahaan shauch, vahaan shauchaalay.' The organization will conduct village like melas and through entertainment the message of hygiene will be subtly passed. Let us hope that the situation will improve drastically in the next few years.