"Toilets First" - Slogans vs. Ground Reality

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We are celebrating the world toilet week. Earlier this week on Tuesday, Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar attempted to prove that he pioneered the slogan of “Toilet First”. Again on Friday, he blogged underscoring the importance of cleanliness. But beyond messaging and blogging and giving the issue a political turn, the ground reality is quite discouraging. What to speak of rural Bihar, even in the capital city the situation is horrible.

At Patna Medical College Hospital this correspondent almost got caught by hospital mafias while capturing the images of filthy conditions of wards and emergency.

On November 19, the world marked the 'World Toilet Day'. That the world needs a Toilet Day may be laughable to those urban middle classes who were brought up in posh downtown society or middle class conurbation, at the very least. But for billions of people in India who are still using open areas for their natural need is a dark truth.

Bihar too is celebrating the World Toilet week as a state affair. The Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar on Tuesday, in an apparent reference to Narendra Modi's 'Toilets First; Temples Later' slogan, remarked that the Bihar government had pioneered the slogan in 2007. "Officials popularized the concept among the people, but some people are now talking about toilet first and temple later," he said in Patna without naming Modi.

This 'slogan first' campaign by Nitish Kumar must be a political agenda, but beyond slogans, nothing seems laudable for Kumar. Before this, Jairam Ramesh and Narendra Modi had made the ‘Toilet First Temple Then’ remark.


Let us narrow down the focus to Bihar with the focus on rural Bihar first where the importance of marking a day for toilets has even more resonance. With a population of 10.5 billion, which is bursting at the seams, simply has too few toilets in the hinterland.

By now, it is obvious that toilet has been taking the center stage of the Indian political scene. But it is deplorable that no serious effort has yet been made by the Bihar government to address the problem. Much of the Bihar still has no access to this most basic sanitation.

Announcing to bar contestants with no toilets at home in local body's elections, Nitish surpassed awareness to punishment in a single leap. But he might opt for some other relevant methods to encourage people to have toilets and use them.

In this 21st century, people make their way to open fields under the cover of darkness every day to defecate. They are the faces of millions of people in Bihar. Around 8.8 million households in a state of over 100 million people have no toilet facilities.

Dhanaut, Ranipur and Suitha are some of these villages under Phulwarisharif block, just within a radius of 2 kms southwest of the Patna Airport. "Going to a nearby field to defecate in groups in the darkness is a regular feature for these people," Md. Shabib, a resident of Alipur village, murmured.

It is quite easy to witness the reality by visiting the nearby field early morning and/or late evening as people are forced to go there to attend to the nature's call. Or, all one has to do is to just get a window seat in a local train from Patna to Danapur or anywhere else and you will understand what I mean. Passengers looking out of windows can witness the silhouettes of men and women trying to hide themselves beyond the ridges while defecating in the fields.

Why doesn' a single newspaper in Bihar carry reports about the unsanitary conditions in rural Bihar? What we find is the lack of awareness about sanitation among people. And by attaching this to be a pre-requisite to contest the Panchayat poll alone will not help. These rules can force them to have a toilet at home but who will force them to use it?


Even in the towns and cities of Bihar the situation is shocking. Government hospitals, schools, colleges, shopping centers, police stations and every next place one can think of, one finds ill-maintained toilets. They are not used due to their highly unhygienic conditions.

The run for cities is the phenomenon Bihar is facing today. Lack of employment, electricity, schools and hospitals in rural Bihar encourage people to settle somehow in the nearby towns or to move to Patna. Inept administration and the perfunctory bureaucratic approach fail to rein in the swelling encroachment in cities. This migration stays in makeshift jhuggis at the slums. Since most of the slums have no public toilets around it, it compels the dwellers to defecate in open drainage channels.

With 72 wards, the Patna Municipal Corporation is required to recognize the need first. Need for public toilets must be compartmentalized well, first, for the moving crowd and second, for the slums. Bus terminals, railway stations, public parks may be in the first category while dedicated well placed toilets in the slums in the second category.

Every councillor must be given charges to ensure sufficient toilets are made and they are properly maintained. These are the things that should be given priorities in Bihar instead of fighting for getting the credit for pioneering the message of "Toilet First".

amit sinhaAmit K. Sinha is a bilingual investigative journalist who works independently. For the last couple of years he is in Patna writing for many prints and portals.


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