In spite of government efforts to alleviate the crisis, India’s hygiene problems continue to grow. The problem’s most visible manifestation is the prevalence of so-called open deification, a term used to connote the human evacuation of faeces outside of a normal sanitary toilet facility – aka public defecation. This process has turned many of India’s rivers into open sewers, thus exacerbating the problem of India’s poor using the same source of water as a toilet, bath, drinking/cooking water and occasionally food as well.
There are many issues at play and infrastructure is just one of them. While many Asia countries have not only met but exceeded international targets for cutting down on open defecation, India has continued to fall short in this area.
Pakistan, by contrast has been a resounding success in this area. In the year 2000, 41% of Pakistan’s population resorted to open defecation while according to 2015 statistics the number is 12% and falling. In that same period China cut its numbers from just over 2% in the year 2000 to 1.5% in 2015.
While China’s economy has boomed since the year 2000 and with Xi Jinping’s five year plan to fully eliminate rural poverty in place, it is thought that China’s numbers will be reduced to 0% in the next few years. An analysis of Pakistan’s statistics makes for a more interesting read.
While China’s economy has grown at a rate that has made history, statistics indicate that India’s economy has grown at a more rapid rate since 2000 than that of Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan has met its UNICEF targets and reduced open defecation to 12% of its entire population in this period while India has struggled to cope in spite of overt efforts to solve the open defecation crisis.
One can blame political corruption, lake of political will and a difficult topography for this, but Pakistan, while smaller than India, is nevertheless a large country by any objective understanding and its domestic politics have not been scandal free since 2000 by any means. What’s more is that India and Pakistan achieved their post colonial statehood at the same time, thus one would assume that development trends would follow a similar path. While India’s wealthy have become far wealthier in recent years, India’s poor are still disproportionately defecating in the open. Clearly, there is an element to the matter, beyond that which is quantifiable.
To understand this, one must turn to the richest country of the 20th century and a country that while declining economically vis-a-vis China, is still considered the world’s richest nation according to the World Bank Index. This country is of course the United States.
The United States was among the first countries in the world to pioneer the use of indoor plumbing and sophisticated sewage systems across a vast geographic space. Theoretically, no American should need to defecate in the open. However, in practice, the rates of open defecation in the large American city of San Francisco, located in America’s wealthiest state, California, have increased in recent years.
A recent study by mainstream media has confirmed what many San Franciscans, including the outspoken “alternative” talk show host Michael Savage have said for years. The amount of human faeces found on the streets has gone up substantially in a very short number of years. According to the study, while the number of open defecation incidents in San Francisco was 345 in 2009, in 2018, that rate has skyrocketed exponentially to 2,160.
While these numbers are far less than those in regions without working sewage systems or indoor plumbing, the fact that in a city with a functioning, long standing sewage system there is open defecation at all, has got many wondering why.
The answer cannot be infrastructural as San Francisco has an infrastructure that can adequately cope with the number of residents within its city borders, even when one accounts for those not renting or owning a home. The answer therefore must be in the culture. In the case of San Francisco, a degenerate drug culture which has itself fed a culture of homelessness, has consequently led to a culture of open defecation. While the drugs are certainly to blame, the same study that found open defecation incidents increase dramatically in just nine years, showed the increase in dirty needles on the street to have increased far more modestly. This must indicate that even among the filth of an obscene drug culture, there is a wider psychological rot at play.
Returning to India vis-a-vis Pakistan, the most clear cultural difference between the two countries is that while India is a majority Hindu state which is currently being ruled by an anti-minority extremist Hindutva government, Pakistan was conceived as and remains a majority Muslim state. Islam dictates hygiene requirements among believers whose spiritual origins have had a profound impact on societal development.
Whether one grows up in a wealthy Muslim majority country like Saudi Arabia or an impoverished one like Somalia, the same chapters of the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah apply. Just to name a few examples, Muslims most thoroughly wash themselves on a regular basis, while washing the appropriate area immediately after defecation is also mandatory. Furthermore, while not practised uniformly throughout the Muslim world, in many traditions, the right hand is considered the appropriate hand for clean activities such as eating, while the left is the appropriate hand for dirty activities like clean a soiled part of the body. This the idea of separating filth from food has become internalised at a young age.
These are just a few examples of the many hygiene related practices in Islam ranging from cleaning one’s nails and beard, to a prohibition on eating carrion and male circumcision. By contrast, in spite of its legal prohibition, the Hindu caste system of India has made it so that the poor continue to eat unhealthily while proper faecal hygiene has become a matter of rote learning that often does not sink in, rather than a matter of holistic spiritual awareness. Based on the human condition, when one literally believes that cleanliness is a religious duty rather than a civic one, it will have a more profound impact in all but the most atheistic societies and neither India nor Pakistan are atheistic.
But while India has serious hygiene issues to address, Hindu mobs beating Muslims for the ‘crime’ of eating beef has become a more prominent case among Hindutva extremists than the very real issue of changing the counter-hygienic culture of India’s poor.
The prevalence of the anti-Muslim Zionist narrative in American media bears a striking similarity to the anti-Muslim narrative in India’s Hindutva media. Both narratives excoriate Islam as backward, barbaric or sinister, when in reality, when it comes to a culture of cleanliness and health, Islam remains vastly more sophisticated and de-facto more socially successful than both. Two cultures which demonise Islam, could actually stand to gain the most from at least considering the adoption of some Islamic practices for their own well being.