Are there really more mobile phones than toilets in slums?

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had once commented that there are more toilets than mobile phones in India. With the census board putting out numbers for the "slum census" of 2011, it might be useful to look at penetration of toilets and mobile phones in slums! The data on the website is only state-wise but it suggests that the Minister's comment is untrue in the slums of most states.
Data Source: Census 2011 

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had once commented that women prefer to have mobile phones than have toilets. With the census board putting out numbers for the “slum census” of 2011, it might be useful to look at penetration of toilets and mobile phones in slums! The data on the website is only state-wise but it suggests that in most states, more slum-dwellers have access to toilets than to mobile phones.

PS: The original post has quoted the Minister incorrectly. This has been remedied.

Exponential* Growth in Toilet Ownership in Karnataka

How rural sanitation has improved in Karnataka's districts and taluks between 2001 and 2011. The graph shows that there is a strong link between the magnitude of a district or a taluk's improvement in the last decade to its starting position in 2001. While not conclusive, this is evidence for a possible peer effect in adoption of toilets in rural areas
How rural sanitation has improved in Karnataka’s districts and taluks between 2001 and 2011. The graph shows that there is a strong link between the magnitude of a district or a taluk’s improvement in the last decade to its starting position in 2001. While not conclusive, this is evidence for a possible peer effect in adoption of toilets in rural areas

Contributed by Pavan Srinath

Cross-posted on Catalyst, with more detailed analysis.

* Time for some wonkish gyaan. People normally tend to describe any superlinear growth as “exponential”. However, that is incorrect. Exponential growth is one that follows a particular formula, like this one.

Here, we see that the growth in toilets in a particular time period is proportional to the number of toilets at the beginning of the time period. So the growth of toilets can be described by the following equation, which as you can see represents exponential growth.

Change in number of toilets is proportional to initial number of toilets, thus representing exponential growth
Change in number of toilets is proportional to initial number of toilets, thus representing exponential growth

Loos in India

Ok so this took a real long time coming. It might have been up to five years since I first thought of this post, but so far have never gotten down to writing it. The normal disgust warnings apply. So if you are either eating or have just eaten or feel remotely like throwing up, I request you to read no further. In this post, I want to talk about the culture of shitting (yeah I’ll use the shit word. Direct and disgusting it is) in India and effects of that on current culture and morality.

Before you read further, I would urge you to read about the Aryan Code of Toilets (1500 BC). Thanks to Amit Varma for the pointer. Quoting:

  • Before going for defecation it was prescribed that the sacred thread should be rolled to a smaller size and be put on the right ear.
  • The head was to be covered with a cloth. In the absence of cloth, the sacred thread was to be brought over the head and was to be hung on the left ear.
  • Then while observing silence and facing north in the day and south in the night one could defecate.
  • So one of my questions is now answered of course. I hope you read the article, it explains a lot more. So from this article it is clear that according to the great Indian tradition, shitting is a ritual no less. And though this document doesn’t mention it, it is generally understood that you shit once, early in the morning after you wake up. Shitting more often or at irregular times is a sign of illness or indiscipline.

    My hypothesis is that it is because of this “custom” or “cultural aspect” that we don’t have good public loos in India. Since shitting at irregular times is looked down upon, it wasn’t considered a good idea to encourage this “indisciplined” practice by providing good public loos. Ok it may not have been on purpose but since shitting at non-regular times (not early in the morning) wasn’t a done thing no one really talked about it and the results (abysmal public toilet infrastructure) are here to stay. It is only in modern offices where indisciplined foreignerrs visit regularly that you have good public loos!

    Then, in India, there was a major lag between urbanization and development of public sewerage system because of which loos had to be placed away from the rest of the house. Soon¬† this became a practice, and this further discouraged people from “going” at irregular times. And the delay in arrival of water closets and public sewerage kept the class of people called “night soil collectors” in business much longer than it needed to and this prolonged the incidence of untouchability (this is supposed to have been beautifully captured in Mulk Raj Anand’s The Untouchable).

    The other impact of shitting being a ritual is that it is not a done thing to go to the loo in other people’s houses. Some people plain get offended if you ask them if you can use their loo, and consequently it is a bit embarrassing for guests here to enquire if they can use the loo. Thankfully there have been no Tycho Brahes in India (wasn’t he the guy that died of a bladder burst because he thought it would be impolite to the queen if he excused himself? ), or if there have been they haven’t been reported thus!

    An unrelated (to the rest of the post) thought – steel and quality cement and elevators are all fine, but don’t you think one of the most important pre-requisites for the building of skyscrapers was the water closet? Just think about it.

  • Before going for defecation it was prescribed that the sacred thread should be rolled to a smaller size and be put on the right ear.
  • The head was to be covered with a cloth. In the absence of cloth, the sacred thread was to be brought over the head and was to be hung on the left ear.
  • Then while observing silence and facing north in the day and south in the night one could defecate.