Open Defecation Free India: A Distant Reality

Can a country that killed two Dalit children for defecating in the open, really be ODF?

Is India really open defecation free?

On Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, India is all set to be declared open defecation free by Prime Minster Narendra Modi. PM Narendra Modi had announced the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014 and stressed that like Mahatma Gandhi he too wanted to make India clean and pursue his countrymen to take part in the endeavour.

Providing toilets to rural households across the country was at the helm of priorities of the mission. According to government statistics, sanitation coverage in rural India grew from 38.7% in 2014 to 98% in 2019.

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The government records also show that 27 states, 601 districts, 5,934 blocks, 2,46,116 gram panchayats and 5,50,151 villages in India have been declared Open defecation free much before October 2,2019.

But is India really free of Open defecation?

The government statistics may hurriedly emphasise that India is Open defecation free and that all the targets of the Swacch Bharat Mission have been successfully met, however it is important for us to penetrate deeper and begin asking some uncomfortable questions.

It was only last week when two Dalit children were beaten to death in Madhya Pradesh because they were defecating in the open.

It is interesting to note that the village in Madhya Pradesh where these little children were killed as they were defecating in the open is among those that have been declared Open defecation free according to the Swacch Bharat Mission’s database.

Many Dalit families in the village have no access to toilets irrespective of the claims of the government.

Moreover, just a couple of weeks ago a story from Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareilli jolted the nation when the news of a woman being murdered for defecating in the open came into limelight.

If these two instances hold any importance for the nation as a collective then they must compel us to ask whether India really is Open defecation free?

What we cannot deny is the fact that the scale of the work under the Swacch Bharat Mission was immense and the Swacch Bharat Mission has achieved much more than most previous schemes that attempted at such a goal.

However what cannot be denied is the fact that the government’s claims  about the total non-existence of Open defecation in India need to be constantly challenged. There certainly is immense possibility for the impact of the mission to penetrate deeply and take into its ambit many untouched habitations.

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