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Behavioural change can’t be forced

In Rajasthan, 44-year-old Zafar Khan was beaten to death in Pratapgarh district for objecting to Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) officials taking photographs of his wife and daughter defecating in the open. Instead of taking action against those responsible, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has summarily dismissed the gruesome murder as “an unfortunate incident”, adding insult to injury.

This betrays a callous indifference to violation of human rights. It is in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal intervention in case of the murder of an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi recently by two youth who were enraged by the driver’s objection to their urinating in public place. The young men were arrested and charged with murder. The tacit protection to officials involved in Pratapgarh killing by the Rajasthan chief minister should be viewed in the backdrop of the state government’s inaction against rampant violence by cow vigilantes against minorities. While Jafar Khan’s case has justly evoked public outrage and demand for action against SBM officials involved in his murder, it also underscores the flip side of the SBM.

Deadline pressure

Ahead of the October 2019 deadline, government officials across India are using coercive tactics to meet their targets. In Madhya Pradesh, hoardings have been put threatening death to people defecating in open. Haryana has imposed a penalty while some state governments have asked ration shops to stop giving people grain if they didn’t build toilets.

In Sikkim, people are being denied government documents including OBC/death/birth certificates. In Chennai, a group of villagers have filed a case in the Madras High Court, stating that their village has been denied work under the rural employment guarantee scheme because it failed to build a toilet.

This is unfortunate because the SBM has generated a large number of success stories and citizens in urban clusters as well as villages across the country have shown enthusiasm to make India clean. We have fascinating stories from Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Kerala, which have given up open defecation completely.


The Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach pioneered by CLTS Foundation has resulted in bringing about behavioural change not only in different parts of India but also in African countries. Now that the SBM is entering into the final phase, the government should learn from the failures of family planning in mid-1970s to avoid any backlash.

While threatening citizens may enable officials to participate in the end open defecation race, it will not sustain the programme in the long run. The government must take instant action against those resorting to coercion. Nowhere in history has state bullying led to behavioural change.