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India’s Open Defecation Free status: Claim versus Reality

The ground reality of PM Modi's 100% ODF claim. Is it successful?

On October 2, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that all families in India had access to a toilet. “Today, villages in rural India have declared themselves open defecation free,” Prime Minister Modi said, stressing on the achievement of his flagship scheme, Swachh Bharat Mission. 

Is India really 100% Open Defecation Free?

The reality is very different, and India is still far from being open defecation free.

So what exactly does it mean to be ODF-Free? According to the ODF uniform definition, it means that every household has a toilet, or has access to the toilet. 

To verify Modi’s claim, Video Volunteers’ network of Community Correspondents visited beneficiaries of the Swachh Bharat Scheme, to check if their communities and villages really have toilets in their houses or villages. VV’s campaign --called the100% ODF claim Fact Check - is checking the government’s claims against ground realities in rural areas.

So far, 22 Correspondents have gathered 35 stories and video testimonies from many villages across seven states --Bihar, Chhattishgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh -- that previously had among the lowest rates of toilet access. These reports, many of which come from remote villages, are being uploaded every day onto the ODF FACT CHECK: Modi's Claim Vs Ground Reality playlist on the VV YouTube channel. 

Community Correspondent Shankar Lal, reporting from Karitoran village in Lalitpur District of Uttar Pradesh, said that 500 toilets have been built in this village, but only on paper. Pushpendra Lodhi, a young man from Karitoran village, said that women and children are still defecating in the open. “On the ground, there are no toilets. You can see for yourself. In the morning and evening, all the women and children defecate near the roads,” he said.

Another ground report from Nawadih village, in Chatra district of Jharkhand, stated that the newly constructed toilets are shabby and non-functional, with broken doors. A woman named Gayatri, from Jungle Belwa village of Kushinagar district, Uttar Pradesh, says there are no toilets in her village. She and fifteen other families are compelled to defecate in the open. Genidevi, a woman from Ganpatpur village of Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh, walks two to three kilometers to defecate. “When we go to fields, nobody allows us to sit. Where should we go?” she asks. 

Community Correspondent Rejan Gudia even found signboards in one village that declared the area Open Defecation Free. However, his reports contradicted this claim.  “We go in the open fields like before. The Government is also not paying heed on the water issues. Toilets are built, but only constructing toilets is not suffice,” says Shrida Munda, the Gram Pradhan (Village Head) of Champabaha village, Topra block, in Khunti district of Jharkhand. 

Having to go out to the fields to relieve oneself is also a threat to women’s safety, health, and privacy. Two women from Saleh Nagar village of Barabanki district, Uttar Pradesh, do not want to go out to defecate, as they fear being harassed and humiliated. For the same reason, Janki, a young girl from Bhitwapur village of Ambedkar Nagar district Uttar Pradesh, described avoiding defecating in the dark, due to fear of wild insects. Apart from Janki, there are 171 families in Bhitwapur village who are facing this agonizing experience on a daily basis, due to lack of toilets. 

By fact-checking the 100% ODF claim, Video Volunteers is not questioning the significance, utility or even the likely success of the Swachh Bharat Mission. The Swachh Bharat Mission has built vast numbers of toilets and therefore improved sanitation in many places in India. But it is clear from VV’s videos that the 100% claim is far from accurate, and large numbers of families still lack toilets. Why did the government need to declare success so early? And does that mean that the families and villages that still need toilets are not going to get them, because the program is now over?  We hope the government will heed the messages of the communities that are raising their voices in these videos, and rally local officials to take the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan program over the finish line. Build the rest of the toilets that need to be built. 

See all the reports on VV’s YouTube Channel: ODF FACT CHECK : Modi's Claim Vs Ground Reality  

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