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Posted by singhisking | Posted in Others | Posted on 02-10-2010

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Every day we read about 8% economic growth. 10% economic growth. Predictions are being made of a richer, brighter future. While in reality more than half of India doesn’t even have access to toilets. We must constitute 50% of the world’s population which defecates in the open.


Exposed, untreated excrement can kill by the million. One of the hardest-won UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a 2015 target of halving the proportion of those without sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Even if achieved, the target would still leave some 500 million on the planet without this basic requirement for survival and dignity. As many as 79 per cent of rural and 46 per cent of urban Indians have no access to improved sanitation. Of the 40 per cent of global population (some 2.6 billion people) forced to defecate in the open, some 665 million are Indians.

Diarrhoea claims 5,000 children every day worldwide, most of them on this subcontinent. The loss in lives, work days and school attendance (particularly by girls) is estimated at $38 billion per year.

Water and sanitation are inextricably linked: without sanitation, safe water cannot remain safe. “Access” is a key word with a variety of interpretations. In planning circles, targets are set in terms of coverage. “Coverage” is normally measured by the number of latrines, hand-pumps, water pipes and sewerage systems installed. Whether these are functioning, properly used and well-maintained is quite another matter.

100,000 tons of human excrement that Indians leave each day in fields of potatoes, carrots and spinach, on banks that line rivers used for drinking and bathing and along roads jammed with scooters, trucks and pedestrians. 75 percent of the country’s surface water is contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent.


My recent train trip in India was the six AM Shatabdi Express to Jaipur. The sun rose late on that December morning, illuminating hundreds of men squatting in the fields next to the tracks, mile after mile, their asses towards the train, pooping on the same ground hundreds of men had pooped on every single day before.

Men only. Modesty forces women to poop in the fields before sunrise, or to hold it until after the sun sets.

This is the practice across India and the sanitary ramifications are staggering. Poop is a vector for bacteria and viruses, and it attracts insects and rodents that are equally unhealthy. People poop faster than Mother Nature can degrade it, which means people who poop in the same place day after day will inevitably come into contact with festering feces. A speck of poop on a shoe gets touched by a hand that passes a glass of water to a two-year-old: that’s how disease spreads.

Why do people poop in the fields? For some, it’s because they’re ignorant of hygiene and bacteriology; for others, it’s because they’re too poor to have any other choice.

75 percent of the country’s surface water is contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent. Everyone in Indian cities is at risk of consuming human feces, if they’re not already, the Ministry of Urban Development concluded in September. The toll on human health is grim. Every day, 1,000 children younger than 5 years old die in India from diarrhea, hepatitis- causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Too bad that there isn’t a Nobel prize in the Dirt and Filth category. India would have added one more to its pitifully small collection of Nobel prizes. Minister of the Gandhi realm, Jairam Ramesh, said at a recent public event,“Our cities are the dirtiest cities of the world. If there is a Nobel prize for dirt and filth, India will win it, no doubt.”

One would be hard-pressed to disagree with the claim since India is indeed dirty and filthy beyond reason. It says something about the culture of the people.

For now, here’s another statistic that would not surprise anyone who has seen the real India. Any day of the week, any time of the day, you can see men urinating with their backs turned to the street.(What women do is beyond my imagination.) Look out of a train any morning and you have to avert your eyes from the hundreds of people defecating along the train tracks.


 A recent AFP news item reports that 665 million people lack toilets in India. That’s more than twice the size of the entire population of the US. In slum areas, where more than half of Mumbai lives, an average 81 people share a single toilet. In some places it rises to an eye-watering 273. Even the lowest average is still 58, according to local municipal authority figures. Unsurprisingly, it is still common to see people squatting by roads and railway tracks or along the coast, openly defecating in the city that drives India’s economy and where some of the world’s richest people live. 

Commuters from Mumbai’s suburbs, and in other parts of the country, routinely see hundreds of people squatting besides the train tracks to relieve themselves. Many of them are women, who often cover their heads with their saris, thus making themselves ‘invisible’ to onlookers through the inverse logic that if I can’t see you (because my head and eyes are covered) you can’t see me. Such ‘invisible’ women are India’s open and only too visible shame.  The humiliation and degradation does not – and ought not to – attach to  those who perforce must do what they have to do without the dignity of privacy. The shame is ours that over 60 years after independence from foreign rule we continue to be a society in which more than half the total population has no recourse but to relieve themselves in the open, like animals.

Till we can draw a veil of privacy and dignity across the sight of Bharat Mata squatting to do her business, India will continue to broadcast a literally crap image of itself to the world and to ourselves, despite all the credit we lay claim to for our social and economic progress.

In the end it adds up, precisely, to a load of shit.

Comments (1)

Looks like India needs to get it’s “shit together”. Pun intended.