Swacch Bharat: A Policy to Eliminate India’s Toilet-less Peoples

Written by Sandeep Pandey | Published on: June 21, 2017

In India, a mere 34% of the population has access to improved sanitation in 2010 compared to 92% in Sri Lanka, 64% in China, 56% in Bangladesh, 48% in Pakistan and 44% in Bhutan. Even Pakistan is better than India in this regard.


Swacch Bharat
Representation Image     India Today

When Narendra Modi, as prime minister of India, initiated his ‘Clean India’ (Swacch Bharat) campaign nobody would have conceived that it opened up murderous possibilities. The symbol being used for this campaign are Mahatma Gandhi's spectacles, a man who stood for non-violence, resolutely.
 
For that matter, a number of things were not imagined would actually take place after Narendra Modi's ascension to power - new reasons and tools to harass some people, some of which could become fatal.
 
For example, people would be beaten up, or could be even killed on the suspicion of having consumed beef. Then, if a Muslim boy and Hindu girl chose to marry, then in the name of ‘Love Jihad’, he (for sure) or sometimes, the couple may have to scurry for cover. The police have been especially empowered -- if police suspected a man accompanying a woman of harassing her then Anti-Romeo squads were ready and waiting to jump upon him. Kashmiri students studying in other states of India could and have been beaten up at the slightest provocation, after being labelled anti-national, etc.
 
More serious intractable problems like famers' suicides, malnourishment of children, human trafficking of girls and women from Nepal and Bangladesh through India, people including children begging on major street crossings of national and state capitals, daily corruption at government offices, schools and hospitals have not been raised by the ever vigilante mobs allied to the current ruling dispensation.  To whip up a frenzied sense of ‘ultra-nationalism’, hunger, poverty and unemployment do not have potential; ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘anti-Muslim’ rhetoric is a far more potent weapon.
 
The manner in which Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) activist Zafar Khan was lynched to death in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan is not just shocking, the muted reaction against such increasing barbarism forces us to ask, what kind of society do we want to create?
 
On the morning of June 17, 2017 employees of Nagar Parishad of Pratapgarh were taking photographs of women belonging to the Mehtab Khan slum defecating in the open with the objective of ‘shaming them’. This deplorable act was part of government policy. Zafar Khan who was also a resident of this slum decided to protest. The accompanying Commissioner Ashok Jain instigated his Dalit sanitation employees to beat Zafar to death. A resurgent India under the new ruling dispensation has found a new reason to lynch people.
           
Do the women who defecate out in  the open enjoy doing so? When they don't have toilets at home where are they supposed to go to relieve themselves? If people don't have toilets who is supposed to build toilets for them? If anybody was to be punished for open defecation of women in Mehtab Shah slum it should have been the government officials whose responsibility it was to create these toilets in the first place. If the land on which the slum was built was government land and possibly personal toilets could not have been built on it then the government should have got a Sulabh toilet built there.
 
Let’s compare India's situation with her neighbours in South Asia: it becomes clear that successive governments in India have not given priority to construction to toilets. The figures are stark: In India, a mere 34% of the population has access to improved sanitation in 2010 compared to 92% in Sri Lanka, 64% in China, 56% in Bangladesh, 48% in Pakistan and 44% in Bhutan. Even Pakistan is better than India in this regard.
 
In India the caste system further prevents Dalits from using available toilets. For example, a number of Dalit domestic workers who do different chores like cleaning, cooking or baby sitting in mostly upper caste middle class or upper middle class households do not have permission to use the toilets inside these homes. They have to find some bush, tree or wall outside to relieve themselves.
 
It is the government officials who are responsible for the death of Zafar Khan. The Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindhia, who termed it as an unfortunate incident, should have resigned taking moral responsibility.
 
The Commissioner of the Nagar Parishad of Pratapgadh, Ashok Jain follows a religion, which lays special emphasis on non-violence. Jains are known to take care so that no micro-organism gets killed because of them. The Jain monks tie a piece of cloth around their mouth and nose for this reason. Jains don't eat onion and garlic to keep their passions under check. Yet Ashok Jain didn't seem to have any qualms to instigate ‘his men’ to get Zafar Khan murdered.
 
Narendra Modi'a cleanliness drive has, by now, completed three years. Citizens have been charged with a new cess to fund this campaign. Large amountsof public money was spent. The ground reality, however, doesn't seem to have changed. The cows are eating as much plastic on the roads as they were doing before and the amount of untreated sewage that flows into river Ganga in Varanasi remains the same as before. The Clean India campaign is a complete and abject failure. People (celebrities) got themselves photographed with brooms. But these photographs were not taken with members of the the Valmiki community, actually responsible for the demeaning job of daily cleaning our sewers after entering them. The credit for whatever cleanliness we see around us goes to the Valmiki community.
 
In all likelihood, more money was spent in publicising rather than actual cleaning in the Clean India campaign.
 
The policy of Narendra Modi has created a new category of discrimination in India. It mostly overlaps the rich-poor or caste-outcaste divide - the toileted and the toilet-less. By eliminating the toilet-less people India can claim to have increased the percentage of population with access to sanitation. It is a lie that statistics even, can tell.