“Open Defecation” in Rural India: Needs to be Re-discovered by World

By: Parmanand Pandey, Advocate, Supreme Court (Secretary General IPC)

By campaigning and providing the toilet facility to every household across the country, particularly in remote rural areas, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won the admiration and laurels throughout the world. By all means, it was a Himalayan task, which he has got successfully achieved and got his name indelibly imprinted in history as a social reformer and remarkable achiever.  No doubt, by solving this gigantic problem he has shown that honest perseverance can work wonders. India is a country of nearly 135 crore people. There are nearly 40 crore families. Out of it, nearly 25 crore families did not have the toilet facilities until recently. The number of such families has been very high in the rural areas because there has not been any concept of having a toilet in the house.

Here is a factual anecdote. The late Dr S Gopal, the son of Dr S. Radhakrishnan, who was the former President of India has written in his biography that on becoming the President, he invited some 31 Brahmins from Tamil Nadu to perform a Pooja in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Those Brahmins were put up in the Ashoka Hotel, which was considered to be the best hotel in Delhi in those days. The Brahmins were very happy to find clean and well done up rooms but when they saw, to their horror, that there was a toilet in every room, they immediately came out from their rooms in protest and sat in the lobby of the hotel. The officials and the manager of the hotel got panicked and they wanted to know whether they faced any problems in their rooms. If there were any problems they would be solved immediately but Brahmins told them that they did not have any problems as such with the rooms but they had problems with the attached toilets as it was unthinkable for them to have toilets in their rooms.

More or less, the same concept has also been prevailing in the rural areas of India for thousands of years. People there have been going for open defecation and there was no shame or hesitation involved in it. Women have also been going in herds in open fields and they have been chatting, interacting among themselves to know the problems, difficulties, joys and sorrows of one another. This way they have been keeping themselves updated by sharing their own feelings and needs of others and, if necessary, extending their hands of help in solving the problems of others.

Be that as it may, the other day a senior Advocate Shri Shreepal Singh made an enlightened observation in the Library 1 of the Supreme Court, which although we all know, yet never thought over it from that angle. He said that the toilet facility to every household is certainly a good initiative and achievement of the Prime Minister, but it should be used only in emergencies. He told that there is another angle also at looking at the practice of open defecation in rural India. He pointed out that there are many advantages of going for the open defecation. Of course, it would need a bit new insightful innovation and adaption suitable to 21st century. The first and foremost is, that solid waste (stool) and human urine is good organic manure, very necessary for the health and fertility of the soil. These days organic manures like composts and animal dungs have become very costly. Therefore, we should not allow this rich natural manure to go down the drains. The agricultural land in India is being pumped in of artificial fertilizers – like Urea, Sulphate, Nitrogen et al – consistantly for many decades and as the result of overexploitation of soil nutrients has become almost barran. To regain its former health, this land needs replenishment of organic manure. The human waste (stool) is the best – perhaps, the ultimate one – manure for this purpose.

The second advantage of re-discovering and adopting this practice of open defecation, at least in rural areas and at places where green areas with trees and plants are available, is most revealing. We all are aware that the human waste (stool) going down the drains needs to find an outlet, most often rivers or such other water bodies. Rivers are now a days polluted almost beyond redemption, because untreated sewage is released into these rivers. Now with the scientific knowledge and hygenic awareness, we are making efforts to put in place intercepting affuent treatment plants before the human generated waste is flown in the running rivers. Indian courts too are trying to enforce this requirement as a mendatory condition to allow release of sewage into rivers. All these technological solutions need an investment in machines, electricity and manpower. This human generated waste (sewage) management problem can be solved – at least to some extent (remember India has 1.3 billion human beings living here) – without an investment into that new technology of interceting affluent treatment plants.

The third is, that men and women, particularly women, get the opportunity to move out of their houses which is good for their health because, under the pretext of going to the fields, they walk to their fields and come to know about the state of the crops to be produced.

The fourth is, that it provides a good opportunity for men and women both but particularly to women to interact with other women and know whereabouts of others. This is not their virtual contact but face to face contact, which gives satisfaction and feelings of higher levels.

The last but the most important advantage is, a family of four or five persons will have to spend not less than 100 to 150 litres of water every day in the toilets in flushing and cleaning but if they go in the open fields they can easily save at least 100 litres of water. Water is one of the most valuable things in the present circumstances. The country is facing acute water scarcity and if the water is allowed to be so wasted, the scarcity will further grow, and it will be very difficult to meet with requirements.

Apart from it, there are many more expenses which are involved in maintaining the toilets in the houses. Therefore, open defecation should not be discouraged in the rural areas and the people must be asked to use the water judicially and as minimum as possible. This will help save water, increase the fertility of the soil and above all will afford the opportunity of exchanging pleasantries and difficulties of the fellow villagers.

It is difficult to disagree with the senior Advocate Shreepal Singh in the light of the advantages he has very succinctly enumerated and explained. Although in this age and time this practice may be considered to be the sign of backwardness. However, even at the risk of sailing against the wind, his views are worth consideration and application without compromising, in any way, the dignity and honour of the people, especially the women.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chandra Cyndi McKenna
    Jul 14, 2019 @ 00:41:43

    Waterless, “Rota-loo” (from Australia) equipped outhouses with open-able roofs sound like a good solution! They are a composting toilet of 6 sections, you rotate to the next section when full, when you get around to a full section, you remove composted humus and put it in the fields/garden! I know this brings issue of who will remove the compost. It should compost in time to humus and not be offensive.



    • IPC
      Jul 14, 2019 @ 11:19:52

      Australian “Rota-loo” is certainly better than the “drain-down” toilet. Let us clinch the issue involved here. 1. Human waste in the form of excreta (stool) is the best – if not the ultimate – organic manure for the health of soil, which is needed for plants and trees; 2. It needs to be “transported” from the place where it is “produced” to the place where it is needed by plants and trees; and 3. It needs some “time and treatment” for the “raw” excreta to turn into “finished” product – manure. Perhaps, it is always better that a person himself / herself goes to the place and downloads this excreta where it is needed by the plants / trees than to download it where it is not needed and transport it to the place where it is needed. The only thing needed in this respect is to make it convenient / loving to go to the destination and download it. It needs innovation and invention on our part to make it that convenient. Then, it is also better and less time consuming way if the excreta is overlaid with a layer of soil than to keep it in “Rota-loo” for some time to turn it into compost. Anyway, humanity needs to improve our current style.



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