UN says, “No shit please! One family, One toilet”. Are we Indians listening? It was one of those days when I was travelling along the highways, traversing through small villages and slums on the way. I could see some people in those slums happily conversing over their cell phones. On witnessing this, I experienced a feeling of pride that technology has touched the lives of people even in the remotest parts of India and that India was indeed developing.
As these thoughts were running through my mind, I witnessed another scene which, on the contrary, pulled down my spirits— a bunch of kids and some old men openly defecating alongside the rugged road. ‘Now, there’s a real need for the country to prioritize its developing goals’, I thought to myself.
On doing a bit of research about the on-going sanitation crisis in India, I found out that, according to a UN report, 366 million people in India (which accounts for only 31 percent of the total population) have access to proper sanitation, as per 2010 statistics. Another study revealed that nearly half of the population in India has access to mobile phones.
It is a tragic irony that India, a country that has grown wealthy enough that roughly half its population owns cell phones cannot afford the very basic necessity and dignity of a toilet and proper sanitation. In spite of the seriousness of the issue, our reaction to toilet or anything concerned with sanitation is incommensurate. This explains the unhealthy sanitation practices that are still prevalent in our country where children and even women are forced to squat in the filth, putting them in risk of serious diseases.
It wouldn’t be fair to blame the government of India alone of not taking any steps towards building complete sanitation facilities. In fact, the TSC (Total Sanitation Campaign) had been one of the flagship programmes for over a decade now. It has covered sanitation in some areas in all the states, with Sikkim being the only state to have achieved the ‘Nirmal State’ status— 100 percent access to sanitation facilities both at homes and at public places. And now, Himachal Pradesh is making all out efforts to be one. But this achievement of one state out of 28 states in India seems more like “an elephant hiding behind the ant” scenario.
The issue at hand, therefore, is not whether steps have been taken or not. The issue is how to accelerate the process, so that more and more states achieve the target of complete sanitation. One of the obvious solutions is putting sanitation at the top of our agenda. Additionally, we should understand that just building numerous toilets is not the key to the problem; changing the attitudes of the people in our country by conducting mass educational campaigns will go a long way in solving this problem.
It’s time we question ourselves and each one of us act as a torch-bearer for this serious cause. With Vidya Balan, being appointed as the brand ambassador of the Sanitation Campaign, let us hope that all of us join hands together in taking up “the clean(ing) role” in cleansing away the “dirty (side of the) picture” of India.