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September 29, 2016

Musiri: Story of an Ecologically Sensible Public Toilet

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Author : Sopan Joshi

Not far from the Cauvery river, in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirapalli district, is a public toilet run by the local government. Located at Saliyar Marg, alongside an irrigation canal that brings Cauvery water to farms downstream, the structure with 14 enclosures – seven each for men and women – has been built by the Nagar Panchayat of Musiri. The local government looks after its maintenance and upkeep.

About a decade ago, the Musiri facility shot into fame as a public toilet where users are paid a charge, instead of users paying to use a facility, as happens in some other places. That, however, was only to encourage people living in neighbouring localities to try out the new-concept toilets. For these toilets are not linked to a sewage system, neither does it need soak pits or leach pits underneath.

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EcoSan Toilets in Musiri

The excreta and urine from this public toilet goes back to the agricultural fields, and helps grow delicious banana and other crops. All this happens through an entirely safe method. The public toilet of Musiri provides sanitation and dignity to people who were forced to defecate in the open earlier. It also contributes to food security, underlining the immense role sanitation programmes can play in improving not just public health, but also public wealth.

All the 14 toilets here are designed to separate urine from faeces. When a user sits on these commodes, the urine slants off a slope in front, going into a little hole. From there, it goes into a storage tank, which is taken to the fields. Urine is largely free of pathogens, and is a rich source of nitrogen and phosphorus. (India is the largest importer of phosphate in the world, and this is a small way to reduce the import bill.)

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The faeces fall down into an enclosed chamber, where they stay dry. After defecation, the user steps back to wash herself or himself over a small basin. Water from this is guided to a small charcoal filter, which makes it safe to be discharged into the ground. The users are encouraged to throw down some mud on the faces to further dry it out. There is not much bad smell; one of the reasons for foul odour from toilets is the mixing of urine and faces. If you can separate the two, the smell is not unbearable, the users of the toilet point out.

What happens when the pit underneath fills up? Well, each toilet enclosure has two commodes. When the tank underneath one fills up with faeces, it is closed and the second commode is opened. This allows the faeces to degrade naturally. By the time the other receptacle fills up, the faeces in the first one decompose into mud that is safe to touch. It has no pathogens that naturally occupy our faces. So, by the time one faeces pit fills up, the other gets emptied. This ensures that each toilet enclosure remains functional right through the year. One of the two pits always have faces decomposing naturally and safely.

This mud is rich in carbon, which is applied to farmlands. (The soil of hot regions loses carbon rapidly because of the heat of direct sunlight. It is, hence, important to continually add carbon to the soil to keep it productive, a practice farmers have followed in India since millennia.) This is in sync with the natural cycle of soil nutrients, of which humans are merely one part. In nature, most nutrients of the soil go back into the soil, creating new plants, new life. Water-borne sewage takes soil nutrients – that we consume as food, and evacuate as urine and faces – out of the ground and puts it in water. This impoverishes the soil and contaminates the water.

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The Musiri toilet follows the principle of ‘Closing The Loop’, ensuring soil nutrients are returned safely to the soil and water in not contaminated. The public toilet of Musiri does not require water-borne sewerage or underground soak/leach pits. In fact, the story of this public toilet is deeply linked to groundwater.

Situated so close to the Cauvery river, right on the banks of one of its irrigation canals, this part of Musiri has a very high groundwater table. When toilets were being built here under a sanitation drive, underground soak/leach pits turned very inconvenient. Groundwater seeped into them, making the excreta float up. This is when SCOPE, a social organisation in Tiruchirapalli, learned of ‘ecological sanitation’ through some government officials. Since then, SCOPE has built more than 2,000 toilets based on Ecological Sanitation, or EcoSan for short.

EcoSan is based on the work of Swedish architect and town planner Uno Winblad. He developed this in the 1970s, while working in water-scarce Ethiopia. Several parts of Asia, however, have been building toilets based on this concept since ancient times. In India, for example, the traditional toilet in Ladakh – called Chhagra – is designed to collect excreta, which is applied to the soil. In the cold, trans-Himalayan desert of Ladakh, traditional wisdom forbids the wasting of any resources, especially soil nutrients.

EcoSan works in dry areas as well as in flooded areas. It shows why we must learn from those who face serious problems, and find ways to overcome them.

*Author is a journalist and a research fellow at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi. He is the author of Jal Thal Mal, a Hindi book released recently, which tackles the science of sanitation.

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Swachh Bharat : The Mission Marches On

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Author : S.M. Shah Nawaz

India is all set to lead the comity of nations in the times to come with its economy poised to become one of the largest in the world in foreseeable future. The nation is surging ahead with great pace on the path of economic development. However, can we really achieve our goals without meeting the social and environmental parameters? The first and foremost amongst such parameters is cleanliness. We cannot afford to put the filth under the carpet of development.

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Gandhiji visualized cleanliness in three ways – a clean mind, a clean body and clean surroundings. Holding that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, he once emphatically wrote, “We can no more gain God’s blessing with an unclean body than with an unclean mind. A clean body cannot reside in an unclean city. So long as you do not take the broom and the bucket in your hands, you cannot make your towns and cities clean”.

And on Gandhi Jayanti two years ago, the Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi just did that – he took the broom right in his hands and spurred the whole country into action. Shri. Modi said “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019,” as he launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in New Delhi on 2nd October 2014.

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The five-year long campaign was launched across the country as a national movement with an aim to turn it into a ‘Jan Andolan’ and change the face of the country by 2019. The countrymen responded very enthusiastically to the call and people from all walks of life have come forward and joined this mass movement of cleanliness.

However, keeping the streets, lanes and by-lanes of the country is not the only objective. There are many more goals to achieve.

According to an UN report, India accounts for a major portion of the over 1.1 billion people in the world who practice open defecation. Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate. Society does not view the lack of a toilet as unacceptable. Building and owning a toilet is not perceived as aspirational. Construction of toilets is still seen as the government’s responsibility rather than a priority that individual households should take responsibility for.

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The challenge is to motivate people to see a toilet as fundamental to their social standing, status and well-being. The practice of open defecation is not limited to rural India. It is found in urban areas too where the percentage of people who defecate in the open is around 12 percent, while in rural settings it is about 65 percent.  Open defecation poses a serious health threat especially to children. The practice is the main reason India reports a very high number of diarrhoeal deaths among children under-five. Children weakened by frequent diarrhoea episodes are more vulnerable to malnutrition, stunting, and opportunistic infections such as pneumonia. This is not at all surprising that percentage of children in India suffering from some degree of malnutrition is very high. Diarrhoea and worm infection are two major health conditions that affect school-age children impacting their learning abilities.

The faecal-oral route is also an important polio transmission pathway. Open defecation increases communities’ risk of polio infection. Open defecation also puts at risk the dignity of women in India. Women feel constrained to relieve themselves only under the cover of darkness for reasons of privacy to protect their dignity.

The Union Government wants to change the situation completely. It wants to completely eliminate the practice of open defecation by 2019. The work is in full swing for the construction of crores of toilets all across the nation – both in rural and urban areas. With this, the Government is also streamlining and upgrading the sewage system wherever required.

“Educating girls is also my priority. I have noticed that girls drop out of schools by the time they reach class 3rd or 4th just because schools don’t have separate toilets for them. They don’t feel comfortable. There should be toilets for boys and girls in all schools.

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We should concentrate on girl students not quitting schools” said the Prime Minister on the Teachers Day two years ago on 5th September 2014, few days before he launched the mission. Therefore, Swachh Vidyalaya concept also became an essential component of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

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To encourage people to take the Mission forward, Prime Minister Modi on his popular radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, has been constantly lauding the efforts of organizations and individuals who have been contributing positively towards the Swachh Bharat Mission. And this too is having the desired effect.

The Government can provide the required infrastructure and undertake various campaigns to spread awareness about the importance of cleanliness and it is most earnestly trying to do so but it is the people of India who need to adopt the concept of the mission wholeheartedly and make necessary behavioral changes in their attitudes and approach to make this ‘Jan Andolan’ a grand success. What we really need to do is to make cleanliness, a part of our primary school curriculum, and we need to practice it throughout our lives.

*Author is a senior journalist of long standing and is the Editor of an Urdu fortnightly.

Mahatma Gandhi : My Life is My Message

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Author : Justice C.S. Dharmadhikari

Special Feature-2 on Gandhi Jayanti

Mahatama Gandhi summed up his philosophy of life with the words, “My Life is my Message”. His multifarious and dynamic personality was based on truth and nothing but the truth. Non – violence was another intrinsic element of this philosophy.

At the All India Congress Committee meeting in Bombay on 8th August, 1942, that is, on the eve of Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi declared, “I want to live full span of my life and according to me, the full span of life is 125 years. By that time, India will not only be free but the whole world will be free.

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Mahatma Gandhi giving the Quit India speech on August 8, 1942, on the eve of the Quit India movement.

Today, I do not believe that Englishmen are free, I do not believe that Americans are free. They are free to do what? To hold other part of humanity in bondage? Are they fighting for their liberty? I am not arrogant. I am not a proud man. I know the distinction between pride, arrogance, insolence and so on. But what I am saying is, I believe, in the voice of God. It is the fundamental truth that I am telling you.”

Gandhi was the most normal of men. He was universal, such a man cannot be measured, weighed, or estimated. He is the measure of all things. Gandhi was not a philosopher, nor a politician. He was a humble seeker of truth. Truth unites, because it can be only one. You can cut a man’s head, but not his thoughts. Non – violence is the only other aspect of the sterling coin of truth. Non – violence is love, the very content of life.

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Gandhi leading the 1930 Salt March, a notable example of Satyagraha.

In this principle of non–violence, Gandhi introduced technique of resistance to evil and untruth. His Satyagraha is inspired by boundless love and compassion. It is opposed to sin, not sinner, the evil, not evil doer. For him truth was God and in that sense he was man of God. Truth is not yours or mine. It is neither Western nor Eastern.

Gandhi’s prayer stands for invoking the inner strength of men for the good of one another, his spinning wheel for dignity of productive labour, and broomstick for abolition of social inequalities based on birth. He wanted freedom from rule of merchandise. He wanted rationality in productive system, which should be based on human rationality. He was not an orthodox economist. His plan was peace, security and progress for human race as a whole.  He believed that the planning should be based on ‘Man Power’ rather than horse power. These issues are not restricted to India, but are global in nature. These principles are universal. He insisted on individual code of conduct. He introduced an entirely new dimension in technique of social transformation.

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Gandhi picking up grains of salt at the end of his march

One cannot comprehend Satyagraha without connecting it with Constructive Work or the Ashram observances. Gandhi, the statesman and the fighter for freedom, could not have been like what he was, had he not been Gandhi, the social reformer, and Gandhi, the saint. It is the quest for truth in all its glory that creates Gandhi, the man.

Gandhi never pretended to be consistent with previously held views in his life. He readily abandoned his stands when he felt the need to do so. These “inconsistencies” often infuriated his antagonists, who felt that he was a “slippery” politician. I think his inconsistencies were more a reflection of an ever – growing personality to whom consistency was less important than being true to the inner voice of truth as understood at any given point of time.

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Gandhi ji took up the ancient but powerful idea of Ahimsa or non – violence and made it familiar throughout the world, particularly in political and economic field. However, non – violence means more than the mere absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful and dynamic and Gandhiji combined it with a sense of responsibility for the welfare of people. His great achievement was to demonstrate through his own example that non – violence can be implemented effectively not only in the political arena, but also in our day – to – day life. His whole life was his experiment with truth.

He knew that human dignity cannot be preserved on charity. Mutuality and well – being is the essence of life. It is therefore S+G that is “Science plus Gandhi”, which alone can save a planet earth. Gandhi was an apostle of peace and brotherhood. The modern nuclear weapons, not only pose a grave threat to world peace but will destroy mother earth. Apart from the ecological sustainable model of development preached by Gandhi, decentralistion of socio – economic power based on non – violence, and building up of people’s power, communal harmony based on people’s initiative, rather than the state power is the only alternative.

The 20th century was the most violent period in human history. More people have suffered and have been killed by organized violence than any other time before. The wars, the genocides, the weapons of mass destruction have created such an enormous mass misery and agony that it is difficult to find any trace of hope. Therefore, Gandhi’s teachings of non – violence are most relevant today. Now, though late, there is a realization that there is no other alternative. This is the reason why amidst report of increasing teenage violence across the United States, a bill have been introduced in New Jersey Assembly seeking to include Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of non – violence in the school curriculum. On 12th May 2000, on Mother’s Day in New York, several thousand mothers resolved and demanded a ban on the manufacture of arms, and its use. Therefore, in my view the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant but also the only alternative.

Some people seem to think that compassion or non-violence is just a passive emotional response, rather than a rational stimulus to action. They forget that Gandhi combined it with a sense of responsibility. He was not a mere onlooker but was an active participant. He first followed and then preached. He was a leader in real sense of the said term. Whenever there was a risk to life he was at the fore front and never had a desire for power or wealth. Sacrifice was key word of his life. He lived a simple need based life because he knew that needs have an end whereas greed is endless. Gandhiji knew that “In times to come people will not judge us by the creed we profess or label we wear or the slogans we shout, but by our work, industry, sacrifice, honesty and purity of character.” He also knew that man who wants freedom has to take tremendous risk. That was essence of his life, that is why he could say that “My Life is My Message”.

*Author, formerly the Acting Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, is currently the Chairman, Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha and Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon.

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