As India has the largest number of people in the world defecating in the open -- nearly 595 million people who do not use a toilet -- religious leaders from various faiths on Friday stressed the need for "toilets before temples".
Attending an event in Mumbai organised under the banner of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) in association with Unicef India, religious leaders said "sanitation is meditation".
The event was held to discuss the water and sanitation crisis facing the country and means for creating awareness about cleanliness among people.
A group of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh faith leaders pledged to change the mindset and practices of the local people through social and behavioural change.
"In the year 2016 one billion people (in the world) still practice open defecation, where India accounts for more than 500 million," said Rajeshwari Chandrasekar from Unicef office for Maharashtra.
Emphasising the need for safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, particularly for children and women, Swami Chidanand Saraswati, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygeine campaign) Alliance, said that the time has come when religious leaders from various faiths have to work together for the issue.
"Time has come for collective effort. India already has many temples, now is the time to open toilets. Religious leaders are ready and their followers are ready." he said.
Secretary General of GIWA Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati said every day 1,600 children die needlessly in India due to lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Sanghasenaji, founder-president of Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre in Ladakh, said toilets are more important than temples and priority should be given to sanitation and hygiene of people along with clean drinking water.
"You can live without temples. Prayers can be done anywhere but nobody can live without toilets, clean water and sanitation. We should take it seriously," Sanghasenaji said.
"Its shocking to hear that thousands of children are dying every year due to lack of clean water. We are not giving priority to it. We can't see the innocent children who are dying due to lack of clean water," he added.
Sufi Mushahid Uz Zaman Khan Chishti, Chairman and Founder of the International Islamic Sufi Foundation in Bhopal, said that everybody has to come together and start working on ground level.
"Politicians, religious leaders, celebrities all have to come together to do ground level work," Chishti said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)