Why are Indian public places so dirty

INDIA: India does not have its toilet problem under control

INDIA: India has no control over its toilet problem

450 million Indians take care of their needs in the open air, and many get sick as a result. India's government has promised to build toilets and change the mentality - but that is a serious failure at its own party leadership.

Ulrike Putz, Singapore

It was a pee break that he will regret for a long time: When the health minister of the Indian state of Rajasthan, Kalicharan Saraf, felt a human need last week, he did not wait until the next toilet was reached. Instead, he let his driver stop and relieved himself at a wall painted in the typical pink of Jaipur.

Too bad that a member of the opposition also traveled with the entourage. The man tweeted the exposing photo, which immediately became a political issue - Saraf is a member of Prime Minister Modi's party, which has been running the “Clean India” campaign with great fuss since 2014. The focus is on the fight against indulgence in public. Saraf's pee break underscored the opposition's accusation that the campaign was being run half-heartedly and was purely a PR maneuver.

Around 450 million Indians, a third of the population, do not have access to a toilet. They make it easier wherever possible: at the edges of fields and railway embankments, in the gutters of the street, on the rubbish dumps adjacent to their slums. According to the World Health Organization, inadequate handling of human excrement is the cause of up to 80 percent of all diseases in India.

1.2 million children die before they are five years old

For women, the lack of toilets has other dangerous consequences as well. Because they are only allowed to do business in the dark because of their propriety, millions of them suffer from digestive problems. Women who relieve themselves at night often fall victim to sex offenders. And then there is also the high child mortality rate: One of the reasons why their mothers bring fecal bacteria home from their visits to the open-air toilet is around 1.2 million Indian children who die before they reach the age of five every year.

That it could come to this is due to the cultural peculiarities. Because it is considered unclean in Hindu tradition to do business near the stove, conservative households are still reluctant to install toilets. Poverty is a subordinate factor when it comes to toilets, say experts and cite as evidence that in the poorer, but Muslim neighboring country of Bangladesh, only 1 percent of people do not have access to a toilet.

It is only recently that Indian politics have recognized that toilets are health and not just convenience. Shortly after his election, Modi announced that it would build “toilets first, then temples”. He promised that every Indian household would have a toilet by 2019. According to state information, 47 million toilets have been built in India's villages in the past three and a half years.

The problem: most of them are unusable. Very few villages in India are connected to the water network, and so the new communal toilets are so dirty in a very short time that the villagers prefer to go back to the fields. “Running water and sanitation: that's what India needs,” was the verdict of “The Telegraph India” recently. The toilet campaign is “a typical dance by politicians who love slogans to promote themselves but cannot analyze the problem”.

Untreated sewage from a billion people

Even toilet activists warn that toilets are not the solution to the problem for all Indians. The goal should not be to build water toilets for everyone, says sociologist Bindeshwar Pathak. Because wastewater from over a billion people would kill all life in rivers. In addition, India cannot produce enough electricity to operate pumps for so much water. With his organization, Pathak is a pioneer of the Indian toilet movement. He has built 1.5 million eco-latrines in the past 50 years.

It has only recently been shown again that the issue of toilet use is close to the heart of the people in India. The film "Toilet - a love story" surprisingly became the most successful Bollywood film of the past year. In the comedy with superstar Akshay Kumar, who dug a latrine at the start of the film, an angry bride leaves her husband the day after the wedding after discovering that there is no toilet in his house.

As if the film studio's PR strategists had come up with it, real life followed suit: a week after the film started, a court in Jaipur ruled a woman who expressly wanted to get a divorce because her husband had refused for two years of marriage to install a toilet in the shared apartment.