Though the call of nature cannot be connected too closely with the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence, it was a strange coincidence that November 19, was World Toilet Day and also World Philosophy Day.
Philosophies apart, we need to seriously look at some stark realities relating to World Toilet Day. According to the United Nations, more than 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to basic sanitation, including toilets or latrines and this has drastic consequences on human health, dignity and security.
One of three women around the world lack access to safe toilets and as a result, they face diseases, shame and potential violence when they seek a place to answer the call of nature.
The theme for the UN World Toilet Day 2014 is, “Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation”. The aim is to raise awareness on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face due to the lack of privacy and the inequalities in toilet usability.
“A staggering 1.25 billion women and girls would enjoy greater health and increased safety with improved sanitation. Evidence also shows that safe and clean toilets encourage girls to stay in school. We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement to mark World Toilet Day.
World Toilet Day is also marked to highlight the fact that toilets generally remain inadequate for people with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene, the UN noted on its official website.
The tagline, “We Can’t Wait” will be used for this year’s Toilet Day awareness campaign.
One of the worst affected countries is our neighbour India. According to a BBC report nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people do not have a toilet at home. The situation is worse in the villages, where two-thirds of the homes do not have toilets. Open defecation is rife, and remains a major impediment in achieving Millennium Development Goals which include reducing by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.
Is the lack of toilets and preference for open defecation a cultural issue in a society where the habit actually perpetuates social oppression, as proved by the reduced but continued existence of low caste human scavengers and sweepers, the BBC asks. Mahatma Gandhi, India’s legendary leader, had, in the words of a biographer a, “Tolstoyian preoccupation with sanitation and cleaning of toilets”. More than half a century after Independence, many Indians continue to relieve themselves in the open and litter unhesitatingly, but keep their homes spotlessly clean.
India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on August 15 invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s well-known preoccupation with sanitation, and called for the entire country to focus on making India clean to attract tourism and to provide dignity as well as ensure educational opportunity to girls and women through adequate separate toilets for them in schools. Mr. Modi’s long exposition on toilets—punctuated by his own self-conscious remark that some may be shocked to hear the prime minister speaking about toilets from the Red Fort -- in a blunt and logical manner made this a striking and effective part of the speech.
In the Dailymirror Editorial yesterday we pointed out how Sri Lanka though blessed with plenty of fresh water was allowing a foreign company to extract some 124,000 million litres of fresh water a year to prepare and bottle a fresh fruit drink being marketed in India. Although our toilet problems may not be as bad as India’s we may find ourselves in the same stinking mess if we run out of fresh water.