Superstitious beliefs, religious sentiments and vasthu shastra are making construction of toilets in rural areas of Namakkal district an uphill task.
P. Aruna (32) and her husband Periyasamy (45), a truck driver of Parali panchayat, stopped construction of toilet and filled up the newly-dug leach pit with debris. “An astrologer, who came to our house, told us that we should not dig any pit or else our five-year-old boy will have a bad time”, the couple said.
Sivasakthi (30), a carpenter of Aniyapuram panchayat, demolished the toilet that he built at the cost of Rs. 6,000 and rebuilt one, spending Rs. 25,000 to match the specifications given by their vasthu consultant. Villagers also halt construction of toilets in times of temple festivals as it is considered inauspicious.
According to census 2011, in Namakkal district, 59.6 per cent of the rural population and 43.8 per cent of the total population defecate in the open. A technical officer of an NGO involved in sanitation projects, Paul Antony, says a leach pit should be 10 metres away from wells and borewells as it is designed to allow water from the pit to be absorbed by the soil. “But, there are many cases in which it is dug close to a well because a vasthu consultant has shown them the spot. It will affect people in the long run”, he added.
The director of LEAF Society, an NGO involved in constructing toilets in the rural localities, S.L. Sathiya Nesan, says efforts made by the government and NGOs to motivate the rural people to build toilets will not yield results as long as people believe in superstitions. “Construction of toilets is a science. The advice of Vasthu experts would not serve the purpose of a toilet”, he observed.
“A study conducted among many villagers showed that each family spends about Rs. 8,000 a year for religious festivals. But, they are not ready to invest the same amount for a toilet”, he added.
On the other hand, toilets are yet to be considered an integral part of the house. In many cases, newly-built toilets in rural pockets are away from houses. “They fear that foul smell could come into their house. Building toilets attached to their houses can save on cost. It also makes it safer for women to use toilets even at night”, says project coordinator Vanitha Deivamani.