Essay, GS-1, Uncategorized

Why Swachh Bharat Is Floundering May Surprise

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to see a clean India. To fulfill this ambition, he has launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission, a supply-side initiative which, among other things, plans to build 110 million toilets across India between 2014 and 2019.

In spite of the government constructing 8 million toilets in 2015, worldwide, India still has the highest number of people defecating in the open, around 600 million.
Religion, caste and culture have an important role in determining whether any particular individual is likely to use toilets. Our research demonstrates that Muslim households are 5.4 times more likely to use a toilet than Hindu ones. Even Christian households are 1.3 times more likely to adopt a toilet in comparison to their Hindu counterparts. Hindu households have the lowest coverage of sanitation facilities in comparison to other religions.

This result is surprising, as Indian Muslims are on average both poorer and less educated than Indian Hindus. There are two plausible reasons for it. Open defecation among Hindu households is linked to the caste system, where the customary circumvention of excreta is sustained by keeping defecation away from the house and entrusting the cleanup job to the so-called “untouchables” or “lower” castes. Many rural Hindu households are averse to the idea of having toilets in the same building as their living quarters.

The importance of culture and behavioural attitudes is evident from the Bangladesh experience. Although it has a much lower per-capita income, Bangladesh has a significantly superior sanitation rate to that of India. Only 3% of the population in Bangladesh defecates in the open in comparison to India’s 50%.
A campaign that ran in Bangladesh, pointing out that defecating in the open may end up contaminating crops, also helped as it left many disgusted at the thought.

Muslims are more likely to live in urban areas . Spatially, households living in urban areas are 19 times more likely to use a toilet in comparison to their rural counterparts.

The caste system matters. Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) households have a lower probability of using a toilet when compared with households from general caste. These communities live in relatively inaccessible areas of the nation, and thus have lower access to public goods such as water connectivity, in comparison to others.

Culture and location

The likelihood of households in the Northeast Indian states of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya, and the southern state of Kerala using a toilet facility is much higher than that of a household in Delhi. In fact, in Kerala communities like the Nairs and Ezhavas, and in Meghalaya the Khasi, Jaintias, and the Garo tribes (comprising a majority of the population) practice matriarchy, where women have power in activities relating to allocation, exchange and production. This can also explain the greater prevalence of toilet users in these states. In contrast, households from Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu are less likely to use toilets in comparison to a household from Delhi.

First, the government should concentrate on creating a demand for the use of toilets. Policymakers must ensure that a larger proportion of funds are directed towards social marketing and educating people about hygiene. Intervention should target areas/districts with more per-capita open defecation rather than merely building toilets.

Second, as female literacy is important, it would be wise to target women and actively involve them in policymaking. Our study show, a household in which a woman has attained higher education (18 years of schooling) is 3.1 times more likely to use a toilet.

Finally, there is a need for government policies specifically focusing on improving sanitation in rural areas. These policies can be combined with rural education initiatives, along with measures to improve availability of water among households in villages.


The state must intervene to inject some antibodies and upend the caste order. These need not be magic bullets but relentless prescriptions for social reform devised in consultation with experts and civil society. People must be nudged, shepherded, exhorted, pressured, mandated and legislated to relinquish caste.

1. Prepare a next generation that rejects casteism: Mandatory caste sensitivity training for all students and teachers from late primary through middle school, enforced by HRD. Have every student pledge to disavow caste, similar to the recent compulsory anti-sexual harassment training from WCD for all private and public companies.

2. Indoctrinate public officers with unswerving allegiance to equality of all:  Mandatory periodic training of public officers on constitutional fundamentals. Police, public transport employees, teachers, lawyers and judges etc. Audit periodically.

3. Reward voluntary caste shedding by citizens: Incentivise voluntary annihilation of caste like civil marriage, dropping caste surname, inter caste marriage, adoption etc.  Tax breaks, preferential benefits like loans etc.

4. Appoint right talent to social equality policies, programs: Appoint genuine visionaries and apostles for a casteless India to ministries, departments and commissions of HRD, National Commission of Scheduled Castes, Education and Law Enforcement. Use prompt and stringent law enforcement for incidents against Dalits to send a strong message.

5. Government sponsored propaganda: Frame a readable constitution for children and public alike and promote in schools and elsewhere. Advertisements and propaganda similar to anti-smoking campaings that exhort public against casteism.

Three score and nine years after Independence, when we already have the character and soul of the India sketched out in the Constitution, the time is ripe to go beyond tokenism. India can truly unite in diversity only when the state commits to expand an India for a few to an India for all.

The Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi has solicited public input for his Independence Day address, this August 15th 2016. If he were to pick one thing, just one, it should be to issue a loud and clear clarion call to non-Dalits to end caste discrimination while backing up the rhetoric with clear, committed, comprehensive programs for social equity and hence gift India freedom from caste.Link!

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