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Greg Rodgers

India: No Toilet, No Bride

By November 26, 2012

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India Rajasthan Village

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Forget diamonds, first things first. Indian women in rural villages are being pushed to filter future husbands based on a more useful requirement: indoor lavatories.

In a recent speech to villagers in Rajasthan, India's Rural Development Minister advised young women not to consider marrying a suitor unless he has an indoor toilet.

While the new government-backed campaign may sound a bit absurd, it is an unfortunate reality. Only 50% of households in the world's second-most populated country have indoor toilets, making India the 'world's largest open-air toilet' according to the same minister.

Of those that do have toilets, only 11% are properly connected to the sewer system; the rest of the waste ends up in the great outdoors and eventually water sources. Scores of tiny villages (photo right) don't have a single toilet.

Not good news for locals and travelers alike, both of which inevitably suffer from the dreaded 'Delhi belly'. Many visitors to India become well acquainted with squat toilets at least once during their trip.

While poverty in rural regions is an obvious culprit, a matter of priorities may be a factor as well. Around 75% of the population -- more than 900 million people -- owns cell phone subscriptions; satellite dishes in tiny villages are often a common sight.

While visiting Rajasthan last month, I did see plenty of shepherds furiously texting on mobile phones while tending their flocks, often in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, with privacy a rare luxury, women are forced to take care of business outdoors after dark when they cannot be seen.

But who is to blame? Critics are quick to point out that India is a nuclear superpower and maintains a space program, so indoor plumbing should be a given.

Unfortunately, just given the sheer size of the population, properly treating that much sewage is a real issue. The amount of water -- already a threatened resource -- needed to flush fancy new toilets would create a new problem.

The Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh, isn't making many new friends by undertaking such a controversial and unpopular issue.

But who knows, this Indian woman jokingly claims that she's already holding out for a bidet!

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