While Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigns for a 'Clean India' and promises his government's support for the upliftment of Dalits, some people from the country's most impoverished and backward classes are, however, battling deeply ingrained prejudice for access to something as basic as a toilet.
In Mehsana district of Gujarat, a Dalit family has been trying to build a toilet for over two years. However, some local upper-caste people are opposing it, reports Indian Express.
The village--Lakshmipura-Bhandu--has only 500 people, mostly belonging to upper-caste families. Life is not easy for the only Dalit family in the village.
Bhikhabhai Senma, 65, is a landless farmer whose family has 13 members. Their house is at the entrance of the village and they have no toilet. Sometimes, they have to travel as far as half-a- kilometre away to defecate.
“We want to construct a toilet outside our house. However, some locals have not been allowing us to do it by raising an issue of encroachment on village gauchar (pasture land),” Senma told Express.
According to the Dalit villager, one of the upper-caste local wants to build a road on the same land. The land, he says, is an open piece of government wasteland.
After fighting over it for two years, the Dalit villager has decided to drop the idea of constructing a toilet. "We have approached a number of authorities, including the State Human Rights Commission, but nothing has happened,” he said.
The problem of toilets for Dalits is not new.
According to a Census report published in 2012, while just over half of all Indian households don’t have a toilet at home, for Dalit households that figure is two-thirds.
Of India’s nearly 168 million rural households, 67.3% relieve themselves out of doors. Meanwhile, the figure for Dalit rural households, which total nearly 33 million, is 75%. In cities, 12.6% of households rely on the outdoors; for Dalit urban households the figure is 24%.
In December, a Dalit community in a village in Coimbatore faced a similar issue. They filed a complaint accusing the local administration of alleged discrimination towards them in building toilets.
The Dalit residents of Kendayur village took out a march to the office of the Collector, urging the officials to meet their demands for toilets. They alleged that the administration was reluctant in building toilets for them and claimed to have been defecating out in the open all these years. The villagers claimed that their repeated pleas were turned down by officials.
The discrimination has also existed in other forms.
Last year, seven teachers of a Tamil Nadu school was arrested after they allegedly forced Dalit students to clean the toilets of the school.
According to the report, the teachers forced 17 Dalit students to clean the school toilets while sparing students from other communities.
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