Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hemantha Kalam - 33 'Easing the Easing'

Well, the newly laid out Chennai Metro runs parallel to my apartment. It has not yet been officially launched, but in the name of trial runs over the past year or so, all or most of the trains in stock have become much used, even before they could be officially flagged.

Every time I see the passing cars of the composite Metro train, I wonder what I can witness in future. With the doors closed, what will happen to all my brethren who love to hang on at the entrances / exits? Where will they spit and…………?

I need not have had to look much into the future. After all, it apparently has already happened in our capital – very much inside the Delhi Metro on the night before the International Yoga Day-our man must have thought easing in a metro also could be a precursor to one of the Yoga Mudras. “Man caught Urinating in Delhi Metro” and a disturbed passenger grabs a video and uploads it.

Before we go into what action has been taken or is going to be taken etc., in this case, let us wonder what makes us so shameless in unzipping our fly so nonchalantly. I trawled a bit on the net, quickly, to seek out any justification for easing ourselves in public; to support my theory but could really find very little in that way.

The sense of hygiene among the ancient Indians, which may not necessarily be in line with the modern theories or realities, must have been totally different. Any excretion by humans was considered unhygienic and hence was expected to be kept as much away from the dwelling quarters as possible. This could be in a bid to keep the diseases away. So in days of yore, all used to go much away into the ‘bahir bhumi’ (open land) fields or forests to do their business. Probably it helped ‘from earth to earth and from worms to worms’ in a direct way, albeit in a different meaning.

This could have gone well, if the population could be contained. As that did not happen and there was an unconditional and uncontrolled population growth, especially in the fast growing urban India, need for changing thoughts and practices arise. And that is where the mismatch started taking place for multifarious - Economic, Social and Traditional - reasons.

People might not have wanted to change from traditions, yet were finding social pressures to change but did not have economic means and so on. The issue became complicated as the reasons started being intertwined rather than being just islands of issues.

So we see contradicting aspects in sanitation. In many villages across, we see even affluent people spending hundreds of thousands of rupees on good buildings but still consciously not having a toilet constructed in the compound, as they still prefer to go into the fields or any space available, for the purpose, following the age old tradition. In urban areas, as living spaces are becoming scarce and expensive, and slums are mushrooming, public conveniences, even though are badly maintained are still much in demand and are being used by ‘beyond the capacity’ crowds. Yet, the usage of open places for defecation, for the sake of tradition, lack of facilities, ignorance or simple nonchalance goes on.

And we also see that toilets and urinals that are constructed with government subsidy support or by Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) or as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) lie in waste or terrible disrepair as, many people use them conveniently as kitchens, lumber rooms, or goat sheds and what not? There are also reports that a few poor people live in them. 

As a person working in the Development Sector, with Water and Sanitation being major components, I know personally that the challenge is not as much in providing toilets as in making the people to use them. Incentives like the ‘Nirmal Gram Puraskar’ (Clean Village Award) might inspire the Village Heads but also adds up to their work burden in wooing, coaxing and goading the people to really use the toilets. 

There are NGOs who tried to form responsible villagers into ‘water and sanitation committees’ whose job, hold your breath, is only to monitor, on a daily basis, whether the people are using the toilets properly and for the purpose meant for and that water is being used judiciously.

All these are required because, people by and large are reluctant to lose the freedom of defecating wherever it pleases them to and many a time in ‘air-conditioned comfort’ (sic) too.

While records estimate that about 53% of Indian households may not be having access to toilets, in the absence of current research figures I venture saying that about 97-98% of Indians should be guilty of having eased themselves in public at one or more times in their life.

There is a need for Capacity Building of not only the trainers but the people at the grass root level on the need of changing their attitude and outlook on open/public defecation and urinating. People also need to be taught in using the toilet systems and the need to flush them and keep the toilets clean and dry.

Because we do not care to keep toilets clean as a habit, all the public conveniences, however modern they may be, are stinking and unusable by a cleanliness conscious person on the road. New type of bio digester modelled toilets and ultra-modern e-toilets are all fine. But people need to be taught to appreciate these conveniences and in up keeping them properly.

There is a much more necessity of re/introducing civic sense and civic responsibilities in our school curriculum, on a war footing, to arrest the growth of the menace at least from the growing generations.

Most importantly a sense of shame or guilt needs to be desperately developed among people preferring to or using open defecation. I would even advocate penalizing, but after ensuring that proper infrastructure is in place.

In this context, I appreciate the recent experiment undertaken by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to Pay Rs.1 (one) for each of the person using public toilets. 

Notwithstanding that the scheme may have to encounter several possible ‘mines’ in future, like nepotism, minor scams etc., I still think this scheme of ‘easing the way to easing’ oneself, may work too. All we need to do is watch the news; for further updates and to learn from.

Isn’t it? You tell me! 

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Dhanyosmi (Sanskrit), Thanks (English), Dhonyavaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Sthoothiy (Sinhalese) Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai), Asante (Kiswahili), Maraming Salamat sa Lahat (Pinoy-Tagalog-Filipino) and Tack (Swedish)

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy
Chennai, India