We the dirty people of India

After spending almost 10 weeks in India I am back to London. I travelled across 7 states (UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat) and the Union territoryof Pondycherry. I took nine flights and travelled some 3,000 km by car on some of the newest expressways. Thanks to 1500 photographs, the visit is fairly well documented.I witnessed the arrogance of money and power among Delhiwallas. I observed peaceful co-existence of poverty and affluence in Mumbai. I visited the wonderful temple towns of Madurai and Thanjavur in Tamilnadu. I saw the spotless blue sea and the house of our legendary former President Kalam in Rameswaram.In Gujarat I visited Baroda where I saw some of the greatest works of Indian art, the paintings of goddess Lakshmi and Swarasati by Raja Ravi Verma. Next door to the Baroda Museum was the extraordinarypalace of the Maharaja of Baroda. The entrance ticket was priced at Rs 150, more expansive than Tajmahal and the Caves of Ajanta.The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhi Gaya, Bihar, was surrounded by sufficient greenery and manicured gardens, tasteful lighting and dirt-free pavements. It was bursting with Buddhist tourists from Chinaand Japan. It’s perhaps the only place in India where you have more Chinese food restaurants than the curry restaurants.

I also visited the nearby town of Gaya, where Hindus go to perform ‘pinda-daana’ of their dead parents and family elders so that their soul could be finally emancipated from the cycle of rebirth. Like many other Hindu temple towns its streets were dotted with garbage, cow dung and dog shit.

And that brings me to one of my main concerns about India – the lack of sanitation and hygiene. In fact, there is a remarkable unity of purpose among Indians when it comes to defecating or urinating in the

streets. The ‘communities of shit makers’ that VS Naipaul noticed in the early sixties are still existing and even thriving in many parts of India.

It was painful to see people urinating just about 100 yards from the main monuments of Mahabalipuram. Similarly in Thanjavur one could see human waste close to the boundary wall of the Great Living Chola

Temple called the Brihadeeswarar Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gaya was no different. One has to be careful not to step on cow dung or dog shit while walking in its narrow lanes. In Rameswaram, a group of donkeys stood motionless fouling the street just opposite the main Shiva Temple, nobody tried to drive away the donkeys or clean the street during the one and half days that I spent there.

It’s true that governments have not provided basic sanitation infrastructure in many parts of India. But you cannot put blame entirely on governments. It’s also us, who are quite comfortable living in unhygienic conditions.

Today we have more mobile phones in India than we have the toilets. Only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have lavatories while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets. The situation is really bad in India’s poorest states. About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar.

So what could be done? One great example was provided by Anita Narre a poor woman from Madhya Pradesh. She left her husband Shivram’s home two days after her marriage in May last year because

the house had no toilet. She returned eight days later after Shivram, a daily wage worker, built a toilet in his home with his meagre savings.

An NGO, Sulabh International announced a $10,000 reward for Mrs Narre for her “brave” decision and forcing her husband to build a toilet. Sulabh founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, who had launched

a nationwide campaign to build toilets in poor homes and has build millions of toilets in poor homes, visited Narre’s home to personally congratulate her.

Vijay Rana




One thought on “We the dirty people of India

  1. I had similar experience while travelling in India for about 6 weeks. I traveled from KanyaKumari to Rishikesh. I am surprised only few cities will give accommodation to single person, specially in religious cities. I was searching for a place where I would prefer to settle, if I return back to India. Though my needs are just basic and wanting to avoid Class A/B cities. I could not find any so far. But keep searching…

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