A week ago, Roshani Balmiki (12) and Avinash Balmiki (10), were killed in Bhavkedhi village in Shivpuri district, which was declared "open defecation-free" on April 4 last year. Manoj Balmiki, father of Avinash, said the panchayat had sanctioned a house with a toilet for them, but the sarpanch, a relative of the alleged killers had "scuttled the proposal".
The irony was too glaring to ignore. Valmiks, with scavenging as their traditional job, are the first link in the ODF chain and they have been forced to defecate in the open for want of facility due to caste discrimination.
"We haven't got a toilet at home. The children went out to defecate in the morning," said Manoj.
"Rameshwar and Hakam, who were standing near their hand pump, shouted at them for defecating on the road and rained blows with sticks on the children's heads while they were easing themselves, killing them in seconds."
A policeman said Hakam claimed he had killed the children as God had ordained him in his dream to kill "demons".
Amid usual fanfare Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the country 'open defecation free (ODF)' under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) on Wednesday from Ahmedabad.
A reality check shows the claims are highly inflated as far as Madhya Pradesh is concerned.
National Annual Rural Sanitary Survey (NARSS) for 2018-19 says, 93.1 per cent of rural Indian households have access to toilets with 96.5 per cent in constant usage. The survey showed a 16 per cent rise over 2017-18 data that said listed 77 per cent of population had access to toilet facilities. However, the reports from Madhya Pradesh present a different scenario.
This week the directorate of school education website showed that 1,767 schools in 17 districts of the state had no toilets. And 409 schools in eight districts had no source of water.
Similarly, majority of the villages in the state have no regular source of water supply. In the absence of water some school children face caste discrimination and humiliation if the toilets are not flushed after use. Water remains an issue.
The Shivpuri incident had taken place a day after the union government website claimed rural India was open defecation free. After Prime Minister Modi announced at a Houston event that India had got rid of this ugly practice, the entire map of rural India on the government website turned green indicating the end of open defecation.
In October, 2018 officials who had falsely reported 155 villages in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh as ODF were supposed to face action. However, Shivraj Singh Chouhan government hushed up the matter as it could lead to more exposures.
Teams of 250 members had been formed by ADM Niaz Khan to verify the claims that these villages are now ODF. They found out that the claims that have been made were false, around 2000 villagers were caught defecating in the open.
A study released in January 2019 by Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) and accountability initiative of the Centre for Policy Research said that despite toilets in place, a quarter of rural population still stuck to open defecation.
"We covered 1,558 households in 157 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and tracked changes between 2014 and 2018. It was found that while there was a huge increase in toilet ownership, it did not translate into a proportionate increase in usage," said Nazar Khalid, research fellow, RICE.
The key issue was now the ownership of toilets but the lack of proper sewage system.
(Chandrakant Naidu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
( With inputs from IANS )