Is Arunachal actually open defecation-free?

[ Tanu Bulo, Yaminah Singhi, Ishac Brah, Gomye Nalo  & Nangme Kamsha ]

On 31 December, 2017, Arunachal Pradesh was proudly declared open defecation-free (ODF), much before the national deadline of 2 October, 2019. This ‘feat’ was achieved when the state government contributed Rs 8000 per family for constructing individual household latrines, adding to the central allocation of Rs 12000. The news might give a sense of pride to every Arunachalee, but deep inside they know that the reality is far from what is being shown on paper.
Which brings us to the question: Do documents truly depict the real scenario of our state?
If one visits the rural pockets of Arunachal, one can still see children defecating out in the open. Although there are significant numbers of whitewashed toilets with the logo of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) engraved on them, their usage is questionable.
In many villages, SBM toilets are the only prized possession, and are generally used as granaries, or to store local ornaments and other costly items.
There have been instances when people unaware of such schemes end up building their own ‘kutcha’ latrines. Cases of preferential treatment given to the kith and kin of influential people in terms of financial assistance have also deprived many of ‘pucca’ toilets.
The scenario in the urban areas is no different. Many still defecate in kutcha latrines, built mainly across riverbanks. Some are even practicing it in the state capital, Itanagar, itself. There are many community toilets built across the state capital, but sadly, those too remain locked up most of the time and have become mere showpieces to shout about the glory of the SBM and ODF Arunachal.
This is where the role of extension workers in spreading awareness comes into play. The first step should be to involve the communities and make them realize the perils of open defecation, for it directly affects our health and well-being.
The objective or the definition of ODF fails when the stakeholders themselves do not walk the talk. The government should start working at the ground level and root out the shortcomings before going on giving us a false sense of pride in an ‘ODF Arunachal’.