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Hindus 25% more likely to defecate in open than Muslims, says US research study

By Rajiv Shah
A controversial study, carried out by a prominent US-based research organization, has said that “despite relative economic advantage, India’s majority Hindu population is 25 percentage points more likely to defecate in the open than the minority Muslim population.” The study quotes Manusmriti (Chapter 4 verse 151) to suggest why it may be more prevalent among Hindus, “Far from his dwelling let him remove urine and excreta”.
Carried out by Michael Geruso and Dean Spears for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the US’s leading nonprofit economic research organization, where 24 Nobel prize winning economics have worked, the study says, there appears to be a direct correlation between infant mortality rate (IMR) and sanitation.
Quoting several studies, the study, titled "Neighborhood Sanitation and Infant Mortality", says that IMR among Muslims “is 17 per cent lower than among Hindus, with an additional 1.1 infants per 100 surviving.” The authors believe that this “large difference can be entirely accounted for by latrine use.”
The study is based on Sanitation Quality, Use, Access, and Trends (SQUAT) survey, carried out in 2013-14 in Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, which, it says, “are home to 40 per cent of the population of India”, and where 45 per cent of households in India without a toilet or latrine.”
The surveyors interviewed 3,235 adults about their defecation practices and views on latrines and latrine use, and collected individual level latrine use data for 22,787 household members.
The scholars say, survey results confirm the data from the “most recent wave of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India” which show that “as of 2005, 68 per cent of Hindu households defecate in the open —e.g., in fields, near streets, or behind bushes. In comparison, only 43 per cent of the relatively poorer Muslim households do so.”
They further say, the survey results show that “a substantial minority of Hindus who reside in a household with a working latrine nonetheless choose to defecate in the open.” Thus, “25 per cent of Hindus who own functional latrines choose not to use them, compared to 10 per cent of Muslims.”
Giving reasons for higher rate of open defection among Hindus, the study says, “Sanitation practices may have evolved differently across Muslim and Hindu communities for purely secular reasons, and could have been privately or socially optimal given the context under which they arose.”
The scholars say, “Cultural scholars attribute the modern persistence of open defecation among Hindus in India to the persistence of the Hindu caste system, with its ritual avoidance of excreta.”
They point out, in this context, without naming anyone, “Recently, Hindu politicians across the political spectrum have publicly recognized this pattern.” And, “nearly a century ago, Gandhi campaigned to change Indian behavior with respect to excreta disposal, famously declaring, ‘Sanitation is more important than independence’.”
“In short”, they say, “The prominence of open defecation among Hindus is not merely a matter of the affordability of latrines and toilets. Instead, Hindus report and reveal clear preferences against using latrines.”

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