Open defecation is known as the practice of disposing of human faeces out in open areas including fields, forests, bushes, beaches, open water bodies. This still happens in most underdeveloped nations, particularly rural areas. Such practices continue in areas that lack proper sanitation infrastructure and toilets. Behavioural pattern found among people still encourage the continuation of defecating in the open even if toilets are made available. It is also a known fact that open defecation is also carried due to social and cultural practices.
The Sustainable Development Goal 6 which works towards clean water and sanitation is actively working towards the end of open defecation. Open defecation is a serious issue and is related to poor sanitation, hygiene, health and increased mortality, pollution and even violence against women. Most people suffer from severe conditions of diarrhoea, cholera, Dysentery, Anemia, Typhoid and Urinary tract infections. Children are often affected by hookworm diseases due to poor cleaning methods and unavailability of toilets. Women are affected by anaemia and UTIs due to open defecation and using the already contaminated water from nearby water bodies.
Another negative impact is that many cases of rape, murder and stabbing upon women have been reported while they have been out in the open to defecate. Psychological stressors play an important role in negatively affecting the female gender who practice open defecation like the fear of getting sexually assaulted, their privacy getting disturbed, travelling long distances to find spots and carrying water for cleaning, risks of a snake or insect bites, etc.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) is a nationwide scheme launched by the Hon’ Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi on 2nd October 2014 and one of its primary objectives is to end open defecation and improve solid waste management by 2nd October 2019, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. Under this program, the government had provided funds and subsidies for constructing toilets between 2014 and 2019.
The second phase of the scheme has already started with continuing the free open defecation status and coming up with better sanitation and solid waste management techniques. LASI(Longitudinal Ageing Study in India) which focuses on the health, economy and social well-being of India’s elderly population released on 30 states and 8 union territories released its factsheet recently.
The states for which no data has been shown have recorded with either no cases or very negligible number of cases. The highest proportion of households practising open defecation is seen in the state of Bihar. A study conducted in the Supaul district of Bihar shows that people describe open defecation as a coerced action for those who belong to a low caste and poor families. According to the information and education are not required and that lack of awareness is not a reason for preferring open defecation over latrines. Some researchers have reported that some people in India believe that open defecation promotes good health as it provides an opportunity to go for walks in the fresh air and/or keep the household free from faecal contamination which is considered a taboo in the Hindu texts. Further, a study in the year 2018 found out that only 19 per cent of the total money or supplies received from the government in the past four years were used to build a toilet. Uttar Pradesh is the state having second-highest proportion of households practising open defecation. In spite of the state declaring it open defecation free in 2019, it continues to remain as a practice in most of the villages. The toilets built out of the funds provided by the government are either used as a storehouse or kept locked. A survey conducted in January 2019 by the state government has revealed lacs of families being left out of the schemes and about 36.5 lakh being left out from Swachh Bharat Garmin. An official of the Panchayati Raj department had once disclosed that the people accept the money provided but do not prefer using them post-construction. Even the women having a toilet in the family still prefer open defecation.
On the other hand, Chandigarh out of all union territories and Manipur out of all states have recorded the lowest proportion of households practising open defecation. In the year 2020 Chandigarh was certified ODF++ (Open defecation free plus), a key to get a top ranking in Swachhata Survey 2020 by Durga Shankar Mishra, secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The protocol of providing rankings was done to ensure the effective functioning of public and community toilets.
In the rural regions of India Bihar has the maximum number of households practising open defecation. Results reveal that the rural regions of Mizoram do not have any household practising open defecation followed by Manipur which has an insignificant proportion. On the other hand, as far as the urban regions of India is considered Odisha has the highest proportion while the northeastern states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura have no household.
In Bihar, about 60 per cent of the rural households do not have access to a proper wastewater system. Cities and towns have better access to mechanized cleaning of septic tanks and sewers through private or municipal services. Thus, the lack of waste management is perhaps one of the greatest barriers to sanitation in rural Bihar. The urban areas of Manipur joining the other northeastern states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh declared itself open defecation free a year before the deadline set by the Central Government. It was certified by the Quality Council of India on reaching the goal of 100 per cent toilet coverage. All the households that did not have latrines in the urban regions of Manipur were given allowances for construction and about 30,209 latrines were constructed over a period of four years in 27 cities of the state. Moirang, Bishnupur, Kakching, Lilong and Nambel were the first 5 urban local bodies in Manipur to go open defecation free. The officials under the Swachh Bharat Mission Urban had tried to put a lot of focus on attaining hundred per cent sanitation coverage in schools and colleges in the belief that if children get into the practice of using the toilet, they will get it implemented in their homes too. The urban local bodies in 27 cities formed morning squads comprising of secondary level school students to keep a check on people defecating in the open. Along with this awareness rallies, campaigns and workshops were held to put an end to open defecation.
Open defecation in India is a unique development emergency. It kills hundreds of babies and also stunts the development and lives of those who survive. As people still show a preference for open defecation in spite of constructing toilets the government should organize large scale campaigns to bring about a change in the sanitation preferences and promote latrine use.
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PIB Delhi. (2020). All urban local bodies (ULBS) in Haryana certified open defecation free (ODF), 21 ULBS ODF+ and 13 ODF++ Chandigarh achieves 100% door-to-door waste collection; also certified ODF++ and 3 star (GCF) Chandigarh currently processing processing 91% . Retrieved from pib.gov.in: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1652347
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LASI Wave-1 factsheet- States/ UTs
MA in Development Studies, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela
MA/MSc in Population Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai
Gaurav Suresh Gunnal
M.Sc. in Biostatistics and Demography, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai