The population of the United States, every man, woman, and child, is about 319 million and counting. Think about it. That is a lot of folks.
But if you double that number, you have just about the number of people in India who poop outdoors. I’m not kidding. From The Wall Street Journal:
Some 620 million people across India defecate outside, the largest number world-wide. About 70% of rural Indians don’t use toilets, and 28 million children have no toilet facilities in school, according to Unicef. It is common practice for India’s mothers to dispose of their children’s waste in the open.
So, why is it that 70% of India’s rural population still don’t use indoor toilets, particularly since India’s rural economy is, according to Forbes, “booming”? The magazine says that rural wages “have risen by close to 15% per annum over the past ten years, compared to city wages which are down more than 2% over the same period.” So, again, why do these folks resist indoor dumping? The Wall Street Journal offers us a reason:
In rural areas, defecating outside has been the natural choice for centuries, said Vijayaraghavan Chariar, a sanitation expert at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology. “There’s a reason it’s known as ‘nature’s call,’ ” he said. “Some feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.”
That may seem odd to us. How can anyone, even rural people, not see the obvious health benefits of sanitary, poop-disposing plumbing? Why would anyone want to do their dirty work out in the open when they don’t have to?
Before we get too judgmental, maybe we should look at something that happened here in my state, in rural Missouri, that I will connect to those rural folks in India who prefer defecating in public.
Rosebud is a little town in the east central part of Missouri and, as per the 2010 census, boasts a population of 409 souls. Those souls are, overwhelmingly, animating white bodies. It would be difficult, probably impossible, to find in Rosebud one soul inhabiting an African-American body. And, knowing what I know about small towns in Missouri, most of the white-bodied souls in Rosebud belong to, or claim they belong to, Jesus, their savior and, presumably, their behavioral compass.
It happened last week that a group of about 75 demonstrators passed through Rosebud on their way to Jefferson City. The 134-mile demonstration march, organized by the NAACP and called “Journey for Justice,” began in Ferguson. The demonstrators, as USA Today reported, hoped “to bring light and attention to the disproportionate number of African-American men and boys who are killed by law enforcement officers across the country.”
But many of the white, Jesus-fearing folks of Rosebud—and of a neighboring city called Gerald, four miles away, population 1,345 and just as white—didn’t much appreciate the light and attention that the marchers, both black and white, were bringing through their town.
According to St. Louis Public Radio, the demonstrators “were greeted with the words ‘Shoot Thieves’ spray-painted on a large container.” In Gerald, they were greeted by, among others, these two good ol’ boys:
Rhea Willis, a public school instructor in St. Louis, was one of the marchers, along with her 15-year-old daughter. As St. Louis Public Radio reported, they and others had to endure being called “thieves” and yells of “Get a job! Get off welfare!” Then there was this:
One of the most disheartening sights, Rhea said, was seeing a young boy, about the age of 8, hold up a sign that said, “Go home, nigger.”
“It wasn’t a shock because I know how these small counties in Missouri are,” Rhea said. “I expected it, but it wasn’t until you actually see it. Wow, it was amazing.”
While their bus was stopped and empty, someone shot at a window and shattered the glass. Some townsfolk left out 40-ounce beer cans, chicken wings and watermelon. Rhea said one woman was supportive and told them, “Good job!” But a man next to her said, “Yea, they are good niggers.”
It’s easy for Americans to look down on or even pity those rural people in India who have been defecating outside for centuries, who “feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.” But what happened last week in rural Missouri is just another kind of long-standing tradition, another kind of open defecation, another kind of human behavior that is connected to poor social health.
And although, fortunately, there aren’t as many people around these days who defecate in public, metaphorically or otherwise, there is still much work to be done to help ensure that human waste, whether it comes out of one end or the other, is not polluting the commonweal.