India’s ‘Number 2’ Problem

A YouTube video was doing the rounds yesterday in Facebook. A lot of people very excitedly shared it in their walls. All of them are well educated and reasonably well enlightened.

This is what happens in that video: A group called Anonymous Indians have set out to campaign against urinating in public places. In Mumbai, they roam around the city streets with water tankers. Wherever they see people urinating in public, they spray forceful water on them through a hosepipe. The man wielding the hose is masked. The people receiving the ‘water punishment’ are shocked. Obviously they didn’t see this coming. One man falls down and wreaths, another gets hit at the wall at the force of the water, and a third guy runs away without even zipping up.

Those shared this couldn’t hide their excitement at this ‘initiative’ by Anonymous Indians. Some even asked when they would come to their cities, as if it’s a circus.

I felt nauseated looking at that video. I hope soon they are either arrested by the cops or stopped by the municipality or some authorities.

Does it mean I support urinating or defecating in public places? I hope I wouldn’t need to answer this question. That’s really not the problem. The problem is we don’t have enough public toilets in India. Most of the shops and small establishments in our streets don’t have toilet facilities. There are hundreds of pavement and push-cart vendors. Moreover, there are hundreds of people such as courier, postmen, gas cylinder delivery, who work on the streets from morning till evening. These people have absolutely no recourse to their natural urges.

Those who happily ‘hose beat’ these people must be having at least two, even three, bathrooms in their houses. But what’s the reality. Only 5.6 crore Indian households have their own toilets. Urinating and defecating is India’s no. 1 problem, because it has a lot of health hazards. Cholera, diarrhoea, skin diseases, etc. are caused by open defecation. Mosquitos and flies spread the diseases. To add to this, the methane released from the excrement causes dozens of diseases to the people in the surrounding areas.

‘We need to build as many toilets as there are temples,’ proclaimed our central minister Jayram Ramesh a few months back. The Hindutva brigade erupted in anger at this comparison! They protested outside his residence by urinating on his compound wall! A month or so later when Modi said the same thing, they were ecstatic and called him the ‘true development man’.

The sad thing is the party to which Jayram Ramesh belonged to has been ruling for the past 10 years and they claimed to have built 8.7 crore toilets. However, on audit, more than 3.5 crore toilets went missing! Yes, there was corruption in toilets too, just like everything else in India. We are so shameless and cruel that we’re even eating out poor man’s toilets!

If this is the reality, how can we ‘hose beat’ the people who are relieving themselves in public? We don’t built them toilets and we don’t carry out awareness programmes, but we would be beating them with forceful water when they try to relieve themselves? What kind of a torture is this?

When I asked this question in their comment section, many people retorted with a question as to why only men are found urinating in public and women aren’t? If women can ‘hold’, can’t men do the same? If we have to answer this question, we’d have to trespass into a different problem. Of course, women too get the urge, but they can’t urinate in public places, because that’s how oppressed women are in our society. How about expanding this question further? Why only men smoke and drink in public places and women don’t? Why only men can wear anything they want, but women need to stick to traditional Indian wear? Why widowed men doesn’t have to do anything beyond grieving his dead wife, and can even remarry, but women are put through a lot of hardships and, in some parts of the country, still can’t remarry? How about men having pre-marital sex is termed as ‘galti ho gayi’, whereas it’s disastrous for women and, in some parts of the country, even fatal? We can go on and on, but we’re digressing.

Women in Mumbai slums frequently suffer from Urinary Tract Infections. When checked, it was found out that they don’t drink enough water. When enquired, they said, since they work outside throughout the day, they avoid drinking water in order to reduce the need to urinate. Even today, in many parts of rural India women go as groups to relieve themselves, to safeguard from taunts and ridicule from the village men. It can turn even worse. Out of 870 rape cases registered in Bihar in 2012 more than half took place when women went alone to attend to the nature’s call.

This is the reality. And with this, what are we doing? In villages, we are raping them and in the cities, we’re beating them with hose water!

What should really be done to solve this ‘Number 2’ problem? Look around your neighbourhood; how many temples can you count? I don’t think there is a single street in Tamil Nadu without a Ganesha temple. Perhaps that’s the same elsewhere too. Probably in North India Hanumans might be sitting in Ganesha’s place. But if someone were to build a new template tomorrow, how much donation would they be getting? Of the two major Indian parties, one party’s election manifesto itself talks of an ambition to build a huge temple.

It’s about time we shifted focus. As many temples there are, that many toilets, or perhaps twice as many, need to be built. We need a nation-wide sustained campaign on public health hazard due to open defecation and methane emanating from open excrement. We need to train people on maintaining clean toilets and the danger of failing to do so. On a war-footing, the state and central governments should start building public toilets and even provide subsidies for households to build toilets in their houses. Like how the polio campaign took shape, with private public partnership, with NGOs, governments and celebrities throwing in their hats, this too should be taken up seriously and as widely as possible. India urgently needs a toilet-revolution.

Once all these are achieved, then perhaps we can wear masks and roam around the streets in water tankers.