Swachh Bharat toilets without sanitation is why Dalits are at the receiving end

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Sanitation in India
A bathroom block stands in a village in Bhopal District, Madhya Pradesh | Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee | Bloomberg

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Two Dalit youngsters had been allegedly murdered final week for defecating within the open, in Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district, which was declared “open defecation free” in 2018.

Nevertheless, on the time of this incident, the Indian media selected to dedicate way more consideration to a different occasion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was honoured with the “Global Goalkeeper” award by the Invoice and Melinda Gates Basis for the Swachh Bharat Mission and his efforts to enhance sanitation in India. It’s tough to give attention to the irony within the face of this tragedy.

As his first main marketing campaign in his first tenure as PM, Narendra Modi kicked off the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) on 2 October 2014, when he introduced his purpose to make India “open defecation free” inside the subsequent 5 years to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th beginning anniversary. 

Whereas the follow of open defecation has decreased in India, the nation is on no account open defecation free, regardless of possible bulletins on the contrary Wednesday. The intention behind this marketing campaign was noble, the purpose was clearly outlined, and the public opinion was largely optimistic – however the marketing campaign is poorly designed.


Additionally learn: Roshni, the Shivpuri Dalit lady killed for ‘open defecation’, wished to turn out to be a physician


Cracks in Swachh Bharat mission

The deadly flaw was the Swachh Bharat Mission’s disproportionate give attention to establishing bathrooms as an alternative of bettering the general sanitation within the nation.

This resolution, early on, positioned your complete governance give attention to offering inputs as an alternative of delivering outcomes. By focusing virtually solely on inputs (bathrooms), the Modi authorities has very conveniently shifted the purpose put up from offering sanitation to easily constructing and distributing bathrooms – a activity that may be extra simply tracked, measured, and accomplished.

Within the final 5 years, ministers and bureaucrats have been shouting out figures on the variety of bathrooms constructed and distributed, as an alternative of informing folks about the extent to which sanitation has improved. This conflation of bathrooms and sanitation went principally unnoticed – as a result of who would wish to defecate within the open in the event that they obtained bathrooms totally free?

Of their ebook The place India Goes: Deserted Bogs, Stunted Growth, and the Prices of Caste, Diane Coffey and Dean Spears argue that in India folks desire open defecation to fundamental latrines as a result of the latter wants to be emptied out manually or pumped out by easy machines, which are unacceptable to high-caste Hindus. Latrines are thought-about as polluting each the person and the home and are traditionally related to untouchability.

This isn’t information to folks dwelling in villages and the peri-urban areas as a result of they expertise caste bias each day, and the place and the way they defecate don’t escape their caste id. The desire for open defecation is so prevalent in India that a mainstream film Rest room: Ek Prem Katha was made to unfold consciousness. However the authorities designed the SBM as if the caste system in India doesn’t exist or matter. And it’s due to this sin of omission, that sure elements of the SBM have consequently led to the oppression of Dalits.


Additionally learn: Having restricted Mahatma Gandhi to sanitation, Modi is ignoring his central message


Dalits on the receiving finish

There are no less than three other ways by which the marketing campaign has worsened Dalit oppression

First, a rise within the variety of bathrooms with out the accompanying enchancment within the sanitation infrastructure within the type of sewage programs, plumbing, septic tanks, sanitation employees and gear, and so on. requires folks to clear out the bathrooms, typically manually. 

Higher-caste Hindus are keen to make use of bathrooms however would keep away from cleansing them due to their worry of getting “polluted” – thus, rising the prevalence of handbook scavenging.

Folks who belong to castes related to handbook scavenging are denied different employment alternatives. They are economically compelled into an oppressive follow that additional robs them of equal social standing and company.

Since the SBM didn’t make huge investments past establishing bathrooms, there was little effort to enhance the situations of handbook scavengers. There have been a number of situations the place handbook scavengers die once they work with untreated fecal matter with none gear or safety. On this regard, the federal government has blood on its fingers.


Additionally learn: Between Swachh Bharat & deaths – the place is the sanitation coverage for handbook scavengers?


Dalits denied entry to public items, companies

A second challenge, which is not restricted to the SBM, is that in the case of the supply of vital public items and companies, Dalits turn out to be the simple targets of exclusion.

One in every of the 2 youngsters murdered final week belonged to a family that didn’t obtain a bathroom beneath the SBM and had been in all probability denied as a result of they had been Dalits.

Whereas upper-caste Hindus could select to defecate within the open to keep away from having to wash bathrooms, Dalits don’t have any possibility however to defecate within the open as a result of they’re intentionally denied entry to public items and companies.

Below the SBM, numerous states impose fines and sanctions for defecating within the open. Dalits and Adivasis are extra possible to face these sanctions. On this sense, the SBM could be coercive and exacerbate issues confronted by Dalits and Adivasis.


Additionally learn: Modi govt’s Swachh Bharat reveals why switching to ‘mission mode’ helps India


Swachh Bharat worsening caste prejudice

The third pertains to a caste drawback that is far more sinister. For higher caste Hindus, open defecation, regardless of having entry to free bathrooms, is a caste privilege — one which preserves their purity.

In keeping with higher caste Hindus, Dalits and Adivasis don’t have any such rightful declare to purity, and subsequently have a lesser declare to defecate within the open. Final week, this social evil resulted within the homicide of two youngsters.

It is very important perceive the deep caste entanglements spawned by the SBM, particularly in rural areas, as a result of city elites designing and supporting these insurance policies are fully unaware of how a well-intentioned marketing campaign is not only much less efficient, however can also be actively turning into a device of caste oppression.

To make the Swachh Bharat Mission successful, the Modi authorities wants to increase the scope of the marketing campaign past establishing bathrooms to bettering the sanitation infrastructure, conserving in thoughts that a giant variety of sanitation employees belong to the Dalit neighborhood.

PM Modi could prematurely declare India open defecation free, however the homicide of two Dalit youngsters as a punishment for open defecation reveals that the India celebrating Gandhi’s 150th beginning anniversary has neither achieved cleanliness nor achieved godliness.

The creator is a senior analysis fellow with the Mercatus Middle at George Mason College, US. Views are private. 

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