The recent gangrape and ‘murder’ of two teenage Dalit girls in Katra in Uttar Pradesh allegedly by upper caste men spews out multiple questions. To attribute the entire tragedy to open defecation alone would mean refusing to see the issue in its eye. Stubborn patriarchy, dehumanising caste system, honour killing of innocent victims (the hush-hush allegation amongst the villagers who think there couldn’t have been a better end to the girls’ lives) and everything else that finds it normal to let half of its human race out to defecate…
What a magnificent desolation India has turned itself into!
With TV shut off deliberately to avoid watching this gut-wrenching tragedy turning into a travesty, dependence on outsiders’ impartial, well-researched viewpoints becomes essential. Even as my six-inch window went on throwing up one fact after another, I couldn’t help recalling my own encounters with sanitation situation in India.
Of endless Anthaaksharis and doctored reports
Back in late-90s, I was part of a research group that travelled some districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka region sponsored by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation to study sanitation situation in rural areas. Those absolutely squalid conditions in almost every hut (predominatly Dalit) we visited became mere YES/NO/MAYBEs in what was a relatively well-laid-out questionnaire. While researchers came back to their Anthaakshari sessions in the guest house lounge, the group leader seemed more keen on fixing his next meal in an upper caste house. The professor, the official mentor, had his own preoccupations. Certainly the only beneficiary who refused to pay the rightful stipend to the researchers but successfully got all the reports doctored with a beer bottle in his hand and scavenged up all the funds.
Is it apathy or corruption or upper caste Indians’ (that the team was studded with) way of telling the Dalits, “you cannot ask for more, people!”
A ludicrous sanitation campaign
A cousin of mine who did laborious legwork in a sanitation scheme in North Karnataka launched to celebrate the 50th year of Independence had a lot to narrate. Although the Central Government had allotted Rs 10,000 subsidy to each household for toilet construction, thousand of ‘beneficiaries’, egged on by the local authorities, got their pictures clicked in front of one newly built toilet from different angles and claimed the subsidy. The local Photoshop expert changed the walls colours in a jiffy.
It’s the same crowd that wears patriotism on its sleeves imbued with such fanatical intensity while setting impossible moral standards for women.
A relief that was not to be…
An 11-year-old daughter of a housekeeper who works in our apartment suffered a horrible mishap just a few months ago. Since the landlord of their house didn’t think it was necessary to build a toilet for the tenants, the entire family defecated openly. It still does.
On one night, the girl emerged out and accidentally squatted on a thorny bush and let out a scream that her mother says she would never forget. With delicate private parts of the little girl torn apart and bleeding profusely, the family rushed her to the hospital and spent a lot more than what it should have had it had the opportunity to build its own toilet.
The housekeeper and her girl, and the Katra girls who paid with their lives for a shred of privacy, are the ones stuck in a perpetual penumbra. Their cries about open defecation will remain on the periphery not because it’s a rare problem to tackle. But precisely because it’s everywhere.
And here we are blazing ourselves meteorically into the rarefied atmosphere of a dreamland where India is the ‘superpower’. With recent changes in the political scene, this massive expansion of well-worded, self-congratulatory mood has already reached unprecedented crescendo as if the whole nation has hit upon a fixed version of cure.
None of it falls within the realm of rational explanation. But that’s not what we are trying to address, are we?
For related posts, please visit ‘Women’s Issues’ category.