New Delhi, Nov 18: What has a toilet got to do with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project, the Swachh Bharat Andolan (Clean India Mission)? Actually, a lot, especially when a report ahead of the World Toilet Day 2017, to be observed on Sunday (November 19), says that 732 million Indians have no access to toilets or clean toilets and are thus forced to defecate in the open.
India, the world's second-largest country by population, has the highest number of people without basic sanitation, according to the report.
The report says despite immense progress through the Swachh Bharat Mission, more than 732 million people still suffer fear and indignity of relieving themselves in the open or in unsafe or unhygienic toilets--a situation that is worse for women and girls.
"In India, a staggering 355 million women and girls are still waiting for a toilet; if they were all to stand in a queue, it would stretch around the Earth more than four times!," WaterAid's State of the World's Toilets 2017 report says.
The report, quoting government data, says there has undoubtedly been immense progress made in improving access to sanitation by working with the Swachh Bharat Mission -- with 52 million household toilets built between October 2014 and November 2017.
"India also ranks in the top ten for reducing open defecation and improving access to basic sanitation. But there is still a long way to go," says the report, titled "Out of Order".
According to the report, after India, China, the world's most populous country, comes in second, with 343 million people without decent toilets. However, it too has made a lot of progress since 2000, when 40 percent of the population lacked basic sanitation.
Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, is in the third place.
The report says globally, one in three people still have nowhere decent to go to the toilet, and demonstrates how women and girls bear the brunt of this global crisis.
For more than 1.1 billion women and girls, this injustice results in an increased risk of poor health, limited education, lost opportunities, vulnerability, and embarrassment of having to go out in the open.
According to VK Madhavan, chief executive for WaterAid India, India is making rapid progress in improving sanitation under the ongoing Swachh Bharat Andolan.
"We need to ensure inclusion, recognising the importance of safe and accessible toilets specific to the needs of the differently-abled, the elderly, the poorest, as well as women and adolescent girls," it said.
WaterAid is an international charity that engages in improving access to safe water, hygiene, and sanitation.
At an event in Delhi in September, while paying tributes to Swami Vivekananda on the anniversary of his speech at the World Congress of Religions in Chicago, PM Modi stressed on the need to build toilets.
"We have to build shauchalaya [toilets] before devalaya [temples]," he said.
To fulfill Modi's wish, the Centre and the state governments need to ensure that those who don't have access to toilets or clean and safe toilets get their rights at the earliest.