When nature calls, the 26-year-old single mother and her four children head toward the jungle next to their farm of red and pink roses, to a field of tall grass, flecked with petals, where the 7,000 people of her village go to defecate and exchange gossip.
“Only dalits, the lowest Hindu caste, should be exposed to excrement in a closed space, or city-dwellers who don’t have space to go in the open,” said Sunita, who uses one name, as she washed clothes next to the concrete latrine. “Faeces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.”
In India, Muslim children are substantially more likely than Hindu children to survive until their fifth birthday, despite Muslim parents being poorer and less educated on average than Hindu parents. The phenomenon has been documented by numerous researchers over the past 20 years, including most recently by Bhalotra et al. (2010)….Though it is by now well-known that a substantial fraction of India’s population defecates in the open, without the use of toilets or latrines, what is less well-known—at least to those residing outside of rural India—is that Hindus are substantially (40%) more likely than Muslims to do so….
Analysing the three most recent rounds of the government of India’s nationally representative survey data, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India, we find Hindus are dramatically more likely than Muslims to openly defecate, meaning they self-report using a bush, field, or no facility rather than a latrine or toilet. In the three most recent waves of the NFHS, 67% of Hindu households report openly defecating, while only 42% of the relatively poorer Muslim households do so. This simple but dramatic fact is easily replicable using any Indian survey dataset that asks respondents about religion and waste disposal.
To understand these high-level statistics in more depth, R.I.C.E. (Research Institute for Compassionate Economics) researchers in a separate study collected detailed information about behaviour and preferences towards defecation in rural northern India. This new dataset, online at squatreport.in, reveals that a substantial minority of Hindus who reside in household with a latrine still choose to defecate in the open: 25% of Hindus who own working latrines choose not to use them, compared with 10% of Muslims. Further, Hindus are more likely than Muslims to respond that open defecation away from the home is pure, while using a latrine near the home is not pure.