New Delhi: The two teenage girls who were raped and hanged from the village mango tree in Uttar Pradesh`s Badaun district last week had gone to relieve themselves in the field, highlighting the sore lack of toilets in millions of homes across India. But the question that an NGO is raising adds to the intrigue behind the gruesome crime - toilets had been constructed in the area, but they apparently have "vanished".
"What happened to the toilets that were constructed under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan after 2011 is not clear," asked Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, a sanitation campaign backed by the government, says on its website that in gram panchayat Katra Sadatganj of Badaun district, where the girls lived, toilets had been constructed under the campaign.
On its website, it shows that in the year 2011, 172 families of Below Poverty Line did not have toilets. It constructed 178 toilets for the BPL families - more than the required figure.
"Very often social audits conducted by civil society and locals have revealed that the claim of completion of construction of such facilities is visible only on paper, and the ground realities paint a very different picture," Nayak told IANS.
While some toilets may have been built in Badaun and elsewhere, the shocking fact remains that almost 60 percent rural households across the country do not have toilet facilities, according to a baseline survey conducted in 2012.
In reply to questions raised in the Lok Sabha, in February this year, the government stated that, amongst states where the survey had been completed, Bihar topped the list with almost 80 percent of the rural households not having toilet facilities.
Uttar Pradesh had just 35.22 percent rural houses with toilets.
On March 25, 2014 four young Dalit women in Bhagana village in Haryana were said to have been abducted and raped when they ventured out to the fields to relieve themselves.
According to the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) website, in 2012 there were 446 BPL homes in Bhagana without toilets and they were constructed that year in all the 446 homes.
In February 2013, in Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, a 10-year-old girl was raped when she went to relieve herself in the fields. According to the NBA website, the achievement of Tikamgarh remains poor, with none of the 78 BPL families having toilets. Of the 382 Above Poverty Line families without toilets, just 20 were provided toilets in 2011.
According to data available on the NBA website close to Rs.2,000 crore (US$33.8 million) had been spent in 2012-13 by the central and state governments in all states to construct toilets across the country. An amount of Rs.1,820 crore (US$30 million) were spent by the central and state governments in 2011-12.
"While some of these funds may have helped create good toilet facilities where sincere and honest bureaucrats were in charge of implementation, the rest might have simply gone down the drain," Nayak told IANS.
"Under the Harappan civilization, toilets were a prized possession - neatly kept and well drained. That was India 5,000 years ago. We have moved far away from that pride in sanitation," he added.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, appalled by the brutal rape and murder of the two teenaged girls, has demanded action against sexual violence and appealed to the society to reject the destructive attitude of "boys will be boys".
"I was especially appalled by the brutal rape and gruesome murder of two teenaged women in India who had ventured out because they did not have access to a toilet," Ban said on Tuesday.
"We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of `Boys will be boys`. Together, we can empower more people to understand that violence against women degrades us all," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October last year, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, had said "Pehle shauchalay, phir devalay (toilets first, temples later)" - stressing on the importance of sanitation before religion.
Modi said lakhs of rupees were spent on temples in villages but there were no toilets there. Invoking Mahatma Gandhi`s thoughts, he said it was ironic that women in the country had to go in the open for easing themselves in the absence of toilets.