Toilet talk

Can we begin, though, by asking why Ramesh did not do these things as minister in charge for sanitation?

Toilets became a big political issue last week. And, as a crusader for sanitation, I was more than delighted. Long may Narendra Modi and Jairam Ramesh spar over who first said toilets were more important than temples. And, let both our main political parties hasten to make a commitment that the first thing they will do after the next general election is guarantee that manual scavengers will be rescued from their hellish lives and rehabilitated. Those who expect these unfortunate beings to manually clean their filthy waste should be jailed. Next, there should be a nationwide campaign to make public defecation a criminal act and socially unacceptable.

Can we begin, though, by asking why Ramesh did not do these things as minister in charge for sanitation? At this point I need to make a full disclosure. Ramesh is this column's bete noire. For the reason that it is this man I personally blame for starting the economic downturn by using his tenure in the Ministry of Environment to bring back the licence raj.

So busy was he stopping major projects after thousands of crore rupees had been invested in them, that he did not notice that if he had made sanitation a crusade, he could have become a national hero. His picture could have graced the doors of shiny new toilets across the land and statues of him could have sprouted out of public urinals. He may even have been remembered by those who prefer temples to toilets because our sacred rivers could have become pure again, instead of being the sewers they are mainly because sanitation is something our political leaders prefer not to discuss.

On account of their silence, not only do Indians continue to 'defecate everywhere', as V S Naipaul famously pointed out four decades ago, but Indian children continue to die of diseases caused by this awful practice. Indian trains spread raw sewage across the fair face of our dear Bharat Mata because a hole in the ground is what they call a toilet.

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