The deplorable status of dalits is borne out by the abysmal number of toilets in their households.
By Vikas Pathak
As the rest of the world has marched into the 21st century, India, a country of over a billion people, is still grappling with basic problems of sanitation. This, after 67 years of Independence. The lack of toilets is endemic in many rural households and has spiked crimes rates in various states, as rapes are often perpetuated on women when they go out of their homes to relieve themselves. The rape and subsequent murder of two cousins in Katra Sadatganj village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh in June is an apt example. But, like everything else in India, this too is mired in caste and class distinctions; it is the socially backward sections that are most deprived of this basic right—a proper toilet in their homes.
This leads the deprived women to trudge to fields far away from their homes after dark and become easy targets for predators and rapists. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised universal sanitation in his election speeches and even said that toilets need to be prioritized over temples, the sheer magnitude of the problem is truely overwhelming.
While the constitution abolished untou-chability under Articles 16, 17, 46 and 335 and provided a framework for positive discrimination to help dalits get access to stable jobs, the reality is far different. Even basic amenities are hard for them to come by. According to household data for the 2011 Census, toilet availability at home is the least for those at the bottom of the social pyramid—dalits in villages. While the Census does not provide data for OBCs—the category to which the Badaun girls belonged—the data for Scheduled Castes (SC) can be taken as representative. Out of the 440 lakh SC households in India, less than 150 lakh have a toilet, barely a third. Just 75 lakh of the 330 lakh dalit households in rural India have a toilet. That’s 23 for every hundred households. As for slum households, just 90 lakh out of 130 lakh have toilets.
Let’s look at state-wise figures for a better perspective. Of the 65 lakh rural dalit households in Uttar Pradesh (UP), only 8 lakh have toilets. That’s a dismal 12 percent in India’s most populous state. But UP as a whole, lags behind in toilets, with just 15 lakh households out of 76 lakh (19 percent), having one.
Many other states suffer from the same malaise. Bihar, despite being hailed for development under Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) government, has just 3 lakh toilets among its 32 lakh dalit households, barely 10 percent. As for rural dalit households, it’s even lower at 2.2 lakh toilets, among 29.8 lakh households in the state. In Maharashtra, which goes to the polls in October, only 5.8 lakh of the roughly 17.8 lakh rural dalit households have a toilet. This is barely 33 percent, an abysmal figure for a state from where dalit icon BR Ambedkar hailed. In the prosperous Gujarat, the prime minister’s home state, and often touted as a modern, business-friendly one, the picture is none too good either. Of the 4.9 lakh rural dalit households, just 1.47 lakh have toilets. In Punjab, another affluent state, out of 13 lakh dalit households in villages, just 7.4 lakh have toilets.
However, Kerala, hailed for its development model, fares far better. Out of 4.54 lakh rural Dalit households, 3.7 lakh have toilets, an impressive 82 percent.
So why has there been a lackadaisical attitude towards building toilets? JNU sociologist Vivek Kumar, who specializes on dalits, says: “If dalits don’t have land to build houses with thatched roofs and cremation grounds in many parts of India, how will they build toilets? There is no targeted policy on the part of governments towards this goal. There was the Indira Awas Yojana, a social welfare program to provide housing for the rural poor, but the money provided was too meager for building one room, leave alone toilets.” As for the success of Kerala in building toilets, Kumar says: “Universal education helps in improving access to toilets, as it creates hygiene consciousness. Kerala’s strides in education have helped it beat more prosperous states by miles,” Kumar adds. Sadly, while the debate over development was endemic during the recent Lok Sabha polls, the ground reality is far different for India’s rural poor. Basic services have concentrated more on the middle and affluent sections. Mobile penetration is an apt example. While the 2011 Census showed that just 47 percent of all households in India had toilets at home, 63 percent had telephones and 53 percent had mobiles.
It’s time we bring about a toilet revolution in India. Let there be a collective endeavor to elevate the marginalized lot by providing them at least basic hygiene.