Age of Kali – Toilets, Not Temples

 In a fit of exasperation an Indian Minister for Rural Development uttered the lines that shocked the saffron fundies of India.

India Needs More Toilets Than Temples.

When I am asked what I think the greatest invention in the history of healthcare is, I say that the biggest invention of public medicine is Sanitation.

Clean Drinking Water, Refuse Disposal and Sewage.

Taps, Bins and Toilets.

India’s toilets are legendary among travellers to India. The squat toilet does have a slightly bad reputation but one that I will dispel for you.

They are better for your health. That’s right. The porcelain throne is not the better toilet. The squat position is more natural and helps produce a higher level of abdominal pressure to aid with defaecation. But all is not lost. You too can gain such an advantage by a simple and elegant solution that combines the best of both.

Take a foot stool with you, pop your feet up on it and get the same benefit of changing your position and aiding.

But back to the problem. To many travellers using the squat toilet is not just an achievement but a rite of passage. It’s something as mundane as having a shit taken to such a new and terrifying place.

Terrifying because most Indian toilets are terrifying holes in the ground. To us in the west and indeed in the more richer parts of India, the toilet is an expression of the house. We spend money on porcelain fittings and take care to keep them clean. Public toilets in India are fetid urine and shit soaked terror hole.

I am tough as nails and one of the first things I did to my clinic was fork out my own money for a PROPER bathroom. Unlike my fellow Brits, I am a gigantic wuss when it comes down to that. I rationalised it as me drawing a line at sacrifices. I also say that my toilet is more hygiene friendly since it’s “cost” makes others treat it with respect.

And this was something I realised a little too late for one of my early projects.

The construction of a clean, hygienic toilet for a rural village. Within 3 months it had gone from brand new to terrifying pit of hell.

Why? Because I “gave” it to them. When I came back I was harassed by angry locals who didn’t understand that it was a gift. They claimed no one had come to clean it and what was I going to do about it.

The next one I built I had an idea. I sourced tiles and made it look good.

Then I charged a very very undercut fee for it. Enough money to make it seem like the people “bought” the facility from me. To this day this keeps working and functioning because the people who paid Rs. 1000 (10 quid) a home (Don’t smirk for many that’s a week’s earning and a lot of savings) think they bought it lock stock and barrel rather than at a much much reduced cost. They are invested in it and so wish to see it succeed.

Toilets save lives. That Rs. 1000 is probably what they would spend if they got a major diarrhoeal disease that year. Amoebic Dysentery, Cholera, Rotavirus, Typhoid… the list of diseases that cause major distress from diarrhoea is large.

In many villages, there are no such facilities. But there is usually a temple. And I agree. India could do with more toilets and fewer temples. With 1.2 billion people, India’s sanitation and toilet stats are frankly down the drain.

One in Three Houses has a toilet or access to one. Urban Areas have more toilets but they are plagued with poor cleanliness and insanitary disposal methods. And this leads to a horrific rate of water-borne disease.

In addition India’s traditional toilets is home to one of the most horrific and oppressive practices. Euphemistically called Manual Scavenging, the practice involves the Untouchables (dalits) who manually (AKA by hand) clean out human faeces from open pit lavatories. In the 1960s the practice was so widespread that there were 4 million dalits living in this condition. Today? The numbers seem to be a lot better with around 100,000 people still involved in this. This Must Stop.

It is inhumane, dehumanising and leads to the social ostracisation and rampant illness that often targets the rural dalit community and with the control of water by the upper castes in many villages and the lack of healthcare aimed at the dalits, the toll of disease is often higher.

In this way the old toilet is a method of oppression.

Out of 24.6 million houses in India the majority still don’t have toilets. Above 50% of houses don’t have an indoor toilet. 50% of people defaecate in the open. This leads to a massive disease burden of around 40 Million Dollars a year (2.5 trillion rupees) in healthcare costs that is preventable. This is 5% of the GDP.

In some states such as Jharkhand and Odisha upto 80% of houses lack a toilet.

The problem is we need to see that the access to a hygienic and clean toilet is part of the right to live a life of dignity and equality. But the scale is enormous. 1.2 billion people is roughly 1/6 people on the planet. They need these facilities and that is a lot of toilets that need to be built and a lot of infrastructure to make it all work. It is an immense undertaking.

There also needs to be a culture of toilet usage. People don’t understand why outdoor defaecation is harmful. We go back to my little game about how shoes save lives by cutting down on hookworm infestations which are a major cause of anaemia which complicates simple diseases. If you don’t understand you cannot see the benefit.

India lacks a culture of sanitation. It is in the same stage that Europe was in a hundred years ago with regards to that. What must occur is a change in attitudes and a willingness to discuss this. Discussing toilets is not bad or dirty but vital to saving lives.

And this is again a place where women are affected more than men. Many public facilities are not aimed at women or are nearly impossible to use for them. In many places the female bathroom has become a place of fear due to attacks on users. Women and girls often have no other option but open air defaecation. In many places there are simply no facilities for women.

This has led to one comical part of Indian culture. India still utilises the arranged marriage method of finding a partner and men have taken to posing with their toilets to PROVE to future brides to be that if they select him, she too will be the proud owner of an indoor toilet.

For many a man and woman in India they have to utilise toilets that are not clean, not functional and with no privacy. Many a tourist has been horrified by a public toilet with no door and the urgent pressure that comes from the lack of hygiene in India (Diarrhoea). Many a tourist rates that moment as the lowest moment in India.

That’s a bigger shame to my culture than discussing hygiene.

The sad fact of the matter is if we tried to encourage politicians and the public to build these hygienic life savers there would be less interest than if we were to want to build a new temple. I agree that India does need less temples and more toilets. The lives improved and saved would be enormous and it’s an investment in the future.

Today is World Toilet Day. (Well yesterday. It shares it’s day with Men’s Day)


  1. Pen says

    I imagine the building of toilets is something that can potentially be managed by individuals and communinties with a bit of an economic struggle, but what about the huge amount of infrastructure and knowledge that must go into sewage collection, treatment and ultimately, re-integration ‘into the wild’.

    Incidentally, I wonder if the flush toilet is the best and only possibly solution in the world, even if it’s the one most frequently adopted. It requires huge amounts of water and India is a dry country at certain times of year. Even in south of France in my childhood, we would end up in situation where we couldn’t flush more than once a day. I wonder if so much water use wouldn’t eventually prompt a crisis. Problem is, some of the drier solutions that work are even more technological and high maintenance.

  2. Samsara says

    “The squat toilet does have a slightly bad reputation but one that I will dispel for you.
    They are better for your health. That’s right. The porcelain throne is not the better toilet.”

    You sure about that?
    Because I’ve seen a lot of broken/fractured hips in elderly Indians from that blasted squat toilet.
    And quite a few injuries in Indian kids from falling in the thing.

  3. says

    The safety aspect is due to bad construction. If you have a flushing system integrated into it rather than the manual flush you don’t end up wetting the porcelain and losing traction.

    And injuries on western toilets occur too.

    The major problem is that “hygiene”. Indian squat toilets often use water from buckets to act as a flush and that results in slipper surfaces.

  4. Laila Rasheed says


    It would seem that the (god) of the Jews was thousands of years ahead of any nation on earth, when it came to toilets!

    Deuteronomy 23:12-14

    12 Choose a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 You must carry a pointed stick as part of your equipment. When you go outside to squat, dig a hole with it. When you’re done, cover up your excrement. 14 The Lord your God moves around in your camp to protect you and hand your enemies over to you. So your camp must always be holy. This way, the Lord will never see anything offensive among you and turn away from you.

    If the Jews had not been given this instruction, they would have been wiped out from all the diseases you have mentioned.

    REMEMBER! This was a couple of thousand years ago!

    It would seem the (gods) of India are an ignorant bunch.

    India needs the (god) of Hygiene.

    But what blew my mind while reading your article, was the attitude of those who wanted someone else to clean the toilet you gave them for free!

    This is a powerful lesson for Indian politicians to learn. PAY TOILETS is the way to go, even if they are DRY TOILETS at first. Someone has the brains to recycle the urine & shit and make it viable.

  5. says

    Laila Rashid –

    The first sewage system was invented in India. At a place called Harappa a good 1000 years before Leviticus…
    Houses had a FLUSHING toilet.

    And Jews had no idea about sanitation either. Not one reference to proximity to water and sterilisation of water.

    25% of all mortality in children in developing nations is due to diarrhoeal disease and NOT ONE REFERENCE to boiling water and milk in the ENTIRE Bible.

    So no. I am afraid your Bible is just as wrong as the Indians were on that. You are looking at western civilisation and the MASSIVE progress it has made often at the cost of other civilisations and classifying it as progress.

    No you don’t understand. People don’t treat free toilets or pay toilets like they would their own. My method makes them invest a portion of money in the toilet that is way way less than the cost of the toilet but has them understand that the toilet is a joint responsibility.

  6. Laila Rasheed says

    I think the god’s of India still have a hold on you, Avi.

    The Jews have advanced while the Indians are up to their necks in shit!

    The only advancement they made was by Colonial British rule, that has helped them join the 21st century.

    Stop bitching!

  7. says

    The British Comitted Atrocities in India that resulted in the deaths of millions. To utter such nonsense shows that your are not just a religious extremist but also blind to actual history. Your statement is vile and it shows one thing.

    That you aren’t a good person. No matter how much you claim to believe in your god you are not a good person. You demonstrate the fallacy that belief in a god makes you good, because what you are demonstrating is the poisonous thinking of racists and the missionaries who destroyed my culture.
    The gods of India do have a hold on me my dear. I took the good from them to form my ethos on atheism. Hinduism is universal in that you don’t need to believe in it’s gods. It does not convert people by force to it and to do so is horrible. It gave me an understanding about sacrifice, about making your own personal rules, about sticking to your ethos and it gave me stories of amazing nuance that you will never read because you are a bigot.

    And bigots never learn anything about the cultures they denigrate.

    You speak for Jews as if they would appreciate the association with your bullshit. Most of the Jews I know are kind, loving people who would think you are not a good person.

    And the tragedy is you can’t even understand why you are not good.
    To get banned by me you have to have crossed the line and made no act of contrition. I have warned you, I have told you, I have been polite.

    But you crossed the line.

    Fuck the Fuck Off. No one likes you, you bring nothing to the conversation. I am sure you will go yell about free speech or how that dirty atheist banned you when you were kicking his arse and frankly I don’t care.

    Anyone who associates with your bullshit ideology probably has nothing of value to say either.

    Congratulations. You are the third person to be banned specifically by me. And that’s a fucking achievement.

  8. Samsara says

    I don’t agree that the ‘accidents’ associated with the Squatter are entirely because of slippery surfaces.
    Please remember that the elderly gradually lose their sense of balance & are prone to dizziness due to loss of the vestibular system (the balance system of the inner ear), and decreased function of proprioceptors (sensors of position and movement in the feet and legs).

    As for children falling in/on the Squatter – well the Squatter isn’t exactly built in proportions to accommodate children making it difficult for them to squat with their legs spread so far apart & maintain balance.

    Yes, their are accidents on western style toilets – but they can be modified with handrails, seat raisers & seat modifiers for children & the elderly making them much safer than the the Squatter.
    The western style bathtub causes the most restroom related injuries in the US.

  9. Harry McCall says

    Dear Sir,

    As an atheist I must distance myself from your foul mouthed reply to Laila.
    What were you thinking?
    Do you have any etiquette?
    Shame on you!

    Her comment, “I think the god’s of India still have a hold on you, Avi.” was proven right by your outburst.
    You acted like a thugee – a mad man, ranting & raving!
    Get a hold of yourself!
    You owe the lady an apology!

  10. mastmaker says


    Sorry. As a fellow atheist of Indian origin, I simply cannot condone this kind of attack on anybody, no matter what his/her position is and whether it is right or wrong. If you think that person’s position is wrong/prejudiced, respond with reasonable arguments, not attack.

    You are making yourself out to be a ‘person of no substance’ when you attack like this. You want to be proud of your heritage, but it makes it looks like you are trying (too desperately, that is) to justify a position that you yourself may not believe in.

    As I said elsewhere, I am not good at putting my thoughts into writing, but there they are.

  11. DsylexicHippo says

    Am I the only one wondering if Harry McCall = Laila Rasheed? Or is it just a case of moronic kinship between the two?

  12. says

    I had exactly the same thought. Not only is the appearance of that supporter just a little too convenient, but they also share the style of using line breaks after every sentence.

  13. says

    Your style is unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this web site.Check My Ebook and you can also creat your own stuff just in 7 days…

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