Over 50% of India’s population does not have access to toilets, that results in more than half a million people defecating in the open. While a majority of this covers most of the rural population, the problem also exists in urban and metropolitan cities. The absence of proper sanitation not only causes immense discomfort to the people but also results in the spread of a number of diseases due to open defecation and highly unhygienic environments. Poor sanitation also severely impairs the growth of people and leads to higher rates of malnutrition, that in turn, affects the over all productivity of the people.
Besides causing the spread of a number of water borne and respiratory diseases, open defecation also poses a serious safety threat for girls and women. There have been numerous cases where women have been raped and assaulted in empty fields and grounds where they defecate. Along with the obvious that to safety, open defecation also nullifies the concept of privacy for women in rural areas who are unaware of who they are being watched by.Poor or no sanitation for girls in schools results in them dropping out and remaining uneducated. This results in the lack of knowledge on the need and importance of proper sanitation and hygiene leading to the continuation of open defecation. Therefore, access to proper sanitation is not just a health issue, but also one that results in numerous crimes against women, compromising their safety and privacy.
While a large portion of the budget is allocated to schemes for the improvement of sanitation and installation of toilets across India, there has not been a great improvement in the situation in the past decade. However, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan initiated by the Modi government has definitely initiated greater discussion about sanitation and has brought the issue to the forefront. This campaign aims at eliminating all problems of cleanliness and sanitation by 2ndOctober, 2019 on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. As a result of the campaign and the numerous awareness activities conducted as a part of it, 3 states were declared open defecation free in 2016 and over 3 crore toilets have been built in various parts of the country to improve access to proper sanitation.
As a part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan campaign, a number of awareness programs are conducted for people in rural areas, school going children and in various urban organizations. While the government attempts to tackle this problem with the help of campaigns like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, members of the society are using different methods of creative expression to ignite conversation and raise awareness about sanitation in India and bust the taboo around it. One recent example is the upcoming film –“Toilet: EkPrem Katha” starring Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar. This is a satirical comedy film that emphasizes the need to improve sanitation and stop open defecation, supporting the objectives and purpose of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan. All efforts made by the government and the civil society have resulted in a drastic improvement in the sanitation situation in the country and have most importantly started conversation about what was earlier consisted a taboo. While we have certainly made progress, we still have a long way to go, too ensure every citizen in the country has access to clean and safe toilets and proper sanitation.