In coastal regions, some people are used to defecating on the beach as they have to go fishing early in the morning. In some places, sea erosion has damaged houses and left toilets unusable.

Pixabay image of a Kerala beach
news Sanitation and hygiene Thursday, September 02, 2021 - 08:57

Manjush, a traveller from West Bengal, visited Kerala in January 2021. Staying in a homestay in Poovar, he had a very bad experience when visiting the nearby beaches. “When you go the popular beaches here, what puts you off is the plastic waste strewn all around. But in Poovar when I visited some of the lesser-known beaches, I saw men defecating in the open and washing in the sea. I once accidentally stepped on human faeces,” he recalled. “I knew open defecation is quite common across our country, including my state, but I didn’t expect it in Kerala,” he added.

In 2018, Kerala was declared an open defecation free state. But travelling through some of the regions in the state, it is apparent that the declaration is not valid. Coastal regions are one of the main examples of this. Those who visit rural beaches that have no crowds have the unpleasant experience of spotting or stepping on human faeces.

“Kerala becomes the first high density populated state in the country to achieve Open Defecation Free status today on its formation day,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced in a tweet in January 2018. But some regions in the state still need awareness to complete the achievement. In coastal regions, some people are used to the practice of defecating on the beach as they have to go fishing early in the morning.

“Fisherfolk go to the beach at 2 am or 3 am to check the weather conditions at sea. After reaching there, they don’t go back home for their morning necessities. This is an issue across the state, however the younger generations are not practising it,” Jackson Pollayil, President of the Kerala Independent Fisher Workers Federation, told TNM. He added that since the fishermen have to go to work early in the morning, it is a question of how to solve the issue.

Charles George, Mathsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi President, also echoes the same opinion. “The older generation has been practising it. Now there is a rule that bigger boats should have toilet facilities,” he said.

Kristuraj, a 45-year-old fisherman from Thiruvananthapuram’s Pozhikkara, says, “Not everyone does it, but a few people follow this habit even now, conveniently defecating in the sand. It’s a nuisance not only for visitors but for other fishermen too. The offenders know our children come to play here in the sand, but they are not bothered,” he said.

The fishermen associations are not very focused on the issue as they have to deal with a lot of other troubles faced by the community. “We have warned them about this many times. Though they have a toilet at home, they find it easy to defecate on the beach. They say they need to go to work early in the day. We have no idea how to solve this issue,” Roseline, a former panchayat ward member from a coastal village in Thiruvananthapuram, said.

On the other hand, the community also faces the issue of lack of toilets. Massive beach erosion and high tides have caused major damage to the houses and toilets of people living in many of the coastal regions.

Amina, who lives near Kozhikode’s South Beach, says they depend on open air for defecation. “Most of the toilets in our area were destroyed by the sea. Some of them were partially destroyed, with the roof and door gone missing. Since our houses are so close to the sea, new construction is not allowed. Men go to the toilet easily in the open, we wait till late night,” she said. Most of the houses are on poramboke land so the municipality also does not help them.

Similar is the situation in Thiruvananthapuram’s Valiyathura, where the toilets and houses were destroyed in sea attacks, following which the residents have been forced to defecate in the open.

“Across the state many of the toilets have been damaged due to sea erosion. There are still many houses in the coastal areas with no proper toilets. Many residents are also forced to live in relief camps for a long time,” Mageline Philomina Yohannan, a renowned activist working among the fishing community, said.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.