19-Nov-2006

In A Spot - 191106

The series continues, with Ms Tavleen Singh's latest column.

Ms Singh in August 2005, getting angry about the ugliness of our towns and villages:
I ... find myself getting angry about the filthy living conditions in our own towns and villages and their ugliness. This is not, as some may think, because we are inherently a filthy people with a culture that disdains basic hygiene. Neither is it because Indian civilisation produced no great cities.

Some racist Westerners like to portray us that way but the truth is that even I (and I am not as old as all that) can remember that the India of my childhood was not a place of villages that looked like cesspools and towns that looked like garbage dumps. I can remember towns and cities with beautiful, leafy avenues and fine public buildings. I can remember my own Punjabi village as a place of genteel, rural elegance. So what went wrong? Why do we now live in such appalling filth and misery? Ask this question of our officials and politicians and the answer usually is: population. Too many people, they say, absolving themselves of blame.

Our infrastructure simply cannot cope. Of all the lies they tell us this is among the most barefaced. The truth is that the misguided socialism that was our creed for far too long made everything beyond the most basic idea of living seem like a sinful luxury.
Nehruvian, fabian, misguided socialism to blame for the ugliness. Right.

Ms Singh yesterday:
More than eighty per cent of diseases in India are caused by public defecation and primitive ideas of public hygiene. As someone who lives part-time in a village I have done some rudimentary research on the subject and found that our toilet habits have more to do with the social acceptance of public defecation and misconceptions of public hygiene than poverty. The residents of the seaside village in which I live are not poor. They are mostly middle class with middle class aspirations. The houses in which they live are all 'pucca' and clean with tiled roofs and charming verandahs. Many have small gardens planted with hibiscus and bougainvillaea, nearly every home has access to cable TV and consumer goods and all kitchens are indoors and spotlessly clean but almost not a single house has an indoor toilet. The beach is the village toilet. Villagers who baulk at the sight of women in shorts and swimsuits have no problem with their women squatting along the beach in full view of visiting tourists from the city.

Men are even less embarrassed about exposing themselves and squat happily on the edge of the ocean so that they are saved the need to carry a 'lota'. Public defecation is such an acceptable social habit that it continues despite the village having aspirations to become a seaside resort.
So, could it after all have something to do with us rather than Nehruvian, fabian...socialism? My research in Ms Singh's columns shows that it could. Yet how - how - can - that - be?

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