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Oct 22, 2012 at 09:58am IST

FTN: Are universal toilets more important than temples?

Sagarika Ghose: Yes we are focusing tonight on temples and toilets. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has said "Mandir se bhi zyada pavitra hai shauchalaya". Even purer than a temple is a toilet, is he insulting Hindu sentiment or making a strong argument to challenge the Indian mentality on toilets? Remember 626 million Indians still defecate in the open. We're asking are universal modern toilets much more important than temples. Joining us tonight, Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh International, Udit Raj, National President, Indian Justice Party & SC/ST Confederation, Meenakshi Lekhi, Advocate, National Vice-President, BJP Mahila Morcha, Santosh Desai, Author, Columnist. Bindeshwar Pathak, to start it off with you, Mandir se bhi zyada pavitra hai shauchalaya, should the Rural Development Minister have said such a statement?

Bindeshwar Pathak: Actually he was meaning that toilets should be clean so that it can be used properly. Sometimes when you speak maybe a simple meaning have a symbolic meaning. So he was not hurting anybody's sentiment. But certainly he was emphasising on toilets. He was emphasising that the toilet should be kept clean better than the temple so that in temple no offensive have been done, but in toilet offensive have been done. So if your toilet is clean you can sit there and think, I have done it myself. If your toilet is clean you can sit there for an hour, I have done it myself, and design something new.

Sagarika Ghose: So he was simple reemphasising the central importance of the toilets?

Bindeshwar Pathak: Yes.

Sagarika Ghose: You are supporting Jairam Ramesh and you have said that those who are targeting Jairam Ramesh should be ashamed of their conduct.

Udit Raj: Yes I support him, what he meant was that we need more toilets. More than 60 per cent of the people don't have toilets. Let me tell you if such ratio is coming down their will be none availability of toilets in rural India. I was born in rural India and I know that ladies or girl before the dawn or after dark go for the natural call or to ease out.

Sagarika Ghose: And there also caste dimension here, there are seven lakh manual scavengers.

Udit Raj: What he meant was simply that we need more toilets.

Sagarika Ghose: And get rid of the caste prejudice.

Udit Raj: It is very sorry that some people are comparing it with religion, it has nothing to do with religion. It is not hurting religion.

Sagarika Ghose: Meenakshi Lekhi, there are BJP members and others protesting outside Jairam Ramesh's house saying that he is hurting Hindu sentiment, hurting Hindu religion, but simply it could be a figure of speech.

Meenakshi Lekhi: Emphasising the centrality of the toilet to a dignified existence I would have agreed upon. But he specified one of the pooja sthal. Had he said does he wants to make toilets only for Hindus, does he not want to make toilets for Muslims or Christians. He has incited a particular community and he has acted like a very bad politician because you should not play politics of untouchability, and communal politics.

Udit Raj: The statement is not taken in the right context.

Meenakshi Lekhi: The right context will come from the party, the right context will come from the person. The party should have said it if this was the context. You know what the party has said, Manish Tewari has gone on air and said hum dharma saaf log hai.

Sagarika Ghose: What Udit Raj is saying that parties like you are obstructing reforms.

Meenakshi Lekhi: No.

Udit Raj: Toilets are needed.

Sagarika Ghose: 1.3 million dalits are still carrying night soil.

Meenakshi Lekhi: So who is disputing that? I am in complete agreement so far as this is concerned untouchability, not having modern toilets in fact I would say the entire cleanliness drive in the entire country.

Sagarika Ghose: But why should he insult a community? Why should he say Mandir?

Bindeshwar Pathak: I want to show you a book, Temples of Convenience, Published in London written by Lucinda Lemton. Now if you ask the meaning of temple in London what will he reply? A church, not a mandir.

Meenakshi Lekhi: How can an Englishman say mandir?

Sagarika Ghose: It's because Ramesh was speaking in Hindi so he automatically said it as mandir. But let me put your point to Santosh Desai. Santosh Desai, is this the elitism of the English speaking politician that you simply deny what million call as sacred or when you're introducing such important reforms pour scorn on the religion.

Santosh Desai: Perhaps he could have said it a little sensibly, you know sometimes the fact that you overlook the fact and I can mean different thing to different people. I think people who are taking offence could halt a little and look at the larger context. Here's a man who is passionate about the work, yesterday he used a modern device, a mobile phone, today he is using another symbol. I think both sides are using it to make a point.

Sagarika Ghose: But these are understandable reactions, don't you think when Rahul Gandhi to UP and say that people of UP go and beg on the streets of Mumbai, Jairam Ramesh saying toilets are purer and temple, I mean doesn't that show the distance between the elitist politician than the crowd they are addressing?

Santosh Desai: But I think the objective is not raised about elitism the objective is raised for actively hurting the community.

Sagarika Ghose: Ok. So there could be a question about elitism but there is no objection that he was hurting sentiments of a community.

Meenakshi Lekhi: No, he was playing a sinister politics and that's the point I raised and Mr Desai has used a telephone, then he said this and then the third statement come with Wajahat Habibullah where he said that we are going to include graveyard in the MNREGA scheme and in truth they are doing nothing for Muslims. Now there is huge unemployment, we have seen in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, we have seen how the SC/ST community is suffering. To divert for problem when people ask you for employment you are playing vote bank politics.

Bindeshwar Pathak: My house was built by my grandfather that house has a mandir but still not a toilet. Myself, my mother all used to go outside. That house had a temple but not a toilet.

Udit Raj: In Delhi also I tell you toilets are not available and men somehow manage it. But women they can't manage.

Sagarika Ghose: So what you are saying is the lack of dry latrines is the reason for the SC/ST discrimination on this curse of manual scavenging. So the dry latrine, toilets are the need of the hour and so saying that the toilets are purer than temples there is a social agenda of reforms.

Udit Raj: It should not be taken as a literal word, if you do then you miss the intent. Around mandirs there is a lot of dirt.

Sagarika Ghose: Ok that's a good point he said around mandirs there is a lot of dirt. He said “jab aap mandir jaate hai toh aapko naak bandh karke jana padta hai.”

Meenakshi Lekhi: That's exactly my point. Mr Udit is doing what even Manish Tewari has not done. Manish Tewari goes on air and say that hum sab dharmo ki izzat karte hai. The hit was specific towards the Hindus, it was to hurt Hindu feeling, nobody is talking about the dry latrines, it's a different context. Now you're talking about untouchability which is in the history of this country.

Sagarika Ghose: Let's take the discussion forward.

Meenakshi Lekhi: Who is defending the caste? Nobody. On the contrary I would say it is the failure of the government.

Sagarika Ghose: It is the Hindu society who posses those terrible discrimination on the dalit caste.

Meenakshi Lekhi: It is the government of India which needs to work, it is the rule of the law and whoever does not work around that should be punished.

Sagarika Ghose: Right. Jairam Ramesh wants to change mindsets on toilets. As you rightly said that we all have mandirs in our houses but not toilets. Indian do not understand that importance of toilet, they don't understand the need for hygienic toilets.

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