India, Madhya Pradesh: sanitation campaign humiliates women, say critics

Controversial illustration from Madya Pradesh sanitation campaign booklet

Controversial illustration from Madya Pradesh sanitation campaign booklet

A government campaign to stop open defecation in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been criticised for using humiliation to change behaviour. Journalist M. Poornima writes that the ambitious scheme called ‘Maryada Abhiyan’ (Hindi for dignity), “gives little of it to women”.

From catcalls to publishing names to photographing the people caught — the government booklet [1] suggests a number of measures meant to humiliate people. That it would hit women the hardest is not a thought that appears to have occurred to the authorities.

The criticism is backed up by WaterAid programme officer Binu Arickal, who called whistling at or photographing women practising open defecation “foolish”. This reflects a discussion started at the beginning of this year on community-led total sanitation (CLTS) and human rights in the SuSanA Forum, which was sparked by a journal article [2] by Jamie Bartram and others.

UNICEF contributed to the Maryada campaign booklet. The campaign’s brand ambassador is Anita Narre, the bride from a Madhya Pradesh who  sparked a “sanitation revolution” in her village by forcing her husband to build a toilet in their home.

[1] Madhya Pradesh. State Water and Sanitation Mission (2012?). Maryada Abhiyan: guideline. Available at: <>

[2] Bartram, J. … [et al.] (2012). Commentary on community-led total sanitation and human rights: Should the right to community-wide health be won at the cost of individual rights?. Journal of water and health, 10(4), pp. 499–503. doi: 10.2166/wh.2012.205. Available at: <>

Related web sites:

Source: M. Poornima, No ‘maryada’ for women in MP govt’s sanitation drive, Hindustan Times, 24 Dec 2013

5 responses to “India, Madhya Pradesh: sanitation campaign humiliates women, say critics

  1. Nripendra Kumar Sarma

    Dear All,
    Although the illustration is meant for highlighting the importance of Household Toilet to safeguard the Dignity of Womenfolk, but such depiction should be oriented in such a way, so that they do not heart the sentiments of the people.
    So all such pictorial representations should be area / community specific and be based on themes, which may aware the community in a positive manner. Also so such issues, house to house campaign might perhaps be stressed more to reach all sections of the community and to highlight the themes more effectively.

    Thanking ALL and with Best Regards.

    Nripendra Kumar Sarma
    Nagaon, Assam, India

  2. This is interesting. In southern Malawi in southern Africa, we have used the care group concept to promote WASH. this involves peer to peer education. a woman is given the knowledge on a specific WASH practice each fortnight to discuss and agree with her neighboring 10 or so households on the importance of the message until she comes back with another message the following 2 weeks. complemented by CLTS…the results have been marvelous.

  3. It is heartening to see CLTS received more critical attention. Anggun Susilo and I just published an article in the January 2014 issue of the journal Development & Change, which highlights the strong links between CLTS and coercive colonial sanitation programs in Indonesia. If your interested in a copy contact me at the University of Wollongong.

    • Dear Susan and Anggun, just read your fascinating and shocking article “Shaming and Sanitation in Indonesia: A Return to Colonial Public Health Practices?” DOI: 10.1111/dech.12075. Those who should be shamed are not the poor but development agencies who believe that humiliation and “outlawing” of subsidies are key to successful sanitation.

      • Thanks, it is really good to hear people sharing our concern about this approach, given the widespread support for it from NGOs and traditional donors!

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