A Zilla Parishad CEO in a village near Solapur in Maharashtra has landed in trouble after a move to promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan went horribly wrong.
According to reports, two women, who are poor labourers in the area, were allegedly stopped by IAS officer Rajendra Bharud and his team, while they were returning after defecating in the open.
The duo were "garlanded and felicitated" in an effort to shame them and photographed. Women rights groups and other activists erupted in protest after the images were circulated on social media.
While Bharud denied his role in the proceedings, putting the blame on a local self-help group for the ordeal of the women, Maharashtra is known to have taken extreme measures to curb open defecation.
Earlier this year, the state government decided form 'good morning squads' to monitor and prevent open defecation in villages and districts across the state. Representatives of local bodies, including self-help groups, NGOs, students and social workers working in the area of sanitation and cleanliness, are part of these vigilante groups.
The incident has raised the ire of local politicians as well. Praniti Shinde, MLA from Solapur, has demanded Bharud's suspension immediately. "This kind of insulting behaviour towards women is harassment of women and this certainly has percolated from the top," she told India Today. "The CEO should also be booked under provisions of IT Act for circulating such pictures of women."
In a bid to make themselves free of open defecation by 2018, several states across India are taking strict actions against offenders. Jharkhand recently started confiscating lungis (lower garment) of men found to be defecating in the open.
Although the states' urgency to remedy an unhygienic practice is understandable, the severity with which the crackdown is taking place is neither practical nor sensitive to the circumstances of the people caught in the act.
As with the case of the women in Solapur, a bulk of India's population is still forced to defecate in the open for not having access to functioning toilets, or any at all.
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