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When in October 2013 the BJP leader and Prime Ministerial candidate at that time, Narendra Modi said, “Build toilets first, temples later” it created quite a controversy. I now understand how significant the current Prime Minister’s words are. I saw an article in the DNA newspaper today which had some startling figures.Nearly half of India’s population does not have access to toilets, which is something that many of us take for granted. The socio-economic cost of not having toilets at home is immense with women paying a huge price for this shortcoming.

Consider these shocking figures:

  • 48 % of our population defecate in the open out of which 65 % live in the rural areas
  • 300 million are women and girls who stand exposed to health hazards, harassment and worse.
  • 70% of girls in urban slums face sexual harassment when on the way to toilets every day
  • 24 % of girls drop out of school due to a lack of toilets

The schemes of the erstwhile Governments have clearly failed. According to the 2011 census, 75 % homes in Bihar have no sanitation facilities. Some organisations like Sulabh International have been doing what they can to improve toilet facilities in the country for the last four decades. It’s founder Brindeshwar Pathak, a pioneer in environmental sanitation says, “There is no national policy on sanitation. Majority of the 5,40,00,000 toilets built by the Rural Ministry are not usable.”

From the points of view of women’s safety, health and education, the new Government of India (which took charge under Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a week ago) should take up these issues on a war footing.

It is the small things that cost us a lot. Not having adequate number of suitable toilets is clearly one of them.