ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Raising a Stink

Open defecation will continue until we link water with sanitation.

When children in India’s national capital begin to disappear because they go out to “attend nature’s call,” the polite euphemism for open defecation, there ought to be reason to be seriously concerned. According to a recent newspaper report using data compiled by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), scores of children simply “disappeared” from a slum on New Delhi’s outskirts after they stepped out in the open to defecate. Based on reports obtained under the Right to Information Act, the NGO revealed that in the course of 16 months, between December 2013 and March 2015, as many as 171 children were missing from the Shahbad Dairy slum in outer Delhi. Of these 66 remain untraced. The common link in the story was that their parents had sent them to the nearby forest to defecate because there was no toilet in the slum with around 500 households. Of the 171 missing, five had been killed, 28 girls had been raped and 17 girls had been sexually assaulted.

The story is a chilling reminder that the crisis of sanitation is not just an issue of aesthetics or polite behaviour, but one of life and death for the most vulnerable. One in every two Indians continues to defecate in the open. The price for the lack of toilets is paid not just by women, who are often attacked, molested, raped and shamed, but also by children who are sent out unaccompanied to defecate in the open. Not only was the Shahbad Dairy slum without a single toilet, there was no toilet within a two kilometre radius. After the disappearances, parents stopped feeding their children any food after sunset. If this can happen in the national capital, in the shadow of the institutions that plan campaigns like Swachh Bharat and the earlier Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, one can just imagine the reality in other parts of the country.

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