Mr. Modi and the Potties


A top priority of India’s new government is to end defecating in the open by 2019.  This is very exciting !

This week’s Economist has some of the disturbing details (and a somewhat graphic image):

Some 130m households lack toilets. More than 72% of rural people relieve themselves behind bushes, in fields or by roadsides. The share is barely shrinking. Of the 1 billion people in the world who have no toilet, India accounts for nearly 600m.

The Economist notes that the government plans to build 5.2 million toilets between now and September – one every second. But this isn’t necessarily an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. Convincing people to use the toilets will be a challenge.

That’s because defecating outdoors, away from home, is considered by many rural Indians – especially Hindus – to be cleaner than using indoor toilets.

A new household survey of nearly 23,000 north Indians … found that even among households with a working latrine, more than 40% reported that at least one family member preferred to defecate in the open. Those with a government-built toilet were especially likely to choose a bush instead.

In an unpublished parallel survey of Hindu-dominated villages in north India and Nepal, respondents lauded open defecation as wholesome, healthy and social [Ed. –social?! WTF?]. By contrast, latrines were seen as potentially impure, especially if near the home. Men often described them as for use only by women, the infirm and the elderly. In short, demand for latrines is constrained.

No doubt taking one’s business across the field was a cleaner option before indoor plumbing. And even Americans are now trying to re-create the benefits of squatting in a field. But given India’s population density and some careless decisions about where to go and whether to wash afterward, outdoor squatting now just spreads disease.

India’s Muslims, for the most part, don’t share the Hindu cultural bias against indoor toilets, which is a big reason Muslim children in India are much less likely than Hindu children to die before age 5.

Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, is committed to changing the anti-toilet culture, in the interest of health, safety, sanitation, and a better economy. In this context, it’s noteworthy that Modi’s most fervent supporters are Hindu nationalists and the biggest black mark on his record as governor of Gujarat was a general hostility to Muslims, including a grievous failure to stop anti-Muslim riots.

Modern India has many challenges from  hygiene to feeding her  1.4 Billion people.  What do you think is the most urgent?  Mr. Modi ran on “more toilets” and  started this campaign almost immediately to fulfill it. Mahatma Gandhi said “Cleanliness is more important than independence!”   What are your thoughts?

About annetbell

I am a retired elementary teacher, well seasoned world traveler,new blogger, grandmother, and a new enthusiastic discoverer of the wonderfully complex country of India. Anne
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14 Responses to Mr. Modi and the Potties

  1. DebraB says:

    Well, this was an enlightening post on something I’d never thought about before!


    • annetbell says:

      So much we take for granted. We had to take toilet tissue with us because the tradition in India is to use a tiny hose to clean yourself. We couldn’t help getting all wet so we took paper! Time in India is not a vacation but an adventure ! Thanks for the comment !


  2. Anish says:

    Well it is just the beginning and a teacher or school need time to improve the results. In case of Modi, he will treat government pretty effectively 🙂 🙂

    Nice write up, I liked it… 🙂 🙂


    • annetbell says:

      I supported him from the time we were in India. I am pleased with this and how he has reached out to his neighbors ! Strong out if the starting gate, I’d say for NaMo!


  3. haydendlinder says:

    That was… informative. I did have a question about some of the numbers in the piece.
    “Some 130m households lack toilets.” and then it says, “Of the 1 billion people in the world who have no toilet, India accounts for nearly 600m.”
    So that means every household that does not have a toilet also has at least 4 occupants? Does that jive with what you saw when you were in India?


    • annetbell says:

      Great question. I am no very good with numbers , but what I understand 50% of households in India are without private toilets. and there are 1.4 billion souls in India.

      We always had a toilet or at least a hole in the ground. There are some public toilets in the city. I have no idea how they ever get a census as there are people living, bathing, sleeping and eating on the streets. Where they go to the bathroom was a mystery to us. We were t here for 4 months and traveled in the north for 14 days, then 10 days to the south. People get haircuts on the streets. I have lots of posts starting in February 2013 all about India. We used bottled water even to brush our teeth and were very , very careful of what we ate. Fruit we had to wash with soap and water and then our hands, then peal and cut with a washed knife. we were never to eat veggies raw or fruit. . . but I loved every minute in Incredible India !


      • haydendlinder says:

        Wow. It sounds like a health nightmare. My wife and I are hoping to go there one day as we both love what we have seen of the culture but I have to agree with their President. They need more toilets. And probably some kind of education program to explain how toilets ARE manly.


  4. annetbell says:

    The education is most important. I just was talking to my husband and he said he had just read an article from The Indian Times which said there is much resistance from the Hindus who keep their houses as clean as possible. They feel using a toilet in the house makes the house unclean. Hmmm. . .Hard to overcome that . If you are going on a tour, you will have toilets, I have no doubt. It is a wonderful place and mostly it is the most wonderful friend, kind people. I hope you will browse through my blog and read some of those tales. . . . . If you have something specific, just ask me. I might have written on it! Thanks so much for the comments.


  5. LAMarcom says:

    “…end defecating in the open by 2019. This is very exciting !”
    I’d have to say, Yes! Very exciting!
    (Sorry. I see humor where I should not, but then, I am a sailor.)

    Seriously, this is a great post about something The West generally never thinks about.
    And of course, you may remember I have written on this (kinda) before. And on hygiene in general.

    When I was the Camp Manager in Al Anbar Province, Iraq back in ’07, ‘Defecation’ and the remnants of same, occupied a great deal of my ‘working day,’ as we had so many different cultures all with different ideas of how to deal with same.

    To say it was a ‘pain in the ass’ might be too flippant, but it was a ‘real’ problem.
    Every Day.


    • LAMarcom says:

      The major problem was that we did not understand the culture. We, Americans. We did not, (at least there in Al Anbar) understand the hang-ups, for lack of a term, of the way Mid-E folks, and Asian (Indian/Sri Lankan) folks looked at the act of defecation. They never wanted to ‘get up and ‘personal’ with it. Hell! I am A Texan. I have seen, smelled, had my face pushed into, enuff of it….don’t bother me…yet,.
      Well, Americans will never understand.


  6. Gypsy Bev says:

    Changing old habits is difficult for everyone. Imagine if they get to the place of having flush toilets and septic systems, they will be happy to use their new toiilets. Those holes in the ground really aren’t very sanitary.


  7. Gallivanta says:

    A very exciting project.


    • annetbell says:

      It is indeed. Husband found an article in Time of India that says that there is resistance from Hindu majority. It is because these people who are very persistent in the search of cleanliness, feel that defecating in their house defiles their house. Education is the key. . . .and time, I guess ! Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for pointing us to this post! Another very interesting read. It is always going to be a challenge changing people’s attitude because of certain beliefs… as you point out, it is about education. Educate about the basics so there is an understanding … can’t expect mass adoption of something if the “why” is not well explained. It’s just a case of starting somewhere, right?


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