How is the Swachh Bharat Mission Really Going?

One of the goals of the Swachh Bharat or Clean India mission was to achieve an “open-defecation free” (ODF) India by 2 October 2019 (the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth). OD is a big problem in India contributing to child sickness, stunting and a host of permanent problems including lower IQs. As of 2011, half of Indian households didn’t have access to a latrine but since that time millions of latrines have been built and the government has encouraged (sometimes “vigorously”) latrine use.

Unfortunately, the close connection between the Swachh Bharat mission and Prime Minister Modi has made achieving the mission, or claiming to have achieved the mission, not just a political goal but a test of patriotism and support for Modi. The Swachh Bharat website, for example, proclaims that India is now 99% open defecation free, including 100% coverage in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh and Bihar.

In fact, surveys from the RICE Institute reported in an article for the India Forum show that open defecation is still common:

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, states that had been declared ODF by the time of the survey, we found rural open defecation rates of about 50% and about 25%, respectively. The vast majority of villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have also been declared ODF; the quantitative survey found open defecation rates of approximately 40% and 60%, respectively, in these states (Gupta et al 2019).

How do villages, and eventually blocks, districts, and states get declared ODF despite high levels of open defecation? One reason is that ODF status is often declared where latrine coverage is, in fact, incomplete: about 30% of households in the four states we studied did not own a latrine. Another reason is that many people who own a latrine still defecate in the open. In fact, latrine use among latrine owners has not changed since 2014: one in four people who own a latrine in the 2018 survey do not use it (Gupta et al 2019).

Ambitious program need not reach their goals to be successful–progress has been made and Modi can take credit–but it’s dangerous when problems are declared solved in order to meet political timelines and narratives. Work remains to be done.

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Support Multiculturalism! Oppose Cultural Appropriation!

Let India Be India! It wouldn't be India without the stench.

India and Pakistan are armed with nuclear weapons.

That stinks!

The Indians succeeded in throwing out the vicious British colonialists who execrably had forced them to cease immolating widows on dead husbands' funeral pyres and violently stopped the Thugs (Cali cult) looting and murdering of thousands of Indians each year.

New rulers same as the old rulers.

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That's not a nice thing to say about rural people. See this is why Trump got elected.

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Looks like open defecation continues because people want to do it.

You can lead a horse to water etc etc

But you can't make him stop crapping in it.

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A common reason given for continuing to defecate outdoors is that toilets, latrines, etc. are unsanitary. This makes a certain amount of sense if you are totally self-centered.

Not to defend open defecation but what's so sanitary about wiping one's anus with a piece of paper? If you think that you have fecal coliform on your fingers is it effective sanitation to wipe them off with a paper napkin?

That's why we wash our hands afterward.

Granted, if you're hunting and gathering in the woods with your band of 150 co-tribalists who are within a few degrees of consanguinity it's not as big a concern. But these practices are essential for city-building societies.

But wiping with paper still commonly leaves enough residue on the behind side for it to be considered highly unsanitary by societies that do not have that as the prevalent/evolved social norm. Sometimes your view of what is "sanitary" is conditioned on the society you are born into.

I imagine our usual very knowledgeable (though frequently at cross purposes with each other) Indian commenters will explain everything, if they do not find our MR obsession with this topic tedious or offensive. In the meantime, I noticed new Indian neighbors (here in America) put in a bidet - in their rent house! - which they were only living in while they looked to buy - immediately upon moving in; she also, unbidden, explained to me that Americans' fairly modest use of toilet paper would not fly with them. Other Indian friends, when remodeling, moved the handwashing sink out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. I do think there are different norms and Westerners should not feel that we have a particular lock on disgust; however, in the absence of a sewer line I don't see how introducing a lot more water into one's ablutions would be very sanitary for the household.

Their disgust is with "advanced" societies having adequate sewer connections where the norm of using water has not evolved. Consider the appropriate analogy: If paper were adequate in removing away the body's excretions, instead of bathing a vigorous rub of the body with paper everyday would suffice for the purpose of hygiene.

"... instead of bathing a vigorous rub of the body with paper everyday would suffice for the purpose of hygiene."

I imagine someone in Brooklyn is doing just that at this very moment, preparatory to writing a Buzzfeed piece about it.

Peri, your last comment changed my opinion about you - it started as a slightly negative one I must say, but I cannot have a negative opinion of someone with a sense of humor.

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When I was working in Malaysia - a society which uses water for that function - many of the Malay men would vigorously wash themselves with water and then exit the bath room without washing their hands, presumably with shitty moisture still adhering to their fingers (based on the sounds in the booths). Swings and roundabouts.

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I mean, we can answer this empirically to some extent, right? Do countries with the custom of wipe-then-wash have higher fecally-transmitted disease rates than bidet countries?

What's motivating the OD concern in India isn't sanitation as some aesthetic principle but observable negative consequences that don't seem present in the US.

Valid comment - I know of no such study. Include the incidence of UTIs, etc. which the person herself suffers from, along with fecally transmitted diseases impacting others. And I agree with your conjecture about the possible motivation of the OD.

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But we are told by apologists of Hinduism that open defecation is actually wonderful because Indians like to get exercise. Let's be blunt: we are dealing with Hinduism apologists, who are little better than beasts. They lack compassion for their countrymen and intelligence to understant the Western superiority.

Nobody says that, hun. You're just a little bit crazy.

Yes, they say. All the time.
"In the villages the idea of open defecation is also associated with clean air, exercise, and health. Thus, in surveys 'both' men and women speak openly about the benefits of open defecation and even associate it with health and longevity.” - https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/08/where-india-goes.html
I say it is a time for action.

Brazilians pee in each other's mouths as Bolsonaro tweeted. Open defecation at least makes sense in rural areas and when you go camping or offgrid.

It is not true at all. It was an isolated incident -- that's why it shocked the country -- and President Captain Bolsonaro immediately initiated an anti-homosexuality moral crusade. The situation is under control.

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A coincidence that a Commonwealth of Virginia employee under the control of the notorious racist governor Northham would choose to meddle in the Indian national election for which voting begins today? Obviously not. Repeating unverifiable slanders from Indian National Congress affiliated front groups from sites outside the country is election interference on par with the Russian interference in the US election. I call on President Trump to order an investigation and get to the bottom of how state actors in the US are interfering with Indian democracy.

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Tabarrok: "Work remains to be done." That's funny. The longer version: The job isn't finished until the paperwork is done.

Ok, that was funny.

A set of three cows farthest from the farm looked up—concern emanating, enticing, movement abrupt and insipid, the screwy tint of the grass—as an abalone-colored Jaguar with windows halfway down, cigarette smoke churning, began again down the steep hill and trailed off after the Highway Seventy-Five sign.

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I think latrines are kind of nasty, myself, but am curious - all you world travelers, are there countries where people do principally rely on latrines for sanitation, with near total compliance?

Challenges are plentiful. It is not enough to create a latrine. It requires water, sewer, etc. for it to really be functional. As is the case in most poor countries / communities, the money available is needed immediately - there is not enough to be invested for the future. Kind of creates a vicious cycle.

And a CCC-style effort is not in the cards, I guess?

I am answering my own naive question. Contrary to how it's presented to us in school, the CCC was a luxury which we ourselves would not now be able to mount.

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India's biggest weakness is the Power and Transport infrastructure. So most of the government effort is concentrated in that area. The Clean India initiative is easy for affluent Indians to get behind as a rallying cry - specifically when they step out of their mansions.
The CCC-style effort is intriguing, and I am not sure why it is not a thing in India. Possibly because the private sector pays better and most unemployed youth would rather dream big. Would appreciate if someone can share their understanding.

Yes, I suppose without reliable power, pumps and treatment facilities are useless.

Of course no one could begrudge Bill Gates spending his gains on malaria prevention, but the money he and Zuckerberg threw at public education, together with what the Waltons gave them - that's a lost opportunity: I think I can make it out at the edge of the new black hole radiograph. Maybe the next crop of tech billionaires can take an interest in a new way of doing sanitation, especially given the importance of India to tech's dominance.

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If we really cared, or the Indians themselves did, this would be a good approach. As seen here.

Those need their own sophisticated infrastructure to pump out and transport the waste, the problems with which are not to be pooh-poohed.
https://youtu.be/CECcLN9SZtI

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Back in the Middle Ages people in Europe relieved themselves outdoors too. Ettiquette books dealt with the dilemma of whether to greet a friend if you came open him squatting over the gutter (answer: only if the friend greets you first). By the 18th century this practice had largely ceased as governments insisted on cleaner streets in reaction to massive epidemics and theories about disease causing miasmas while puritanical moralists inveighed against the grossness of exposing oneself in public (although public urination least lasted into very recent times) . Pit privies and chamberpots dumped out of windows still spread disease, as the vulnerability to cholera in the 1800s showed, but the message that defecation should not be fully public did become fully internalized at almost all levels of society.

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Taking a good piss in the middle of nature is one of life's greatest joys. Can't have wind though.

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I lived in Indonesia for a long while, they don’t have mains sewers even in major cities like Jakarta, but they do have cess tanks which work very well. Each house generally has its own water well, but abstracting the water from a much deeper depth than the cesspit overflow.

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Related: Sunday, I went to Dick's (Roosevelt Field, Nassau County, NY) to renew NYSDEC fishing license. Walked around a parking lot pile of horse excrement deposited by an NCPD mounted "unit."

Who cleans-up the sacred cow and human feces? Markets in everything.

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"How do villages, and eventually blocks, districts, and states get declared ODF despite high levels of open defecation?"

Some time in the early 2000s, Turkmanbashi, father of all Turkmen and leader of Turkmenistan, decided that the people of Turkmenistan should not have gold teeth. Many people there (as in all of the former Soviet Union, but perhaps especially the former republics) had one or even several, gold teeth, so they were not super eager to have this dental work done. Soon, it turned out that what really mattered was having a certificate from a dentist saying that one had had all their gold teeth removed. So, so long as you had the proper paper work, the actual state of one's mouth was not so closely looked at. I assume that much the same is going on here.

+1 good point

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Sort of like proficiency tests and high school diplomas in some US school districts. Political expediency hides reality - for a while.

Such is life in Modi's America.

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It's a very old story. Higher-ups impose unachievable targets and demand magic. Staffing, funding or technology are not up to the task, or the deadlines are absurd. Hapless underlings, their careers on the line, find "solutions".

It's Captain Kirk management, except in real life Scotty can't find a way to defy physics and make the engines go faster.

The Atlanta schools cheating scandal, the Wells Fargo account fraud scandal, the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal... all variations on the same theme. It will never stop.

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Now if we could just extend this to dogs in my neighborhood...

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Modi has made more progress on Open Defecation in half a decade than Congress made in over half a century.

From Alex's post:
Ambitious program need not reach their goals to be successful–progress has been made and Modi can take credit–but it’s dangerous when problems are declared solved in order to meet political timelines and narratives. Work remains to be done.

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Unfair timing. A daywhen an electorate of 900 Million is starting to Vote , warts and all with a Turnout% higher than most developed nations , why not postpone a post on the warts to another day?

Isn't a possibly false claim by one political party relevant news on election day?

Alex wasn't focusing on OD so much as the BJP's (inaccurate) claim that OD had been almost eliminated.

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Turnout% higher than most developed nations

Yeah, that's fine, but why is it a thing to be highlighted and celebrated? What this stat indicates is that the Indian voter is always in a distressed and p****ed-off state, perennially unsatisfied with his/her political leaders and bureaucracy (who almost always deserve the be the target of dissatisfaction.) Countries with lower turnout rates are those where things are fine, more or less.

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When the armed guards wouldn't let me into the international air terminal, and wouldn't direct me to a bathroom, I was ready to shit in the street.

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"...it’s dangerous when problems are declared solved in order to meet political timelines and narratives." Hand-wringing about how "dangerous" it is ignores the (potential) benefits. It is, by definition, a political question. How effective it will be in a country where corruption is onerous and practically universal, IDK. This reminds me of the real lesson learned from the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. It isn't that a child saw the "real" situation, it's that everyone else accepted what they heard till said child came along. Pros: may encourage people (the herd) to change Cons: may allow backsliding. Reminds me of what has happened in the USA with vaccination. The price of peace is eternal vigilance. etc.

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