For a country grappling with the problem of open defecation, having a toilet at home is mandatory for anyone hoping to take public office.
Krina Patel, a Congress candidate running in a local election in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad district was rejected after it was found that her house in Kanbha village, from where she was filing her nomination, did not have a toilet. The nomination was rejected after the point was raised by her Bharatiya Janata Party opponents.
The politician had disclosed her possessions as owning a flat, a car worth INR 1 million ($13,748) and gold worth INR 1.5 million ($20,623) but admitted before the Election Commission officials that her house in the village did not have a bathroom.
Ahmedabad is the same district where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the country is now open defecation free in 2019 while commemorating the 150-year anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi‘s birth, a day dedicated by the Indian government to meeting its sanitation goals.
As many as three million government employees and students from all parts of India were pressed into service in cities, towns and rural areas to ensure the construction of toilets. In 60 months, India built 110 million toilets for more than 600 million people, Modi said in October 2019, at the conclusion of the five-year Clean India Campaign.
But the switch to using a toilet is more behavioural than infrastructural, said Harsh Goel, a government employee in the state of Punjab and a frontline worker engaged in spreading awareness against open defecation.
“How would you expect an elected representative to inspire people and set an example if she herself does not have access to a toilet?” said Harsh, commenting on the rejected candidate.
The problem of open defecation is acute in the country, and a 2017 report of the World Health Organisation estimated that nearly 344 million people do not have regular access to toilets. Even though the Modi government declared the country open defecation free in 2019, it continues to allocate huge sums of money in its annual budgets to achieve this goal.