Sunday, November 20, 2005

Waiting for Toilet

Sudhirendar Sharma
On November 10, the rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was lamenting that a toilet or lack of it is the indicator of a country's health, not the GDP or Sensex-driven growth curves. A pithy observation for today, which happens to be World Toilet Day. Official apathy seems to encourage lack of sanitation in the country. Public hygiene is seen as a frivolous matter, whereas it is serious enough to beg the time and attention of policy planners. Singh's campaign for more toilets is as laudable as it is difficult to implement.
Noble laureate V S Naipaul diagnosed the practice of open defecation in his book Area of Darkness (1964). Naipaul believed that most Indians suffer from claustrophobia "once inside an enclosed latrine". He even wondered at the society's "collective blindness about the practice, arising out of the Indian fear of pollution and the belief that Indians are the cleanest people in the world".
Gandhiji had long remarked, "For India, sanitation is more important than independence". Does this remark hold any value? Sociologists contend that till girls and boys refuse to marry into a family without a toilet, the sanitation conditions are unlikely to change. The idea behind observing World Toilet Day is addressing sociological concerns, toning up technical hiccups and making toilets part of the global development agenda. Talking about toilets, however, is not glamorous. And to raise funds for toilets is even more daunting. To describe to an audience the significance of toilets, yet steering clear of lavatorial humour, is possibly the ultimate challenge development workers face today. The writer is with the Ecological Foundation. THE TIMES OF INDIA Saturday, November 19, 2005

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