Sorry for the distasteful pun in the title of this post, but I simply couldn’t resist. The fight against public defecation and the promotion of toilet use – euphemistically called “public sanitation” – is an important human rights issue. Public health is at risk when lots of people regularly defecate in the streets, and good health is a human right. Giving people toilets and promoting the use of toilets is therefore an important public policy.
However, it seems that in some places, such as in rural India, the policy leads to coercion:
[T]he measures used to encourage the use of toilets range from stone-throwing and public humiliation to bizarre scare stories about congenital abnormalities. …
[I]n the southern Indian state of Karnataka … India’s national Total Sanitation Campaign had led to an astonishing rise from 20% toilet usage in the area to almost 100% in just two years. … Previous efforts to build toilets in the area failed to ensure actual use. They were often used to store firewood or chickens while families continued to defecate outdoors. …
The barriers to toilet usage were often emotional as much as practical. A Rajasthani once waxed lyrical to me on the joys of open defecation: “I used to go out into the desert with all my friends. We had our favourite spot – it was very beautiful and clean. Afterwards we’d all play games together, and then go again.”
Contrast this experience with the foul toilets at bus stations and hospitals, many people’s only experience of defecating indoors, and you get some idea of why officials and community leaders were united in viewing emotions as the key battleground for improved sanitation. From our very first meeting, everyone from senior bureaucrats to local kindergarten teachers talked proudly of their innovative approach to “persuading” the more reluctant members of the community to construct a toilet.
At its mildest, this meant squads of teachers and youths, who patrolled the fields and blew whistles when they spotted people defecating. Schoolchildren whose families did not have toilets were humiliated in the classroom. Men followed women – and vice versa – all day, denying people the opportunity even to urinate. …
Equally common, though, were more questionable tactics. Squads threw stones at people defecating. Women were photographed and their pictures displayed publicly. The local government institution, the gram panchayat, threatened to cut off households’ water and electricity supplies until their owners had signed contracts promising to build latrines. (source)
One more example of good intentions not being enough. More ironic human rights violations here.