The practicalities of eradicating open defecation in India

Guest post by Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson, Arghyam 

Rohini Nilekani

Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson, Arghyam

For the past several months, I have been pondering whether it is really possible to have a completely open defecation free society, where most people are still engaged in small landholding farming, or as farm labour. Millions of people go out to their fields early in the day, often walking long distances, and when nature calls, where are the toilets in the fields? Or on the way? We would need toilets at the wayside, at the field level, and at the home. Is this doable? If not, is defecation in the field, with some due process followed (burying/covering up the human waste, followed by hand and feet washing) necessarily a public health hazard? It would be good to get some expert opinion on this. can we achieve the same public health goals that we anticipate from ending open defecation, by other means that are more appropriate to the current realities and cultures of the people in our country? Maybe some “out-of-the-toilet” thinking and innovation is needed urgently. Certainly we cannot tolerate any more the disastrous health outcomes, especially for children, from some current sanitation practices. So, how do we encourage better and modern on-farm sanitation and hygiene without building closed toilets everywhere?
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6 thoughts on “The practicalities of eradicating open defecation in India

    • Because our health indicators are abysmal, as the author of the post mentioned and sanitation is very closely linked to that. And since we are working on sanitation, this is a forum to discuss the issue. All points of view are welcome!

  1. My grandparents n uncles are farmers and have seen them working in fields, and though we have toilet at home they prefer going to the fields saying that it will only add on to the organic menure,but how can this be hygienic ?as worm infestation cases are quite common ,I donno the practicality part but a closed toilet with a proper pit ,in every field is best.

  2. a very valid question, but apart from building toilets (and maintaining it) what other options do we have?

    Toilets are at a lower level in the priority list of villagers, much below tractors & TV’s (from personal experience & observations), and proper education of the health hazards (caused by open defecation) is very important to challenge this situation. I think that might be more important than creating community toilets.

  3. As an oranisation we believe sanitation in rural India is possible and a must. We are currently working on a project to introduce sanitation in this kind of environment and are actively seeking to connect and work with similar organization to make sanitation in rural India a reality.

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