NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has hit a stumbling block. The Prime Minister may have wanted an India free of open defecation but his pet scheme seems to have antagonised a community.
A section of the Jain community wants an exception for their saints who say open defecation is part of their religion. The Digambar Jains have approached the Centre against a ban on open defecation because their Munis consider it a religious ritual and that is how they answer the call of nature. The community is concerned about the goals of the Swachh Bharat mission, which aims at 100 per cent open defecation-free India by 2019.
Rajasthan-based Dharam Bachao Andolan Samiti has written to several leaders in the NDA government to exempt their saints from the open defecation ban and treat it as a special case, keeping in mind their religious faith. The primary reason given by the community is that flushing will kill micro-organisms and killing any living organism is considered a sin in the religion.
Dharam Bachao Andolan Samiti, one of the organisations that approached the Supreme Court opposing the Rajasthan High Court order against Santhara, has early this month sent memorandums to Cabinet ministers, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, explaining how any ban on open defecation will hurt the sentiments of the Jain community.
“We are really concerned after statements by some Cabinet ministers on banning open defecation. We thought of bringing it to their notice that the practice of open defection by Digambar Jain Munis is an age-old practice and the government should exempt the community keeping in mind our religious belief,” said Hemant Sogani, a member of the Samiti and an advocate. The group is planning to take it up with many other important leaders in the days to come. If need be, they will not shy away from approaching the court. The community has already succeeded in getting a stay from the Supreme Court early this month on the Rajasthan High Court order declaring Santhara, the Jain ritual of fasting unto death, as illegal.
“Jains practice many rituals and the government cannot thrust upon us anything which goes against our non-violence beliefs. If needed, we may launch a peaceful protest and take legal measures to protect our religious practices,” said Mukeshbhai Kothari Jain, who hails from Gujarat. Explaining the reason behind the Jain practice, Ramesh Jain Gangwal of Jaipur-based Jain Rajnitik Chetna Manch said that Jains consider hurting or killing any living organism as a sin and that is why flushing faeces is avoided and they believe in leaving it in open.
The practice of open defecation poses a big challenge to the Swachh Bharat mission. According to the United Nations report, “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation- 2014”, India still has the largest number of people (nearly 60 crore) defecating in open in the world. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aims to construct 12 crore toilets in rural India by October 2019 at a projected cost of `1.96 lakh crore.
In his Independence Day speech this year, Modi said the country had achieved the target of building nearly 4.25 lakh toilets across various schools.