SEWA Toilet Project Varanasi – Balva Bareche, UP from Santosh on Vimeo.

Out of the 949 million in the world that doesn’t have toilets, India accounts for a whopping 564 million and the economic impact of inadequate sanitation in India amounts to a staggering Rs. 2.44 trillion a year.

We are talking about the irony that this country is facing even in the 21st century, the lack of basic sanitation facilities even as we speak of rising to greater economic and military prowess. And sadly it’s not just the apathy of the administration over the years that has led us to such a situation, it’s the fact that for majority of the population especially in rural areas using a toilet is less about the lack of toilets and more about the lack of sensitization and awareness about the need to use toilets.

The Caste Sanitation Paradox

“Only dalits, the lowest Hindu caste, should be exposed to excrement in a closed space, or city-dwellers who don’t have space to go in the open. Faeces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.”

This is the narrative that comes from many villagers and this is precisely where the mindset of the masses needs to be changed before we even envision the dream of a Swachh Bharat. The problem is not just of the access to toilets. Even if the government provides free toilets, the people are unwilling to use them for the intended purpose. Toilets being used for storage, as washing areas is a common scene across villages.

The reason being – Caste and the underlying concept of purity and pollution.

The key reason for this is that basic latrines that need to be emptied out manually or pumped by simple machines are unacceptable to higher caste Hindus. It is considered polluting to the individual and the home, and historically associated with untouchability. The perceptions of ritual purity are particularly prevalent and persistent in rural India, with consequently the highest level of open defecation in the world. To find a way around this problem would need an ideological overhaul before we expect to see changes on the ground. One way would be to present Swacch Bharat Abhiyan as not a scheme of free construction of toilets rather to expand the sewage system across the country.

Why It’s Time For A Toilet Revolution

1. Saving Lives  :Every year, 200,000 infants die in India alone because of open defecation. The situation is grave as  a number of other diseases follow from open defecation: skin diseases, respiratory diseases, eye problems, scabies, intestinal parasites resulting in kidney damage, anthrax and tuberculosis

2. Towards Women Safety And Literacy: In the wee hours of the morning, when a woman leaves in the empty corners of the faraway field, one can imagine her vulnerability to crimes like rape and sexual assault. With a toilet in her backyard, that same woman wouldn’t have to expose herself to threats like these, to a host of other infections coming from defecating in the open. These toilets would also give her the freedom to privacy and the dignity of carrying on her daily business. Also, the increased emphasis on hygiene and sanitation would make the women more aware of their own health surrounding menstrual hygiene and reproductive health.

3. Creating Jobs And Sanitation Both :There are around 11.3 crore households in India that do not have access to toilets, according to the Census 2011 data. Constructing toilets for such an enormous number would majorly boost the economy in terms of the number of jobs created both in the public as well as private sector.

Towards A Sanitation Friendly Village – Sewa At Balva Bareche, UP

 SEWA Toilet Project Varanasi – Balva Bareche, UP 

Sewa International has been committed to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and recognizes the various ways in which a simple toilet can bring about a positive change in the social, gender and educational dynamics of a society. Our efforts took us to a small village Balva Bareche in UP, where, led by our driver we saw the hardships that the locals had to undergo in the absence of a toilet.

 “I am very old and have to walk in the hot sun in the open fields. A toilet would have meant an end to all these problems”, says an old man we spoke to during our survey.

Our inspiration came from the zeal that these villagers showed with regard to sanitation and the need for accessible toilets. Especially the womenfolk and the elders of the village who had to travel long distances to go about their daily business. Added to this defecating in the open exposes them to a host of diseases and ailments, often transferring the same to other family members especially children.

“We would go at the break of dawn to ensure our privacy. There have been so many incidents of bites from snakes and scorpions and we would always remain fearful of the same”, says a female resident of the village.

After doing a survey in the village, Sewa volunteers with the help of our generous donors have been able to construct 15 toilets in the village which is used by over 150 villagers. The residents have been using the toilets and reaping its benefits. For women, these toilets mean having a better personal hygiene and also a sense of respect and dignity where they can feel safe. It is important to note that it’s not enough to just construct new toilets unless their continuous functionality isn’t ensured. For the same purpose, our volunteers went door to door, sensitizing the villagers about how these toilets are now their responsibility to be maintained and managed. Since they had never used a toilet before they were made aware of how to periodically clean and maintain it. It was indeed an inspiration and relief to see their enthusiasm to adopt and encourage these healthy practices.

 Bridging The Gender Gap Through Toilets

A step as small as constructing a toilet has gone a long way in somewhat bridging the gender divide, building confidence in the girl students to not miss or drop out of school and also to at least openly talk about important issues such as personal hygiene and sanitation.  Now our daughters, daughters-in-law, no longer have to feel embarrassed and unsafe. It is such a happy moment for us elders”, says a 60 yr old lady with a beaming smile and blessings for the volunteers.No words can ever describe the smiles spread across the faces of these common villagers upon receiving this gift of a dignified existence that every human being deserves. We hope to serve better and serve more through endeavors like these and create a healthy society in a healthy nation.