By Ram Prasad, Final Mile
There are times when you feel good about yourself for having shown restraint in not clicking a picture. While we were carrying out observations for a highway safety project, I notice a state road transport bus stop a little ahead of its designated bus stop. A mother and her little daughter get down. The girl starts defecating on the side of Asian Highway 43.
Passengers sitting by the window watch this patiently without showing any disgust or impatience. No one complains about stopping the bus or the open defecation. Would the reaction be similar if it was an adult instead of a child? Throughout our research on sanitation, we see people making one seemingly strange distinction: kids can defecate anywhere, next to the home, on the street. It’s neither seen as unhealthy, nor is it considered undesirable. Even villages that have claimed to be free of open defecation do not consider kids defecating in the open to be a problem.
This is a serious issue; one that needs to be addressed both at the design as well as the perception level. The Indian toilet arguably isn’t very child-friendly and we need to find creative ways of making it user friendly for kids. The perception that it is not harmful or disgusting because it’s a kid, gives it a social sanction in a way. Old habits die hard. While we are building many new toilets in India, we are also building a set of future adults who have grown up defecating in the open. Unless we change this perception of children’s excreta being okay, we are not going to build a sustainable model in sanitation.
And then, there are times you kick yourself for not being quick enough to click a picture. As we were driving towards Hyderabad, I see a rather interesting signboard at the Jadcherla bus stand. It says ‘Ultra Modern Toilets’. The board was not on top of a toilet complex, but on top of a restaurant inside a state road transport bus stop, where many long distance buses don’t stop. So, it’s not essentially for the ‘city’ folks. You would expect a restaurant to talk about good food or variety of cuisine. This one is using ‘modern toilets’ as a draw. This should give us a lot of hope.