In the lanes of Parvar Poorab, a peaceful North Indian village set amid monsoon-soaked fields, Savita stares suspiciously at the concrete lavatory outside her home. I like going outside.”Millions of Indians like Savita continue to defecate in the open despite having a household toilet, frustrating government hopes to wean more than 600 million of its citizens off the practice and questioning the assumptions behind its mass toilet-building programme.
“The government employee who constructed it told me we had to use it now and we shouldn’t go in the open”, says the slight and sombre 22-year-old who goes by only one name.“But it’s better to go in the open. In rural India, a strong cultural resistance to the build-up and disposal of excrement, and the view that going outdoors is more wholesome, is leading to rejection of the new latrines.
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Research suggests that many households who acquired toilets during this time have not abandoned open defecation entirely.
A recent survey of rural north India by the Delhi-based RICE Institute found more than 40 per cent of families with a working toilet have at least one member who still defecates in the open.
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Delhi has for decades tackled the problem by subsidising toilets for poor households, with the underlying assumption that poverty rather than attitude is the main reason that people are not building their own.