As India pumps its chest over it being the country with the highest growth rate, it has little to show in things that eventually matter. Infact, it is really strange that despite being a high growing country for more than 2 decades, its social rankings remain poor. And smaller countries with much lesser growth rates show much better performance amidst much lesser fanfare.
This story about Bangledesh becoming free from open defecation is an inspiring one. This story about Bangladesh is not actually anything new. Economists have pointed how the small east based country has beaten India in the past as well over things that matter:
Sanitation is the bedrock of public health. Bangladesh, which is finally free of open defecation, had every reason to celebrate at the sixth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN), recently held in Dhaka. Meanwhile, India still struggles with its sanitation targets. Thirtyeight per cent of South Asia defecates in the open, and India is responsible for a full 30%, despite the government’s toilet-building frenzy.
What can be done about this resistance? That was the theme of an international conclave organised by the CLTS Foundation and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), where government and international agency officials, NGOs and community representatives discussed the nuts and bolts of behavioural change. “India spends on the hardware, on big subsidies to build toilets, but many of them are never used,” said development expert Robert Chambers. Even out of 9.5 million toilets in rural India built in the first year of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (2014-15), only 46% were being used, according to NSSO data. Around 630 million Indians still defecate in the open.
By now, it is abundantly clear that open defecation cannot be ended only by providing toilets. The Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, pioneered by development consultant Kamal Kar in Bangladesh in 2000, advocates a 180-degree mental flip. It rejects sanitation subsidies; instead it mobilises communities through emotions like shame and disgust. It shows people how they are literally eating their neighbour’s shit, and how this makes them ill and stunts their children. It finds community representatives to trigger these messages, and rouses the community to adopt better hygiene habits, including menstrual hygiene. “The answer is local empowerment, not a tsunami of toiletisation,” said Kar.
I mean even in India’s financial capital with all its slick, it is fairly common to see people openly defecating.
Need to get real about India:
But can India draw lessons from Bangladesh? It won’t be that easy, said Chambers, because social norms and the “nature of rural communities is different”. India, riven by caste and associated ideas of purity and pollution, is a unique sanitation challenge. The many differences in language and culture also call for nuanced messaging. “CLTS has a dictionary of words used around the world for shit. India has the most, over a thousand words,” he said.