“Shining” India is “Stinking” India

September 27, 2010

The expression “in deep shit” is usually used in slang english to describe the condition of being in deep trouble. In India however, the expression has found its literal meanings; read article below:

Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, UK

Over 600 million Indians defecate in the open everyday.

Of all the sad and predictable problems to have emerged over Delhi’s ill-fated preparations for this year’s Commonwealth Games, one detail that caught the eye of many yesterday was the revelation that a number of the apartments that are supposed to house the athletes had been soiled by human excrement. One grisly report suggested that officials from the international games committee even discovered that someone – presumably a labourer – had defecated in the kitchen sink of one of the apartments.

Terrible, terrible, awful. Yes, indeed. But while this nasty story was breaking yesterday I couldn’t help but save a thought for the poor old labourers too.  Surveys and reports carried out in the run-up to the games by NGOs and human rights groups have highlighted the sometimes slave-like conditions in which the labourers responsible for building the stadiums and related infrastructure that will house the tournament have often lived. Inadequate food and water, lack of safety equipment and wages often below the pathetic national minimum wage has been the reality for most workers, often migrants labourers from India’s poorer states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Another problem has been the lack of adequate sanitation. This is a problem faced by millions of Indians every day. Earlier this year, a report by a UN body revealed that more people here had mobile phones than enjoyed access to a toilet. While there were around 563m phone subscribers, only 366m – around a third of the population — could regularly use proper sanitation.

The problems caused by this situation are huge. Men and women alike are forced to defecate in public on scraps of land close to their homes, by railway sidings, on the edge of the road. It is a particular problem for women, who are forced to get up while it is still dark, risking being attacked or bitten by snakes, in order to try and find some privacy. Children, especially girls, are often unwilling to go to school because they know there is no toilet for them to use.  Disease and illnesses spread. It is also utterly undignified.

The Indian government repeatedly claims it is seeking to end so-called “open air defecation”. An Indian minister confidently told a conference I attended in Delhi in November 2007, that the practice would be ended by 2012, such was the investment the authorities were pouring into building public toilets.  Two years from his deadline, the challenge remains as huge as ever.

I should point out that some organisations make a huge effort in this regard. The charity  Sulabh International, founded by the redoubtable Bindeshwar Pathak, has provided thousands of public toilets that use simple composting technology across India and beyond.

Sadly, such efforts have not been matched by successive governments in Delhi who talk so much of helping India’s millions of poor people but who repeatedly let them down. Perhaps the unidentified labourer who decided to squat in the kitchen sink at the athletes’ village was trying to make a point.


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