Rape in India brings the 

focus back on caste

system and open

defecation in india!

NPR, formerly National Public, a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States, has been extensively covering the gruesome rape and 'lynching' of two young girls in India. The savagery occurred in the Badaun district of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. On the evening of May 27, the pair, who were cousins, ventured out into an open field that served as their bathroom. The girls were abducted, gang raped and murdered. They were found hanging from a mango tree in the early hours of morning. The family and friends refused to take the bodies down until the perpetrators were arrested. As the picture of the young girls hanging from the tree circulated on various media sites and social media platforms, it sent shivers down the spine of millions of people around the globe. NPR reports that, 'like 630 million other Indians, the girls' home has no toilet, forcing them out into the dark, exposing them to wild animals and, on that night, rapists and murderers'. The report also says that in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state, 64 percent of people have no indoor plumbing. According to NPR, "the affair is rife with claims of caste violence. The brothers in custody are from the Yadav caste, the victims from the Shakya caste. India designates both as among 'Other Backward Classes', defined by the Constitution as 'socially and educationally' disadvantaged." The report goes on to explain how Yadav, the dominant caste, represented by the police and the politicians, exploit and mistreat the other caste members, going as far as selling the girls, and murdering kids- as per the stories recounted by the villagers. NPR also reported that "the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav — also a member of the Yadav caste — stepped into the harsh spotlight when he dismissed the case. When reporters asked him about the tragedy, he replied: You're safe, right?"
Earlier, in another news report titled, ' How A Lack of Toilets Puts India's Women At Risk of Assault", Julie McCarty says that 'the deaths conceivably could have been averted if the girls had had access to a toilet at home. Lacking one, on the night they were killed, the two teens did what hundreds of millions of women do across India each day: Under the cloak of darkness before sunrise or after sunset, they set out for an open field to relieve themselves.' She goes on to report about a 71- year old social entrepreneur, Bindeshwar Pathak, popularly known as the 'toilet guru', who has transformed the village neighboring village of Hir Mathala in Haryana with his simple two-pit design. The low-cost toilet — about $250, is low-maintenance. One pit gets filled while the other biodegrades the waste, which can be used as fertilizer. Each of the 144 households in the village has been equipped  with a toilet thereby setting an example to the entire nation, as per the report. The report goes on to say-"Pathak's NGO, Sulabh International, has built 1.3 million toilets in Indian homes the past four decades. While commendable, the Sulabh toilet has not dramatically reduced the incidence of open defecation, which presents dire consequences for public health. The practice contaminates food and water, and transmits diarrhea-related diseases that kill 700,000 children every year worldwide — 200,000 of them are in India, says Brian Arbogast, director of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation." Other interesting facts in the report are as follows-

  • When the Gates Foundation set up a challenge to "reinvent" the toilet, a team from Cal-Tech was awarded the most promising design and is one of three now being tested in India.
  • India and China each have more than a billion people, and here's the contrast: The World Health Organization says in China, 1 out of every 100 people defecate out in the open; in India, it's 1 out of every 2 people — the highest rate in the world.
  • India's rural development ministry launched a 'No Toilet, No Bride' campaign, exhorting women not to get married into families that did not have a toilet.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his recent election campaign promised- "toilets first, temples later."

(Photo: The picture of the young cousins hanging from the tree circulated all over the world, bringing world wide attention to the savagery)

        Not too long ago, TMZ, one of the most popular TV show about celebrity gossip & entertainment news in America, had covered the story of India's Number 1 problem- Number 2, as UNICEF launched a PSA, a music video called 'Take The Poo To The Loo' to encourage the people of India to use the toilets. 

       How common is the knowledge of open defecation in India among the people in America? Very common. Even without the recent attention that the above mentioned events have brought to the problem, anyone who has ever visited India from America and other countries have returned to talk about it, thereby 'spreading the word'. Growing up in India, I remember by uncle, who often visited from USA, would always tell us the number of people they saw 'doing it' in the fields during their train journeys. After coming to America, my sister once had a professor who mentioned 'taking a lote to the field' to his entire class. My professor once told me he was surprised to find 'people all over the fields' in India. 

   Authors of various different non-fictional books have written and joked about open defecation in India. When Monisha Rajesh took it upon herself to go around India in 80 trains, the description of the daily routine performed outdoors certainly made it in her travel memoirs. When Jacqueline Novogratz describes the colors, the silks, the flowers and everything else that's beautiful about India in her book, the Blue Sweater, she is compelled to also talk about 'squatting on the fields'. Some have even implied that women relieving themselves together out in the open is akin to women here in America, going for happy hours together.

To be truly honest, even though I , and undoubtedly many others like me, who lived and still live in India, tended to (many still do) accept open defecation as part of the everyday life in India just as we accept poverty, recent events have opened our eyes (hopefully everyone's) to the indignity and the risk that this exposes women to. And although, UNICEF has stepped in to help resolve the issue, various insitutions like Pathak's NGO are working hard to tackle the problem, everyone agrees that it will take lot more effort to 1. provide access to toilets to over 600 million people, and 2. to change the mindset of millions of people. Yes, let's hope that the people of India hold their Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his promise of "toilets first, temples later." More importantly, let's hope that the nation joins hand with their prime minister in together implementing what should be the number one priority. All those people who donate thousands of rupees to temples, all those NRIs who donate thousands of dollars to temples, all those Richie Rich-s who get temples constructed for their favorite movie stars, please consider donating at least half of that amount towards getting toilets installed, towards getting good plumbing infrastructure in place. Afterall, it's a matter of dignity and security for women. 

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