McCarthy is NPR's
correspondent based in New Delhi, India.
girl sweeps fallen debris from a tempest that blew through her
village of Katra Sahadatganj one recent evening. This remote
spot in Uttar Pradesh — India's largest state —
has become the center of another gathering storm.
was here two weeks ago where two young girls were audaciously
attacked: raped and hanged from a tree. Inter-caste violence
and patriarchal attitudes combined to make a chilling spectacle
in this impoverished place of mud-caked children and hand-pumped
a question of belief in human dignity, which somewhere along
the line we seem to have lost.”
the deaths conceivably could have been averted if the girls
had had access to a toilet at home. Lacking one, on the night
they were killed, the two teens did what hundreds of millions
of women do across India each day: Under the cloak of darkness
before sunrise or after sunset, they set out for an open field
to relieve themselves.
Devi, 35, is a cousin of the two slain girls and says women
normally move in pairs to avoid being preyed upon.
we step out of the house we are scared," Devi says. "And
we have to go in the mornings, in the evenings, and when we
cannot stop ourselves, at times we go in the afternoons as well
. . . And there are no bathrooms. We don't have any kind of
facility. We have to go out."
complained of harassment in the fields, but only now, after
the double rape and murder, do they fear for their lives performing
the simplest bodily function.
entrepreneur Bindeshwar Pathak has offered to build a toilet
for every house in the village. It wouldn't be the first time
for the man known in India as the "toilet guru."
hours' drive away in the bordering state of Haryana, Pathak
has already transformed the village of Hir Mathala with his
simple two-pit design.
open the door to a toilet bowl built on a raised platform that
stands 25 feet from the front door of the owner, Pathak says
it requires only one liter to flush, compared with the usual
nine liters of water.
Pathak's low-maintenance, low-cost toilet — about $250
— one pit gets filled while the other biodegrades the
waste, which can be used as fertilizer. Each of the 144 households
has been outfitted in this village, a village Pathak calls a
"pathfinder ... to show the entire nation that you should
have toilets in your house. And here nobody goes outside. This
is the beauty of this village," he says.
Bindeshwar Pathak sits surrounded by women from the village
of Hir Mathala in the northern Indian state of Haryana. Pathak
built low-maintenance, low-cost toilets in the village and wants
to do the same in other villages.
women of Hir Mathala village arrange themselves on the floor
and literally sing the praises of the 71-year-old Pathak, whose
lowly toilet has become a tool of social change.
song is about a wife's plea for a toilet. In rural India, households
that can afford to build a latrine often don't. Resident Shelia
Nahelia says her husband refused because of the expense. So
Nahelia stitched clothes to raise $50, her family's portion
of the cost and a small fortune for her.
Laxmi smiles radiantly. The 35-year-old says she and her children
have never been healthier.
has been a huge change in our lives. Before, the men would follow
us, wait for us to sit in the field and watch. Now, thanks to
Mr. Pathak, we have a lavatory at home." Laxmi says, "We
don't need to step out, and we feel better. Our dignity which
is an ornament for us — is now safe."
NGO, Sulabh International, has built 1.3 million toilets in
Indian homes the past four decades. While commendable, the Sulabh
toilet has not dramatically reduced the incidence of open defecation,
which presents dire consequences for public health.
practice contaminates food and water, and transmits diarrhea-related
diseases that kill 700,000 children every year worldwide —
200,000 of them are in India, says Brian Arbogast, director
of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Program at the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation.
"There is an increasing body of evidence that says poor
sanitation when a child is young, can lead to mental and cognitive
stunting," Arbogast says.
says the Gates Foundation set up a challenge to "reinvent"
the toilet that can accommodate the deprivations of India.
can't have to be connected to the water grid, it can't have
to be connected to the sewer grid, and it can't have to be connected
to the electricity grid," he says. "It needs to kill
all of the pathogens so that what comes out of their toilets
doesn't smell and can't make anybody sick. And it has to be
team from Cal-Tech was awarded the most promising design and
is one of three now being tested in India. Team member Clement
Cid says it meets the goal of 5 cents per user per day, but
the toilet still costs $1,500.
goal is to make it cheaper, and we're working on the core component
of the system and we are driving the cost down," Cid says.
"But the benefit on the overall society is huge."
says even affordable innovations won't alone solve India's sanitation
problems. He says India needs to shift the mindset that open
defecation is "natural and normal" to "it is
teach them that their children and their families are suffering
a lot of sickness because of basically fecal matter being transmitted,
by flies or other ways, to the food they eat," Arbogast
says. "And once people really realize that, that can really
be a triggering event for a community."
Coffey, a Ph.D. candidate with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School
and an economist, says simply providing latrines is no guarantee
that people will actually use them. She studied five northern
Indian states and found that 19 percent of women with access
to a latrine still preferred to defecate in the open.
used to it, for one," Coffey says. And she says the research
is clear that "building toilets without addressing common
norms, attitudes and beliefs around latrine use is unlikely
to reduce open defecation in rural India."
Choudhury of the human rights group Action India says the country's
political leadership has failed to grasp the gravity of the
a question of belief in human dignity, which somewhere along
the line we seem to have lost," Choudhury says.
and China each have more than a billion people, and here's the
contrast: The World Health Organization says in China, 1 out
of every 100 people defecate out in the open; in India, it's
1 out of every 2 people — the highest rate in the world.
former rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, says increased
government assistance for building toilets has spurred construction,
as has the issue of women's privacy.
launched a 'No Toilet, No Bride' campaign," Ramesh says.
"I would go out and exhort women not to get married into
families that did not have a toilet. And this worked. In many
parts of the country, women refused."
a social movement to revolutionize attitudes and behaviors toward
sanitation in India may be in order.
Indians look to their new Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make
good on his recent election campaign promise: "toilets
first, temples later."
National Public Radio, Inc. NPR news report titled “How
A Lack Of Toilets Puts India’s Women At Risk Of Assault”
by Julie McCarthy originally published on NPR.org on June 9,
2014, and is used with the permission of NPR. Any unauthorized
duplication is strictly prohibited.