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

Originally published at:

1 Like

Wow… That is just… wow.

And to think I complain about the ground under my apple tree after the deer spend a lot of time there. I can’t even imagine.


I so want to go to India.

And then there are reasons I don’t want to go to India.


As much as I’ve come to appreciate Indian culture over the years (and appreciate the diversity of Indian culture, which is far from as monolithic as most Westerners think it is)… I still don’t get it sometimes. The sexism and sexual assaults, the corruption, the shitting outside wherever and whenever one feels like it. I just don’t get it.

And don’t get me wrong… other countries have their own peculiar and distasteful (and just gross) quirks, India is no better and no worse than other places, but sometimes the beauty and sophistication of Indian culture, thought and the aspirations of Indian society seem in very stark contrast to the other side of the manifested cultural spectrum. (fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law can’t use the same toilet? WTF?)


Outdoor shitting in the cities is because of a lack of public bathrooms. There is a whole lot of “I got mine, you get yours” instead of civic responsibility there.

Outdoor shitting in the rural areas is due to poverty and social inertia - nobody could afford toilets in the home so they’ve always used the fields. Modi’s campaign is laudable making toilets affordable, but people are creatures of habit and will apply motivated reasoning to avoid change.


Once they find a solution to the al fresco pooping problem in India maybe we can import it to the streets of San Francisco. At least India has the excuses of extreme inequality and backwards cultural norms (like the father-in-law thing) for this disgusting phenomenon.


More public toilets? Are there enough of those in SF?


I’m surprised none of this brings up another legitimate reason for toilets: rape. It’s dangerous for women to go out into the fields to pee or crap, especially at night. This isn’t just a public hygiene issue, it’s a women’s issue as well.


Not ones accessible to the homeless. And then there are homeless people who’d do their business outside for various reasons even if more clean and accessible public pissoirs were available.

shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.

That’s a morning ritual around my place.


We all go through that phase when we have toddlers.


No, we just kept up the shits & giggles long after that phase.


That is because the human animal is just that: an animal and a not particularly clean one when it comes down to it compared to many. Until and unless better habits are taught and learned, this is what you get. And in India and elsewhere, you are fighting against thousands of years of cultural and religious practice, you evil cultural Imperialist you. :).

We cheerfully foul our own nests at many levels from this to industries simply dumping thousand tons loads of poison anyplace handy that isn’t upwind or upstream of them.

I once lived in a “challenging” neighborhood and some of my more exciting neighbors’ pastime was to sit on the hood of their car and drink beer all night. Rather than walk fifteen feet back into their apartment, they’d simply piss in the bushes next to where they were “kicking back”.

How often do you see trash lying on the ground five feet from a trashcan?

As a species, we are not a tidy bunch when left to our own devices. Probably one of the few universally useful things in the horror that is the “old testament” is the “god-given” requirement to poop outside the tribal encampment and to bury your output.

It seems ti takes the threat of diving hellfire to get people to not defecate in their own front yard.


I spent the better part of a year in India (specifically, the city of Durgapur, West Bengal). I worked as trainer for CNC machine operators, and got to know the operators, programmers,and middle managers fairly well. The factory was kept very clean; neither open defecation or urination was tolerated. But open defecation was everywhere outside the factory.

Since I have no trouble discussing such matters, I made enquiries of the guys I was working with. I learned a few things:

  1. Some Indians consider locating a toilet inside the house as unsanitary. I suppose there is some truth to this… if your shitter is located 100m across the highway, there’s no way poop particles are going to waft into your kitchen.

  2. Many (most) of the non-city housing lacks running water, so a flush toilet isn’t possible.

  3. Paper, even toilet paper, is sacred. The goddess of knowledge, learning, etc (Saraswati?) is embodied in all educational items (paper, pencils, pens, chalk, etc.), so using paper for clean-up is seen as dishonouring her.

  4. The squat toilet is considered more sanitary than one you sit on. Indeed, there is no skin contact when using a squat toilet, assuming you don’t go barefoot.

  5. Public toilets with walls and such can be used by rapists.

I can understand these points. But I can’t figure out why the simple latrine isn’t used. Latrines require nothing more than a hole in the ground; when a hole is used up, dig another one and fill in the old one. Instead of a large field with “land mines” everywhere you get a relatively clean field.

I try not to be judgemental about these things. But I just can’t wrap my head around why a small community can’t figure out latrine tech. The only answer I was ever given was “that’s how it’s always been done” and/or “the villagers aren’t smart enough” (none of the guys I worked with lived in these villages).


No shit.


Hate to break it to you, but San Francisco has that too.


Yes, that and its counterpart that going in the field is “healthy” are the most common rationalizations that I have heard.

1 Like

I took a shit in my backyard once. It was 2am. I had been fixing to run to the John for over an hour and it was getting harder and harder to wait. Finally get home. Run to the door. And I was locked out. By this time my bowels were ready for full launch mode. Throwing rocks at the window and banging on the door and phone calls did nothing to wake my wife. It was the yard or my pants. I chose the yard. My underwear was sacrificed as I don’t keep TP handy in the yard. Of course right after I finished my wife opens the back door and asks what I was doing. Why, I’m taking a dump in the yard of course. What a silly question.


I am a bit judgmental since it is terrible for sanitation, especially since just going wherever you fancy is rather dangerous since you don’t know where the water supply is and how it is treated. Though they aren’t on WHO’s list of cholera hotspots, so clearly they are doing something right.

The closest Western-ish analogues to this is the fact that a lot of people think that wood-smoke makes for a pleasant and home-y atmosphere and are loath to accept that, no, it’s actually fairly terrible for you, and the Q-tip thing. Otorhinolaryngologists have been saying forever that you really aren’t meant to remove earwax manually (it cleans your ear, that’s what it is for) and you certainly aren’t meant to do so by shoving Q-tips into your ear (since it results in impacted earwax the removing of which is a fairly miserable experience) but nearly everyone who hears of this rejects it with some vehemence. The standard of good/healthy we adopt as children really rather sticks with us.


Yeah why not an outhouse. Or at least catholes. I don’t get it.