Sunday, June 3, 2007

The strinking solution

Sanitation, the biggest quandary of our economy

Indian economy crossed the trillion dollar mark and has been continuously multiplying the number of home grown billionaires by the day. No doubt it is great news but the policy makers, who are gung ho over this achievement, should take a train journey to/from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or any other Indian city of repute to get the real picture. The sight is in fact ubiquitous – hundreds of men, women and children are found to be openly defecating near the railway tracks, portraying a perfect imagery of a prosperous India.

It is such a chilling irony that amidst the glorified growth stories, there is an India; where currently 67% of its population does not have access to sanitation (around 81% of rural households and 25% of urban households do not have access to even the crudest of toilets). In other words, it means that a staggering 670m people defecate in the open, along roadsides, over drains and almost everywhere, everyday! Though one cannot blame them, because they lack a dignified option.

Related to the issue of sanitation is another issue which further ‘glorifies’ the image of the ‘growing’ Indian economy. That glory is related to one of the most horrifying social blemishes called ‘human scavenging’. It is shocking that even after 60 years of Independence and almost 14 years after making it a punishable offence, this inhuman practice continues with impunity. Reports state that there are anywhere between 6 and 10 lakh human scavengers in our country, who are cruelly subjected to clean the dry toilets by their hands and carry human waste on their heads, on a tin plate or a drum, all for Rs 160 to Rs 200 a month. It is obvious that this worst form of human apartheid had been thrust upon the lowest rung of the social hierarchy i.e. the Dalits for generations. Research reveals that more than 90% of the human scavengers in India are either women or girl children, as they are most vulnerable and are literally forced into it.

I’m sure that no sane human being would either choose to defecate in the open and get subjected to such form of inhuman humiliation, nor would they ever ‘choose’ to carry human excreta on their head. But when they do, it indicates the unprecedented helplessness (both social and economic) that they go through. It also shows that how recklessly our governments, both at the centre and the state, have coldly turned a blind eye towards them. What they have bestowed to date have been some mundane and pointless policies and some ‘alms’ allocated in the name of budget for sanitation.

To mitigate this humanitarian crisis and in order to ensure that the government starts to think seriously about this subject, I have a one point solution. For a month, relocate the offices of our policy makers to the outskirts of our railway stations. The unbearable stink and sight would evolve some workable policies for sure and thus save millions of Indians from this historical humiliation.


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