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January 16, 2008

Fact for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A major reason to be grateful for living in a First World country, IMHO:

More than 65% of India's rural population defecates in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields ... And about 70% of India's billion-plus population live in its rural areas.

Wow, almost a half a billion Indians crap in the open every day ... Me, I say: "Praise the heavens for modern plumbing."

Source. Link found thanks to Vdare.



posted by Michael at January 16, 2008


I believe that there are religious reasons for this habit. It is considered unclean by Hindus (or among those people still under the influence of Hindu custom) to symbolically soil one's household by defecating there, even in a toilet or other waste receptacle. Hindus with modern plumbing have gotten over this, but I've heard they initially found the idea of defecating into a porcelain bowl rather repugnant.

It's not just a matter of lacking indoor plumbing, in other words: back in the days when North Americans didn't have it, they didn't simply use the fields to relieve themselves! Nor is this the custom in other, non-Hindu, 3rd world countries. I never saw it in Africa, for example, except among those people who were actually homeless and had no choice. But in India, on walks, it wasn't unusual to blunder on someone squatting to defecate, and perhaps shouting and waving a fist at you for interrupting him.

Posted by: alias clio on January 16, 2008 7:53 PM

I had the weirdest dream once. I was sitting on a toilet in the middle of the aisle in Walgreens working on a bowel movement. People were walking by but no one paid me any attention. I'm sure everyone has dreams like this. Right?

Posted by: not strange i hope on January 16, 2008 8:30 PM

Interesting. Tell me about your mother.

Posted by: bicho de mato on January 17, 2008 1:33 AM

The US a first world country? Don't make me laugh. And while we're talking about manners and hygienic habits, have you observed the table manners of the average American? How about how unkempt most of them are? How about the infrequent showers of many people in the Midwest and the South?

Posted by: XX on January 17, 2008 3:41 AM

"back in the days when North Americans didn't have it, they didn't simply use the fields to relieve themselves!" Really?

Posted by: dearieme on January 17, 2008 7:29 AM

In Woodstock, crapping out in the fields has long been a political/social issue.

You see, we modern folks are "out of touch" and alienated by our lack of consciousness. We would find ourselves in greater harmony with this magnificent Gaia if only we would shit out in the open, or failing that, in an outhouse. For those who can't make this sacrifice, the squat toilet has long been advocated as an acceptable alternative.

TeePee Bob says that wiping with leaves works just fine.

Back in the day, the Rajneshees dressed just like Indian peasants and practiced the higher consciousness we westerners lost when we decided to poop in toilets. The Rajneshees gave all their worldly goods to their guru and spent their days in spiritual orgies, which somehow involved melons strategically squashed into the women's bodies. I don't know... I never attended one of the orgies... but that's what I'm told.

Don't you know, Michael, that the poverty of India is beautiful? By the way, this is precisely the type of information that I expect from the Blowhards.

And, who says midwesterners and southerners don't bathe? Them's fighting words.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 17, 2008 8:22 AM

In China and some other countries human waste ("night soil") was a traditional fertilizer. Does India do likewise?

Posted by: Peter on January 17, 2008 8:58 AM

Yes, really, dearieme. Oh, I'm sure that occasionally some farmer might have been "taken short", as I think the English still say, while working, and made use of his fields in that manner. But that isn't the same thing as hordes of villagers leaving their houses every morning to squat somewhere out in the fields.

Posted by: alias clio on January 17, 2008 9:50 AM

Two of my favorite Modern Marvels episodes: one of them about bathroom technology (what we take for granted is very recent!); the other about sewers and sewer systems generally. There were giants in both fields we really ought to build statues and monuments to. Anyway, it all makes for fascinating cross-cultural comparisons, as well as for an interesting way to go thru history, no? I wonder why more historical and book-type work hasn't been done on these subjects. Do universities and book publishers feel queasy about the subject? Do they feel the public wouldn't be interested?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 17, 2008 11:13 AM

Adding to my concern about food poisoning while in India was the sight of a man defecating in the midst of a salt pond.

Posted by: James on January 17, 2008 12:27 PM

"Two of my favorite Modern Marvels episodes: one of them about bathroom technology (what we take for granted is very recent!); the other about sewers and sewer systems generally. There were giants in both fields we really ought to build statues and monuments to."

One of the most interesting sections in _Inside the Victorian Home_ by Judith Flanders was her discussion of the invention of the S-bend and the subsequent revolution in indoor plumbing. All praise to Thomas Crapper!

Posted by: CyndiF on January 17, 2008 1:26 PM

Re: alias clio

I'm a Hindu/Indian by birth, and I have never heard of a religious aversion to toilets.

Most Indians defecate in the open because most Indians don't have any other options. They don't have, say, chamber pots in their shacks.

Also, sadly, most Indians live in complete squalor and have very low standards of cleanliness and hygiene.

If you visit India, it's very common to see people spitting, especially people spitting flowing streams of red juice which is the result of chewing on betel nuts. I've also seen people blow their nose on their hand and fling the mucus on the road.

To recap: Indians are just not very hygienic and very poor to boot.

Posted by: blue on January 17, 2008 2:20 PM

I think statues should be erected to the memory of Thomas Crapper. I think towns and cities should be named after him. Can you name many people more worthy of such honors than he is?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 17, 2008 2:22 PM

Well, "blue", I could be wrong - but you say you're Indian/Hindu by birth. Does that mean you grew up there as well?

My understanding of how it used to be: in the old days in India, the caste-system decreed that only "untouchables" must handle human excrement. The problem with chamber pots and outhouses is that someone has to empty or clean them - but if only an untouchable is permitted to do so, and if people are too poor to employ servants from the sweeper caste, then the only thing to do is to "go" wherever one finds enough privacy to do so. I won't swear I'm right about this, but I think that was the explanation I heard.

In my short time in India as a child I saw the odd results of this caste taboo, like women employed as nannies who would change babies' diapers but not rinse them (I'm speaking of the cloth kind, not disposables). I knew of one who quit her job over the issue.

Anyway, as I said in my previous post, I don't know of poor people anywhere else in the world who use the fields in this way except when overtaken by absolute necessity. Mostly they dig a hole in the ground and build some kind of shelter over it to give themselves privacy.

Posted by: alias clio on January 17, 2008 4:59 PM

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