Cleaning Up India’s Economic Lifeline
Dawn was breaking over Delhi as our train began its ritual crawl into the station. This is almost always the case with busy railway stations in India: the last mile never seems to end, sometimes taking up to an hour. If you look out of the window during this hour, you are likely to see dozens of men and boys, possibly residents of nearby slums, squatting on the ground and defecating in peace, unmindful of the slowly passing train and its impatient occupants.
This scene, familiar to most train passengers in India, is a reminder of the problem of open defecation in this land of over 1.2 billion people, a practice associated with poverty and health problems, most notoriously childhood stunting.
But there’s something else happening at precisely the same moment that you look out of the train window. You realize that there’s absolutely no reason for these men and boys squatting outside to be self-conscious or shy. Because dozens of other people inside the train are doing almost exactly the same thing—defecating out into the open, albeit from inside a closed toilet.
Indians have long had a love-hate relationship with the railways. Mahatma Gandhi hated it, blaming it for spreading colonialism, poverty and disease, but then seized it as the most expedient mode of discovering India.
- Health Care