In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Modi launched a sanitation campaign to eliminate public defecation by 2019. Last week, he has finally declared India free of open defecation and that Indians no longer relieve themselves in any open spaces. His campaign has built more than 110 million toilets across the sub-continent state.

Open defecation is a major public health hazard as it leads to the transmission of potentially deadly diseases like diarrhoea. According to UNICEF, fecal contamination is a leading cause of child mortality, disease and physical growth stunting. Open defecation also exposes women and girls to the danger of physical attacks and rape. 

However, critics have argued that simply building the toilets does not adequately address the sanitation problem. While Modi’s government has solved the problem of inadequate toilets, they do not seem to have reformed attitudes regarding sanitation and hygiene. Even if there are toilets, those living in rural areas may not know how to use them or maintain them.

Read the full article on The CNN: Half of India couldn’t access a toilet 5 years ago. Modi built 110M latrines — but will people use them?


Those who are critical of Modi’s sanitation project have suggested that construction is the easy part but that the project needs to focus on shifting mindsets. The caste system in India has also contributed to the issue. Traditionally, it was the lowest caste members whose jobs was to clean latrines and sewers. Thus, there are some who do not want to handle human faeces.

Since open defecation is a question of social behaviour, then the real health impacts must depend on whether people are adequately educated on what to do with the newly constructed toilets in their villages. After all, what is the use of constructing a toilet if there is not going to be any use of it? 

Nevertheless, Modi’s government must be lauded for making sanitation a big priority. This has not been the case for previous governments. Even if there is still some way to go before open defecation has been fully eliminated, providing greater toilet access is a step in the right direction.

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. How do you think we can educate those living in rural areas about the importance of using and maintaining the toilets? 
  2. Is it problematic that Modi has declared India to be entirely rid of open defecation when the public is still not adequately educated about sanitation and hygienic practices regarding using toilets?

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘stunting’: hinder the normal growth and development
  2. ‘reformed’: changed for the better