cleaning india

Why community toilets won’t reduce open defecation in rural India

What India needs is a Latrine Use Revolution.

Imagine that you are from rural Uttar Pradesh. You live in a kaccha house with your family, with your brother’s family living next door. You have defecated in the open your whole life. It’s something that you consider to be good, even healthy: going out in the open early in the morning gives you the chance to take a walk, get some fresh air, check on your fields, and meet your neighbors.

Then one day, your brother decides to build a latrine for his family. He invests a fair amount of money into it, making sure that it has a large pit and pucca walls. Only some members of his family use the latrine, like his pregnant daughter-in-law, since everyone else prefers to go outside. Although a latrine has been constructed just next door, that too in your brother’s home, you would never consider using it regularly. It might be alright to use it “in emergencies” but otherwise, you and your family continue to defecate in the open every day.

With the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission today, there are many who are vigorously advocating community latrines as a real policy solution to ending open defecation in India. The idea is that if we can build a few toilets for use in rural communities, where close to 90% of India’s open defecation occurs, then people without latrines in their homes can use them to avoid going out in the open. But the story above is a common one. In addition to widespread lack of demand for latrine use and social fragmentation that makes the maintenance of shared latrines difficult, there is a clear discomfort in rural India around the idea of sharing latrines, making community latrines unlikely to work.

SQUAT survey

My colleagues and I at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics recently conducted a survey of sanitation attitudes and practices in over 3,200 households in rural Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, and Haryana (the SQUAT Survey).  What we found is that people in rural north India very often do not use, and definitely do not share, their latrines.

There are a few important reasons why community latrines in rural India are unlikely to reduce open defecation.  First, many people who have latrines in their own homes continue to defecate in the open, so it is misguided to assume that they would use a community latrine if it were available.  In our survey, over 40% of households with a working latrine had at least one member who still defecates in the open.  In fact, almost half of people who defecate in the open say that they do so because it is pleasurable, comfortable, or convenient.  They are not interested in someone building them a toilet, and so a community toilet will not suddenly make them want to use one.

Wrong focus

Second, people in rural India do not share latrines. According to 2012 UNICEF/WHO data, while 20% of urban households without a household latrine used a shared or public toilet, only 5% of rural households did. Our survey similarly showed how infrequent latrine sharing is in rural India: less than 1% of households without a latrine use a community latrine. The discomfort with latrine sharing is demonstrated clearly by the fact that only 7% of households in our study that have a working latrine reported that non-household members also use it. We spoke to many households, like the one above, in which even brothers living next door to one another don’t share their latrines. Though it is possible that attitudes can change, sharing latrines is incredibly uncommon, suggesting how difficult it will be to make community latrines a palatable alternative to open defecation, if we can manage to convince people to want to use a latrine at all.

And third, it is naïve to simplify villages into homogenous communities that live in harmony and care for the wellbeing of all their neighbors. Rather, people are divided along lines of gender, religion, caste, and economic status that make cooperation complicated. Community or public toilets in urban India are difficult to keep in good condition, but still might be a good solution for the urban context. However, it is improbable to assume that people in rural India will use community toilets, coming together to maintain them so that they are available for those who need them. With such deep divisions, in an environment where latrine sharing is already so rare, why would entire villages share them?

What India needs is a Latrine Use Revolution. Community toilets are just another construction-focused solution to the problem of open defecation. As long as people continue to resist building and using latrines in their own homes, or in the homes of their family members, they will not use community latrines. Let’s shift the focus of the upcoming Swacch Bharat Mission to changing behavior, and convince every rural Indian that they want to use a latrine rather than go in the open.  Only then will we truly make progress on making India free of open defecation by 2019.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

When house hunting is as easy as shopping for groceries

The supermarket experience comes to a sector where you least expected it.

The woes of a house hunter in India are many. The dreary process starts with circling classifieds in newspapers and collecting shiny brochures. You flip through the proposed and ready designs that launch a hundred daydreams on the spot. So far so good. But, every house hunter would attest to the soul-crushing experience of checking out a disappointing property.

The kitchen of a 2BHK is carved from the corner of the hall, the 3BHK is a converted 2BHK, the building looks much older than in the pictures…. after months of reading the fine line, and between the lines, you feel like all the diagrams and highlights seem to blur into each other.

After much mental stress, if you do manage to zero in on a decent property, there’s a whole new world of knowledge to be navigated - home loans to be sifted through, taxes to be sorted and a finance degree to be earned for understanding it all.

Do you wish a real estate platform would address all your woes? Like a supermarket, where your every need (and want) is catered to? Imagine all your property choices nicely lined up and arranged with neat labels and offers. Imagine being able to compare all your choices side by side. Imagine viewing verfied listings and knowing what you see is what you get. Imagine having other buyers and experts guiding you along every step while you make one of the most important investments in your life. Imagine...

MagicBricks has made every Indian house hunters’ daydream of a simplified real estate supermarket a reality. Now you have more than a pile of brochures at your disposal as the online real estate marketplace brings you lakhs of choices to your fingertips. Instead of bookmarking pages, you can narrow down your choices by area, budget, house type etc. Just so you aren’t hit by FOMO, you can always add a suburb you’ve been eyeing or an extra bedroom to your filter. But there’s more to a house than just floor space. On MagicBricks, you can check for good schools in the vicinity, a park for evening walks or at least an assured easier commute. Save time and energy by vetting properties based on the specs, pictures and floor plans uploaded and have all your niggling concerns addressed on the users’ forum.

Shortlisted a property? Great! No need to descend down another spiral of anxiety. Get help from reliable experts on MagicBricks on matters of legalities, home loans, investment, property worth etc. You can even avail their astrology and Vastu services to ensure an auspicious start to life in your new home or office. With its entire gamut of offerings, MagicBricks has indeed brought the supermarket experience to real estate in India, as this fun video shows below.

Play

Get started with a simplified experience of buying, renting and selling property on MagicBricks here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MagicBricks and not by the Scroll editorial team.