The throne of development

Starting from zero: leave your Western standards out of the suitcase. They may not be useful in India. A simple visit to the loo is not so automatic anymore. It may require some thought, planning and… flexibility. I confess this was one of my first challenges when I saw myself installed in the Paying Guest Accommodation (PG) owned by a family from Tamil Nadu when I came from London to Bangalore. Six months later the issue came back as a topic of discussion: a UN Report divulged by national and international press stated that “India has far more mobile phones than toilets”. From BBC to Al Jazeera, the world seemed to be concerned with Indian crisis of sanitation. The country is now in the spotlight both for its potential as an emerging economic power and for misplacing priorities. Click here to watch Al Jazeera story.

The numbers: 366 million people (31 per cent of the population) in India had access to improved sanitation in 2008. And 545 million mobile phones are now connected. The UN claims: we must accelerate the process of creating access to toilets in order to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on sanitation by 2015. Visiting the loo is definitely a symbol of progress.

One side of this debate is focused on the universal right to have access to healthy sanitary conditions and the consequences of not having it. Without clean water, the population is obviously exposed to countless diseases. At home or even at schools, children are used do number 1 and number 2 in the open, sometimes in the middle of the garbage.

The other side of this debate is cultural and ideological. Local practices must be understood in particular context. Without an analysis of local meanings, the supposed universality of Human Rights may be read as an arrogant process that establish differences between ‘us’, the developed, and ‘them’, the barbarians. A local newspaper maintains the debate on the issue. The author states: “This statistics must be true for the developed world also. You do not need common sense to ascertain the veracity of this since in a family unit of four there could at the most be four mobile phones while there could be only two toilets”. Check the article and comments here.

Beyond the hygiene theme, there are local cultural issues implicit in this discussion. What is public or private does not seem to be so obvious here.

Gabi Goulart Mora, from Bangalore, India.


This blog’s reason why

We met in a very special occasion: the year when our lives would be magically and permanently affected. For good. Taking a break of our own certainties, moving to a foreign country and choosing to face academic routine once more meant we would never be the same again. We could mix coffee and fish&chips, nightclubs and politics, human rights and advertising, law and beer. We could spend the whole afternoon in the library and still have passion for philosophy that night. Not without a pint, of course. Anyway, we had time to think. I mean, really think. And talk a lot. Out of our home’s moral frameworks and inspired by each other’s ideas, by university, by London. Now this year is over, there is no way we will leave this all behind. It feels we are still living next door and that is how we face distance: just a matter of time. Time to open our laptops, connect to the world and enjoy our friendship. Anytime.