My Dignity…My Right

Avanti Sopory
19th November 2015 has just gone by until the next 19th November 2016 arrives. In the jamboree of dates and days which are earmarked to observe certain social initiatives or events, the main purpose of the date gets lost.
Not surprising, that’s been the case with the World Toilet Day too; which is earmarked on 19th November by the UN. The UN must have a strong reason to do so, especially when 2.4 billion people in the world do not have adequate sanitation and around 1 billion people still defecate in the open.
India, which flaunts the poster picture of Gandhiji quoting “Sanitation is more important than independence”; has around 173 people defecating per square kilometer in open expanses! This is alarming and needs urgent attention. 19th November doesn’t only remain a date but is a promise to these 173 people about their basic human right to sanitation.
May be we could have a succinct look at the unawareness and lack of sanitary habits in India:
– For ages on India has been a caste driven society. The rich and the upper caste made toilet spaces for themselves; where again there was a divide between the men and the women. They would employ poor people (now termed human scavengers) to clean and carry the filth far away from their house limits. By virtue of being the upper caste, they refused to clean themselves.
– Therefore for the poor people owning a toilet was a privilege which only the rich upper caste could afford. If they attempted so, they would be debarred from the village for trying to ape the rich upper castes sanitation habits.
–  Absurd but true, the so-called custodians of the religious scriptures and temples propagated that toilet spaces are impure and therefore should not be constructed in the residing building. They should be at least a few yards away from the main residing building. Imagine! How could the poor families with little leg space think of constructing a toilet in their backyard?
– Don’t these pointers force us to ponder over the safety of young women and girls using the open expanses?
– Lack of proper sanitation has given enough reasons for the Child Mortality Rate to rise up.
This time the World Toilet Day was rung in with a resonating question “Who cares about toilets?” And to this I wish to add “Why should we care?”
To answer the first question, Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi was amongst the first ones to care for toilets. But unfortunately, in the India he left behind there are over 770 million people who don’t have access to sanitation and over 1, 40,000 children less than five years die from diarrhoea diseases every year.
Recently Prime Minister Modi pledged to provide toilet to every Indian by 2019, the year to rightly commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji. Makes sense. But only time will reflect the success or may by more (read scams associated with almost all public welfare measures).
The answer to the next question is quite evident.  We should care because;
– We care for human dignity. It is every human beings right to access clean water and sanitation.
– “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” and hygiene is bereft of upper or lower caste, rich or poor, urban or rural.
– Women and young girls have access to safe toilets and do not become a subject to mockery by urchins.
– Children and specially girls do not stop going to school, which does not have a proper toilet.
– So that good nutrition is not hampered by unhygienic sanitary habits of the family.
– We do not want young girls to kill themselves because they (rightly fully so) feel ashamed to defecate in the open and their families do not have enough money to construct toilets.
– It brings about a great social change
– We want India to be amongst the most hygienic countries in the world and give pride to “Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan”
The benefits of having access to toilets are innumerable. The Government of course has a responsibility and is armed with manpower and money to ensure it reaches its goal by 2019.
But what motivated Mr Bindeshwar Pathak  in 1970 to create the now most successful social reform organization – Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. Its triumphs over creating toilet infrastructure and adoring respect back to the human scavengers are marvelous, not to mention the sensibilities of recycling the human waste for biogas generation. His selfless work won him many international awards and set-up Sulabh in Afghanistan too!
According to him constructing toilets is not enough, the bigger challenge is to motivate and campaign people to use it. The drive is to change the mindset and pull people towards toilets.   The inherent Indian habits are hard to kill. Mr Shahsi Tharoor, the Member Parliament had once mentioned and I quote, ‘We are a nation full of people who live in immaculate homes where we bathe twice a day, but think nothing of littering public spaces, spitting on walls, dumping garbage in the open and urinating and defecating in public, because those spaces are not ‘ours’.”
Radha Varma an uneducated women from Kanpur, who thinks she is aged between 30 and 45 years, had to cross seven railway tracks to use a public toilet every day. One morning an untoward incident with her daughter forced her to roll up her sleeves and get her own toilet made. She rose up to her daughter’s dignity and respect.
13 year old Omkar Dubey, from Uttar Pradesh convinced the village pradhan to construct a toilet in his village and campaigned to stop his village from open defecation.
102 year old women from Chatisgarh sold her goats for Rs 22,000/- to build a toilet. She is also spreading a word about hygiene and sanitation.
A sister got a pristine toilet and a wash basin as a raksha bandhan gift from her brother in Madhya Pradesh
They are the catalyst for social change we wish to see in the rural areas and urban slums in India. And we need many more like them. Let 19th November honour more such Indian whose labour should not go unnoticed. And let those intelligentsia who really care about India’s image give more momentum to these campaigns of social change.
Next time when you see a bespectacled Vidya Balan asking for a toilet constructed for the newlywed bride, support and spread the word. There is still plenty to be achieved but the progression has to be inclusive.
After all we do not only wish to boost about the “Toilet Museum”, located in the capital of the country :