The BBC reports:

Village council candidates in India should be allowed to stand for election only if they have a toilet at home, the rural development minister says.

The venerable minister, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s reason for proposing this rule is:

Mr Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India’s rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day. “This finds its way into the water sources,” Mr Singh said.

In a country where only thirty percent of the population has access to adequate sanitation and produces 900 million litres of urine and 135 million kilogrammes of faecal matter per day, the scale of the problem boggles the mind (From the Toilet Museum in New Delhi).

As amusing as this proposal sounds, I have several questions and thoughts. I wonder if the rule is being proposed to encourage people to install toilets, or to keep those who can’t afford toilets out of the race. The other aspect of this whole toilet business is the group of people who clean up after the others–the Dalits (See the BBC story on excreta collectors in Bangalore). Kerim has an account of our meeting with Pavan, a former tailor who came from a community of bhangis in Jaipur. One of the things that really stayed with me regarding that conversation was learning that higher caste/class women weren’t allowed to go out of the house to defecate, hence bhangi women were needed to clean up after them. This situation made it particularly difficult for Dalit women to change their occupation; there was a whole system in place to keep them doing their jobs, often backed by violence, not only from outside the community, but also from the men within their community.

So the minister’s insistence on flush toilets doesn’t sound so outlandish after all.