The recent rape and murder of two teenaged sisters in Katra Sadatganj village in the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh when they went to relieve themselves at night has highlighted how women are the biggest victims of the lack of basic sanitation facilities in India. Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi, tells Avantika Bhuyan of the connect between crimes against women and India's sanitation infrastructure
Is there a correlation between crimes against women and availability of sanitation facilities?
There most definitely is. There are two kinds of violence that women go through in such a scenario - physical violence and sexual violence. The socio-cultural framework in villages is such that women have to venture out to relieve themselves only in the dark. Their natural needs are not met in the entire day. This is detrimental to their health. Moreover, when they go out to the fields at night or early morning, people intimidate them. The sexual violence stems from various factors, among which lack of sanitation facilities, the caste system and social mindset are the most significant. This is true not just of rural India but urban slums as well.
According to a recent BBC news report, a senior police officer in Bihar said some 400 women would have "escaped" rape last year if they had toilets in their homes. Are there figures available to establish this?
Sadly, there are no figures available to establish this link. Just today we were talking about a survivor's survey. I have tried to find such studies, but there is a lag when it comes to research about crimes against women. I don't know where the Bihar official got this figure from, when we don't even have an accurate estimate about how many girls are trafficked each year. And that's because a lot of people don't report these crimes and the media doesn't pick them up. [Khalid Chaudhary, regional manager for UP, ActionAid India, told Business Standard, "In fact, in various areas in Badaun, just this month there were four to five cases in which women were raped, molested and tortured when they went out to relieve themselves. But these cases went unreported in the media. What happened to the teenage girls in Katra Sadatganj village is not a one-off incident. Our fact finding team observed that more than 90 per cent of families do not have sanitation facilities at home in that village."]
What is your opinion on government programmes on sanitation? Is there a gap between the schemes and on-ground implementation?
The government programme is not backed by a comprehensive thought process. [Under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, a Total Sanitation Campaign had been set up to provide sanitation facilities to rural homes and schools in every village across India]. Say 20 toilets are approved for 300 people in a village, but till the time the entire village is covered under this scheme, it is meaningless. Moreover, the Rs 12,000-20,000 approved for the toilet doesn't provide for a roof or a door. They just cover the top with hay, which anyone can remove to get in. So how will the woman feel secure? There are structural and technical issues - for instance, lack of use of ceramic in the construction makes the pot difficult to clean. Then there are cleanliness issues. A lot of villages don't have water, so how will the toilets be cleaned? Also, where should the excreta go? There is no thought that has been put into creating a feasible, practical sanitation system.
How do socio-cultural factors come into play here?
The upper caste expects the Dalits to keep their toilets clean. Mind you, it's just the Dalit women who are supposed to do this menial labour, Gender biases come into play in a big way. Men use the toilet and women are expected to fetch the water for them. They have to walk to wells to fetch water for the men in their households. And, on the way they might be intimidated. I am speaking from personal experience of having visited villages in Kanpur Dehat, Jaunpur, Itawa and Mirzapur. Sometimes these toilets just turn into storerooms to stock the hay.
According to a national survey conducted by AC Nielsen and Plan India in 2012, 23 per cent girls dropped out of school after reaching puberty due to lack of access to toilets.
There have been studies carried out by NCERT and state education boards that show lack of sanitation for post pubescent girls. They go through a harrowing time during their menstrual cycles. So between visiting the common toilet and not going to school, they choose the latter.