The peculiar struggle to make parts of India "Open Defecation Free"

One of the high-profile campaigns by India's Prime Minister Modi is an end to the practice of defecating in public places, with access to toilets for all.

But the campaign doesn't merely require that toilets be provided to all concerned — some people are insistent on pooping outdoors, and this has led to the peculiar situation where "ODF" ("open defecation free") activists follow open-air poopers around with megaphones, publicly shaming them for not using toilets.

There are a variety of reasons for shunning toilets: they may be viewed as "impure"; taboos against fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law sharing the same toilet; they may not be very good toilets (not connected to city sewers, necessitating mucking out of a septic pit); or people may be habituated to going outdoors.

Bureaucrats are also falsifying records about the success of the "Clean India" campaign as a way to burnish Modi's credentials in the runup to the 2019 elections.

Saradhu Dhivar, 57, an unemployed villager, said he had daily spats with Mr. Koshle's associates, arguing that Nimora had ample space to go "freestyle." His food entitlements were withheld for a month, he said, until he built a toilet. It took days "to get used to this style," he said.

In October, Mr. Koshle sealed a gap in the walls of a school whose large, grass-covered grounds had become a bathroom of choice. Dozens marched to his home in protest, wielding water buckets they carry for outside duty. They demolished the wall.

In December, Mr. Koshle got his police friends to stage the faux arrest of four locals he had instructed to relieve themselves outside—an attempt to strike fear, he said. He rented an auto-rickshaw with a loudspeaker, announcing that transgressors' electricity supply would be cut.

Recently, teams of saree-clad women kept daily vigil around lakes and grassy fields from 4:30 a.m., shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.

Going Outside Turns Political in India Toilet Drive
[Niharika Mandhana/WSJ]

(via Marginal Revolution)

(Image: Open defecation in Pandharpur – a pilgrimage town in India, EvMsmile, CC-BY-SA)