Badaun Gang Rape – Why India needs to address the sanitation issue

Two teenage girls stepped out of their house in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district on a hot May night to relieve themselves in the fields- just like millions of other women in the country do. The only difference is that they never returned. Their bodies were found hanging from a mango tree in the village the next morning.

The incident has once again raised an issue that has been a matter of great concern for the government since long i.e. lack of sanitation and proper toilets for women in rural parts of India. Lack of basic facilities, like toilets inside every household, is a root cause of several social and health related problems not only for women but also for men.

Just to quote a few statistics, according to the 2011 census, 53.1% of households in India did not have toilets. The figure was much higher in the rural areas, almost 70%.

Several reports and researches have also proved that maximum number of rape incidents take place when women step out of their house to defecate in open fields. Many would not want to relate this problem with growing cases of rapes and sexual assault in the villages. But access to proper toilets, preferably inside each and every household, will help women maintain a measure of basic dignity and of course privacy. This in turn will reduce the risk of any such untoward incidents.

Toilets and sanitation are not synonymous terms; in fact toilets are a step towards achieving proper sanitation. Lack of sanitation can lead to several problems for women, not only in terms of rapes and assault but also health hazards. A number of health related issues including diseases like Urinary Track Infection (UTI), constipation and poor menstrual hygiene are a consequence of lack of sanitation.

Neglect of this issue, for a country like India, which aims to become a superpower in the next decade, would be catastrophic! It’s high time that the government acknowledges the issue and starts working on it.

Not only building toilets, but the concerned government departments will first have to create awareness among people about the necessity of private toilets and proper sanitation. Every year a handsome sum of money is allotted for it but the actual investments in the area are very low. Now, the big questions is- why is the government not using the money that has been allotted for the concerned work? The answer is still not clear.

Various Non-Government Organisations(NGO) have come forward to support the cause of creating awareness about the importance of sanitation and are also working on providing proper facilities. But NGOs alone cannot eliminate the problem. The central and state governments will have to take up the issue very seriously in the coming time.

Way back in 2012, the Rural Development Ministry started a campaign for creating awareness about the issue and also roped in Bollywood actress Vidya Balan to promote the cause. Balan, was seen talking about the issue in several appealing television advertisements at that time. In one of the ads the actress was seen lauding a bride for walking out of her husband’s home the day after her wedding and demanding a toilet inside the house. Though, it was a good initiative but the situation did not change much.

Several such small steps have been taken from time to time but now the government will have to address the issue like other major problems in the country.

During the election campaign, Narendra Modi made a statement ‘pehle shauchalya, phir devalaya’ (toilets first, temple later). Now that we have a Prime Minister who hopefully understands the importance of toilets, we can certainly expect something good from him and his team. We wish that the Modi-led government focuses on this issue and soon starts working on their plan of ending open-air defection by building toilets not only inside people’s homes but also on roads, in schools and other public places.

I know it is too late for the Badaun teenagers but millions of men and women across the country are still hopeful and are waiting for the ‘achche din’ promised by our new Prime Minister!