Sanitation is now steadily the most talked about subject in the country. With successive governments laying massive emphasis on making the country filth and dirt-free and crores of rupees being invested year after year into campaigning for the same, what is it that is still far from being achieved? Why are we as the world’s second largest population still moving at a snail’s pace? Is sanitation really important to us? Were we taught the real meaning of sanitation, or are we imparting the right education to our future generations at all? Somewhere it all stems from the fact that we over the generations have known so little about cleanliness and sanitation. Flush it, and the poo goes away. But do we really bother where it goes, as long as we can’t see it or smell it? It is not just about not smelling or seeing excreta, it ought to be about safe disposal as well.
Over time, as a country we have become comfortable with filth. There is no general population outrage when they see a pile of garbage on the road, in shopping markets, or even around the places they live. People have become comfortable with dirt, garbage and even excreta floating in their water bodies, drains and cities. This situation has to change!
Excavations by archaeologists have proven that in the most ancient civilizations every household had a private toilet. But as time passed, and administration styles changed, so did societies. 500 AD to 1500 AD is considered as the era that took human hygiene to its lowest dipping point. Aristocratic households and forts across India used protrusions for defecation. Excreta was simply dumped here and there or into the rivers. Some parts of the Mughal Empire bear testimony to the primitive practice of covering human waste with earth. And then wherever public toilets were built, lack of maintenance rendered them unusable with people finally resorting to open defecation.
The caste system further aggravated the situation since cleaning came to be seen as a menial job, with the lower rung being given the responsibility of cleaning the mess and filth for the upper castes. And this thought still exists. As recent researches have pointed out, somewhere it is the mindset that needs overhauling. “Should I not be responsible for my own waste?” Why should it be someone else’s job to clean my waste? This has to start somewhere, and where else but the schools? We don’t remember being taught about right disposal of waste, or to even recognize that disposal is as important as using toilets. After all, undisposed excreta in the biosphere poses as much threat even if unseen. Effort now has to be made to teach future generations to understand that excreta flowing out through drains cannot just be dumped and needs to be treated.
Maybe this is one step ahead of all the efforts that the Government is making on spreading messages about building, using and maintaining toilets. One key aspect is however, missing….what about treatment? If we don’t treat our waste, we might as well let it float and build up outside….by collecting it in toilets, and then dumping it or letting it seep out through overflowing tanks, doesn’t solve our problems. We are too easy on ourselves and our administrators. We must demand of ourselves to pay attention to cleanliness; and demand of our governments to ensure that all human excreta is safely treated before it is allowed into the environment. Our rivers, forests, and living environment are at grave threat – and the threat is not from some external source – but coming out of our homes, offices, shops, drains! Sanitation is everyone’s problem and by focusing on the end goal of treatment, we can add to the resource pool of safe water, and valuable nutrients that will enrich the environment for future generations.
– Neeti Sharma, Communications and Media Coordinator, Save the Children. With more than 14 years of experience in working with various broadcast mediums, Neeti made her shift to the Development sector 3 years ago and has worked with the Red Cross movement in humanitarian and disaster situations. She is a keen observer of the human psyche and also works at devising new innovative ways to help enthuse Behaviour Change. She is currently working the Stop Diarrhoea Initiative, a signature programme of the Organization that aims to reduce diarrhoeal incidence and prevalence in both urban and rural intervention areas.