The programme will not be sustainable in the long run if government officials use coercion and violence to end open defecation, and political leaders keep supporting such illegal moves
editorials Updated: Jun 19, 2017 16:05 IST
To say that Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje acted in an insensitive manner by tweeting that the lynching of social activist Zafar Hussein in Pratapgarh district on Friday was not a murder is an understatement. A group of government officials allegedly beat to death 55-year-old Zafar Hussein, a social activist and CPI-ML member, for trying to stop them from photographing women defecating in the open. By taking photographs of the women, the officials were trying shame them into stopping open defecation and ensure that people build toilets under the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet sanitation programme. Other than being insensitive, Ms Raje’s defence of government officials will only embolden others to take such illegal steps.
With the target for making India open defecation free (ODF) by 2019 under the SBA, states are tripping over themselves to meet the deadline, even at the cost of violating citizens’ right to food or privacy. In Indore, local authorities used temple loudspeakers to narrate a “commentary when someone went out to defecate in the open”. Kids were asked to whistle … even photographs of people defecating in the open being interrupted by strangers offering flowers did the rounds on social media. According to a local Hindi daily, the Sawai Madhopur collector has directed ration shops to stop giving people grains if they didn’t build toilets. Social activists rightly claim that such directives flout the National Food Security Act, 2013. In South Sikkim, people are denied government documents including OBC/ death/birth certificates, if they don’t build toilets. Recently, a 70-year old man in Tuticorin, filed a case in the Madras High Court, stating that his village has been denied work under the rural employment guarantee scheme because he failed to build a toilet. The, he claimed, violates Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. Many administrators feel that pressure has to be put on people to end open defecation seen as a `socially deviant behaviour’.
While threatening citizens may enable officials to participate in the end-open defecation race, it will not sustain the programme in the long run. To ensure success of this programme, which will only happen when people demand toilets, it is important to make people understand the critical link that exists between health and sanitation. In fact, chief ministers such as Raje are doing harm than good to SBM by supporting wrongdoers.