The News Minute| August 22, 2014| 7.00 am IST
Interview & photographs: Neetu Jakhar Report: Rebecca Megson
Karnataka State has a population of 61 million, which is roughly the same as the UK. Its capital city, Bangalore, is known as ‘India’s silicon valley’, home to 2000 Information Technology firms, including the headquarters of India’s largest software companies like Infosys, Wipro and TCS. Unsurprisingly 95% of households in Bangalore have a loo.
But there is another, less shiny, side to Karnataka State. Travelling a mere 50 kilometres from Bangalore to Hosdeddi Village our correspondent Neetu Jakar spoke to 39-year old mother of two,Manjamma about her experience of living in rural Karnataka.
“I have a small piece of land and small scale farming is what supports the basic needs of my family. It is just enough for us to feed ourselves.”
Manjamma lives with her two sons, Nagaraj and Vinod. Her husband does not live with them and Manjamma takes on the primary responsibility for supporting the family. Her sons are self-employed masons and work is not always guaranteed.
Culture, tradition and a lack of education are the primary reasons for the practice of open defecation in India but even in rural areas opinion is shifting. Manjamma wants to have a toilet but cannot afford the £150 it would cost to build one.
“We do not have a toilet at home. Constructing one will require around 15,000 Indian Rupees, which my family cannot afford. We use the open field surrounding our village to relieve ourselves.”
“If I could afford to build a toilet for my family, I would not have to worry about going out at odd times. I can keep it clean and avoid the spread of diseases.”
Manjamma says the lack of toilets affects women far more than men. Safety is a key concern for her. Going out into the dark field late at night is not something that she wants to do by herself, although usually she does not have any choice.
“It is not nice for women to go outside to defecate. That's why every home should have a toilet. It is not much of a trouble for my sons, but I am personally not very comfortable.”
“Especially during the night if I do not have somebody to accompany me, I am always frightened. The fields are dark and I avoid going too far.”
Manjamma worries for the future. When her sons marry, they will bring their wives to live with them and Manjamma is concerned about the lack of facilities at her house. “My biggest worry is how I can make life more convenient and safe for their wives and children in the future.”
“I want to provide a safe living environment for my sons and their family. I want to ensure my grandchildren are well educated and can get a good paying job.”
The village has all the other basic facilities such as electricity and a water supply and Manjamma is determined to improve the family situation so that she can achieve a safe and supportive environment that will increase the prospects for her grandchildren.
“I am saving money so I can buy cattle and also open a small shop so that I can earn a regular income for my family while my sons try and look for a permanent job.”
For Manjamma saving her money to invest in a future in which she can support herself and her wider family has to take top priority if her vision for her grandchildren is going to be realized. She is pleased that the new government is talking about building toilets and hopeful that this is more than mere rhetoric.
“I have heard that the Government wants to build a toilet for every home in our country. I really wish this promise is kept.”
Back in the capital city of Bangalore, which looks and feels much like any other international, prosperous city, it is hard to register that the plight of Manjamma and the millions of women like her exists just down the road. There are shopping malls, hotels that look like palaces and shiny skyscrapers emblazoned with household global names towering above the streets. Millions of lakh are poured into construction and building across the city.
The economic growth of India depends on this continued expansion. But it also depends on the health and wellbeing of women like Manjamma. The Gates Foundation suggest that there is a staggering five fold return on every dollar invested in sanitation and toilets. Eliminating open defecation can make a significant contribution in terms of social and economic benefits for India, by increasing productivity, reducing healthcare costs, preventing illnesses, disability and early deaths.For women like Manjamma it can provide a sense of everyday safety, taken for granted in the West, to enable her to get on with the business of making a living and building a future for her grandchildren.