Extensive new evidence shows that building toilets alone will not eliminate open defecation in India as not everyone who has access to toilet, especially men, believe that it’s important to use it.
Not having a toilet remains the major problem in sanitation: 60 per cent of rural households and just under 10 per cent of urban households in India do not have access to a toilet, according to new official data from the 68th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) data. But even among households with access to toilets, some open defecation exists. According to NSS data, two per cent of rural households with access to toilets do not use them. However, researchers Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta et al of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) found that 7 per cent of households with access to a toilet were not using them. When they looked at households where at least one family member was not using the toilet, the number swelled to 18 per cent.
This number is being driven up by men, who, in all three surveys, reported lower toilet use than women.
“I built the toilet for my youngest daughter-in-law not to feel shame. But I go to the fields – it’s much healthier going there,” Ramavatar, a marginal farmer in Uttar Pradesh’s Fatehpur district, told The Hindu earlier this summer. Such “personal preference” is overwhelmingly the most common reason for not using toilets despite access seen in both NSS and RICE data.
Use of toilets lags among Hindu households
Both access to toilets, and the actual use of the toilet, lags among Hindu households. The figure for households without toilets is 47 per cent for Hindu households as against 31 per cent for Muslims and 16 per cent for Christians and Sikhs, NSS data shows. Among Hindus, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and then OBCs have lower access to toilets. A similar pattern exists for the actual use of toilets among religious groups.
Arghyam, a Bangalore-based water and sanitation group, reported similar data in a study of 45 Gram panchayats in Davangere, Karnataka: while half the households had toilets, over a third of those households reported that at least one family member did not use the toilet.
The government is aware of this issue. “We are convinced there are two elements to eliminate open defecation — building toilets, and creating the awareness about of using them,” Sandhya Singh, Joint Director of Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan, the flagship sanitation scheme for rural areas, told The Hindu.
But despite the existence of a national campaign to build subsidised toilets for rural Indians since as far back as 1986, a toilet remains something that money buys. Access to toilet rises systematically by class, the NSSO data shows. The 68th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) data focused on access to toilets and the use of toilets among a nationally representative sample of over 1 lakh households between 2011 and 2012 data for which was recently made public.
Nearly 80 per cent of all the households with toilets that were surveyed, had constructed their toilets purely with private funds, Dean Spears, health economist with the Delhi School of Economics and Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), said. Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta et al of RICE surveyed 3,200 households over five States.
As a result, Mr. Spears and his colleagues have been arguing for cheaper, more basic toilets of the sort widely used in Bangladesh to be promoted in rural India. Arghyam’s research has shown that people widely believe that toilet pits will fill up quickly, and find the thought of cleaning this waste distasteful. “Explaining to people how toilet pits work and offering them solutions for emptying pits should alleviate this,” Radhika Viswanathan, project officer at Arghyam, explained in an email. “Cleaning materials that are easy-to-use and make the job simple will help,” she added.