Open defecation has been found to have grave consequences. It remains the single largest threat to health and nutrition.
At a time when women in our country are making Indians proud like DeepaKarmakar, the first female gymnast from India to have made it to the Olympics, and several others who have made it to our collective national consciousness through their courage, hard work and confidence, it makes me pensive and sad about how certain others are coping with their lives. And before you overlook this article as another rant about women’s lib and rights, let me narrate an incident that set me thinking.
My live-in domestic help who I had mistakenly thought would be with me forever left for her village quite suddenly and I was left to cope with a part time help. As I extended her timings and asked her for some extra assistance in the days to come, I was surprised to find that instead of being ecstatic about an increase in her wages, she was excited about that one amenity we all take for granted: a toilet. She knew spending more time at my place meant she could use the spare toilet and much of her misery in life was taken care of. As is clear, she does not have a basic toilet in her small one room house (if we can call it that) and has to go out for defecation. Not only her but her daughters too have to step out of the house at all odd hours for the same.
As I gave her a fresh soap, towel, shampoo her joy knew no bounds and every day she turned out cleaner and happier after her bath. The face that was till then dull and lifeless had taken on a healthy hue. I was amazed to see how much of a difference it made to her confidence.
Why is it that we still have so many people who are denied these basic rights? Although, the Swachhbharatabhiyaan is on in full swing, there are miles to go before we would have covered even half the ground. In 2014-15 , the government managed to build 5.8 million toilets, but the result was quite unexpected. Firstly, many of these were not functional due to lack of water and drainage issues and secondly, rural households were not ready for this lifestyle change. Mere building of toilets would not solve the problem. What is needed is a cultural shift and a change in mindsets of people who have never used toilets since childhood.
Open defecation has been found to have grave consequences. It remains the single largest threat to health and nutrition. It is also a threat to the safety of women. Open defecation can be a source of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases. Sanitation facilities in public places as well as households is the need of the hour. Very recently, I came to know to my utter shock that open defecation also leads to stunting in people. Lack of sanitation is one of the major causes for stunted growth. 62 million children under the age of 5 are stunted in India. Of course, other life-threatening diseases which cause malnutrition are also a fallout of poor sanitation. This brings me back to the topic of hygiene and how important it is for child survival, nutrition and growth.
My maid is just a case in point but there are thousands in India who are not even aware of the benefits of sanitation and hygiene and are living in pathetic conditions without even knowing the importance of hygiene. For women, as expected, things are only worse. Spreading awareness should be the first step, swift and efficient execution should follow to provide a dignified life to each one of us.