Darkness under the Lamp

The killing of two Dalit children for defecating in the open shows a certain “cast(e) of mind.”

 

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) was inaugurated on 2 October 2014 with the primary objective of freeing the entire nation of open defecation by 2 October 2019. It is ironical that while this campaign was started on the birth anniversary of the strongest proponent of non-violence, those who oppose the practice for varying reasons and motives have indulged in violence, even the act of killing. The two children (10 and 12 years old), belonging to the Valmiki caste, who were beaten to death with sticks in Bhavkhedi ­village of Madhya Pradesh’s Shivpuri district for defecating in the open, were the most recent victims of such opponents. Incidentally, on 25 September, the day of their deaths, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received an award in New York for the SBA from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In August 2018, news media reported that Zafar Hussain who objected to some municipal officials involved in the SBA photographing women defecating in the open in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh district, was beaten to death by them. Earlier, in January 2018, television channels showed a video that was allegedly shot in Katghat in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh of some men beating up those who were relieving themselves in the open.

A couple of days after the children’s deaths in Bhavkhedi, the central government published an advisory against using coercion to ensure open defecation free (ODF) areas. But, this advisory is saying in words what is not practised by the officials involved in the SBA at every level almost everywhere in the country. Given the target, as surveys and media reports have shown, they have frantically tried to get toilets built in areas where there were an inadequate number or none, and then rushed to announce that so and so city or area or state had achieved the ODF status. But, even in a city like Mumbai, which was declared to be ODF two years ago, recent media reports show that the practice continues in the poorest “slum” areas and on the beaches of this finance capital. The reasons are not difficult to imagine: inadequate number of toilets, lack of running water and electricity in the existing ones, lack of enabling facilities for children to use these units, etc.

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Updated On : 15th Oct, 2019

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