26 July, 2021

Where Do They Squat?

Build toilets. But more important, get communities to change ways.

Sandipan Chatterjee
Where Do They Squat?

Vidya Balan, the Bollywood star and ambassador of the Indian government’s programme for building household toilets, asks the mother-in-law who is busy toying with her bahu’s ghunghat at the wedding ceremony: “Do you have a toilet at home for the dau­ghter-in-law to use?” Mum-in-law replies: “No.” Vidya then asks her, “Then why are you extending her ghu­nghat so much when you can’t provide her a toilet at home?” It’s the smartest ad for toilets. But is the message getting through?

India leads the world in open defecation, with about 600 million people defecating in the open every day. Women and children are most affected. Close to 300 million women and young girls sit out in the open braving heat, cold, rain and under constant threat of being watched, molested and raped. This is not just a national shame, but also a human trag­edy. Open defecation is a major cause of undernutrition on account of poor absorption, illness, stunting, poor school performances, damaged immune systems, leading to impaired...

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