First, let’s have a look at the commonality lest this remark by Jairam Ramesh, the Rural Development Minister ends up comparing two uniquely different things. I think the commonality lies in both being answers to one’s inner needs. Once the call of God or nature is heard, for some, it is difficult to have the feeling all pent-up without release.
But, why did the honourable (sorry, not honourable, since Pranab da has ordained that even the President shouldn’t be called honourable. Indeed, taking a cue from this, most ministers prefer to be called what they are, ie, dishonourable; but are afraid this might invite charges of sedition) minister place toilets a notch above the temples? I feel that the simple reason is that whilst you can satisfy the pressures of your inner voice and yearning for the omnipotent and the omnipresent right in the open; satisfying the needs of your bowels in the open is counted as uncivilised conduct in most countries other than in India.
Do the ministers really have this penchant to compare public edifices to toilets? If the answer is yes, as it appears to be, then why did they not take it sportively when one Aseem Trivedi compared the temple of Indian democracy, ie, the Parliament, to a toilet?
Temples and Toilets both are totally secular words; they don’t really give away the religious attachments or sentiments of the visitors: one can be in a temple of any religion; similarly, what you do in a toilet doesn’t give away your religion. Perhaps, the only thing that can be brought out through this attempt to compare is that even religion has outlived its communal stance. It is high time that it too becomes more private (Read: ‘Whose God Is It Anyway?‘). I would rather have my religion in the temple of my heart rather than wear it on my sleeve at all times. It is better to be Good than Religious in the way religion has come to be interpreted these days.
I am apolitical too and have no real bias towards any political party as such. However, I feel that the minister has not driven by the desire to scandalise through the comparison. He has, indeed, brought out a harsh reality of the Indian rural scene. It was only recently in the history of free India that carrying night soil was banned. It was indeed the most humiliating thing for a human being to do. Even after the ban, with our burgeoning population causing severe scarcity of toilets, the scenes of open defecation in our country are ubiquitous. I lived in a much cleaner part of Mumbai, near the Afghan church, when I was in the navy. Even there, dozens of people, from the nearby colony, did their things in the open at any times of the day. I was quick to draw a ministerial comparison that whilst Japan is called the ‘Land-of-the-Rising-Sun’, most of our villages and cities can be called ‘Land-of-the-Rising-Bums’.
Such open defecation doesn’t bring out equal rights of men and women; the former are seen to be doing their things by taking aims at the walls and bushes whereas the latter are handicapped in this pursuit. Women, as compared to men, do require toilets. They often expose themselves to derision and lust when their need overcomes their decency and there are no toilets around for them.
Similarly, lets look at the needs and civic sense of our children. In Dharavi, as of now, there are 750 people to a toilet and hence most children learn their first civic lesson from their parents; which is to consider the whole world as a toilet bowl. When Swami Vivekananda visited the USA and he was asked what regime or religious routine he’d recommend for children, he replied, “I think, for children, football should be more important than religion.” He wasn’t scandalising anyone, exactly how Jairam Ramesh isn’t. We need to build more toilets for our people, especially for women and children.
Why do we, as Indians, pretend to be shocked when someone makes a bold statement which is as factual as that we need more teachers than godmen, or more upright citizens than politicians. Would it have been alright if the minister had said we need more doctors than cricketers and more engineers than actors?
Why do we sulk and protest if someone shows us the mirror? And lets face it; if the Minister for Rural Development hadn’t used this comparison we would have refused to see the mirror.
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