The 2011 Census data told us something most people already knew: that more people in India have a mobile phone (53.2%) than a toilet (46.9%). The data on housing, household amenities and assets casts new light on a country in the throes of a complex transition, where millions have access to consumer goods but a large majority of people cannot access basic facilities. The hyper commodification of social necessities (housing, transportation, utilities, public space, healthcare, education, and water and sewerage disposal) is predicated on an individual’s capacity to ‘buy-in’. It was the economist Amartya Sen who first recognized that poverty is, fundamentally, not the dearth of money, but the absence of capacities – the lack of tools or opportunities needed to function as a full citizen. When these commodities (or capacities) do not reach all of society (whether this be out of reach financially or a failure to deliver the systems which ensure the distribution of such commodities) what happens then? That is why more people defecate in the open (49.8%) than has access to in-house toilets or the 3.2% using public toilets. The percentage of people actually using public toilets and the huge investment into them is surely something that should raise some eyebrows. Reportedly in East Delhi people wanted a sewer system, which would cost Rs 80 lakhs, so that they could have toilets in their homes. But the Government has been spending almost Rs 1 crore every year to construct new public toilets which are not used. The result is an asymmetry between policy and reality. Furthermore, something that should raise more alarm bells is as families, ignored by municipal infrastructure, build ad hoc in-house toilets this could prove a dangerous and polluting legacy – 48% of latrines in homes were not connected to any form of drainage – which we can only imagine to be percolating into the ground or into open greywater drains. Something often ignored is that the lack of adequate sanitation is something that affects women far more than men – which is why the “no toilet no bride” campaign in Harayana which resulted in the construction of 1.4 million new toilets is looking not like just a token government campaign – an accusation thrown at previous sanitation drives.
The following is a collection of images which show toilets on display at the sulabh toilet museum in south Delhi (well worth a visit). Although I highly commend the work sulabh do, they do not support in-house urban sanitation technologies (all their systems are pit latrines which are not suitable for high density / urban areas or community/public toilets). Which is why the 7th largest NGO in the world is failing to address India’s increasingly urban needs.