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Updated: February 6, 2013 08:47 IST

Syllabus in perspective

Sandeep Joshi
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Priority to sanitation: A new discipline. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
The Hindu
Priority to sanitation: A new discipline. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Academicians recommend that the ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ be included as a sub-subject in schools and colleges to address the complexities of the issue

When former manual scavenger Usha Choumar was “liberated” a decade ago, her only mission was to ensure that her little daughter does not get into this “dirty business”. Today she is an important functionary in Sulabh International, working in the field of sanitation, while her daughter goes to a public school with dreams of doing “something big”.

Now Usha Choumar, having walked the ramp in New York on the invitation of the United Nations, is on another mission — to see sanitation be made part of school curriculum. “Unless we make our children, particularly those living in rural areas, understand the importance of sanitation, we cannot have a nation without scavengers, which unfortunately is a curse even after so many years of Independence,” she asserts.

Last week she participated in a two-day National Conference on Sociology of Sanitation: Environmental Sanitation, Public Health and Social Deprivation where leading academicians, scholars, social activists and political leaders advocated making sanitation a part of school and college syllabus.

“The inclusion of this subject as an academic discipline will not only enlarge the scope of sociology, but also be helpful in solving the problems of society in relation to sanitation, social deprivation, water, public health, hygiene, poverty, gender equality, welfare of children and sustainable development,” says Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, which organised the conference.

Lamenting that India cannot claim the status of economic superpower till a vast majority of its population does not have access to clean toilets, Dr. Pathak, who has been behind the liberation of manual scavengers like Usha Choumar in States like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, says the government should make ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ a new sub-discipline of sociology which would help children engage with sanitation at the theoretical, empirical and action level.

At the conference, it was strongly argued that existing sub-disciplines of sociology do not adequately capture and address the varied aspects, nuances and social complexities related to sanitation. Hence, a resolution was passed to approach the University Grants Commission (UGC) with the plea to include ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ as a recommended course in Sociology at graduate, pos-graduate and research levels in a graded manner.

Referring to the resolution, Dr. Pathak says it has been recommended that appropriate curriculum, literature and plan of action should be developed to achieve the goal of introducing sanitation as a sub-subject in schools and colleges. The tentative syllabus should include the definition, nature, scope and subject matter of ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ and the relation of the topic with other sub-disciplines of other social sciences and humanities. Dimensions of sanitation; policies, planning and executing agencies; and advocacy for community interventions were among other suggestions. It is also recommended that the Indian Sociological Society should be requested to begin a new research committee on Sociology of Sanitation and must promote research and teaching on sanitation at every possible level.

Talking about the future course of action in this connection, Dr. Pathak says all departments of sociology at universities, colleges and other educational institutions, including schools, would be informed about this declaration adopted at the conference, while scholars would be encouraged to write comprehensive text and reference books on ‘Sociology of Sanitation’. Similarly, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) will be approached to give priority to sanitation studies while promoting research. 

“This new subject can generate employment opportunities and hence it is compatible to the UGC norms of ‘employment generation potentiality’ for introducing a new discipline/course…We have also decided to write to all examinations boards across the country to give priority to sanitation studies so that children understands its important from the very beginning of their lives,” he adds.

As for Usha Choumar, she has undertaken the task of raising the issue of introducing ‘Sociology of Sanitation’ in school curriculum not only in India but abroad. “Now that leading sociologists feel the importance of the subject, it is time that policymakers in India and globally understand the urgency of making sanitation a subject,” she adds.

Apart from Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, the conference saw participation of Yogendra Singh, eminent sociologist and Professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indian Sociological Society President Prof. Ishwar Modi, Patna University’s Professor in Sociology Dr. Hetukar Jha, Dr. Manish Thakur from IIM-Calcutta, and Prof. M.N. Karna, Emeritus Professor, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.

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