Some passing comments by minister in the Union Cabinet of India have sparked off a controversy in the country. Right wing parties are cashing on the comments claiming that they hurt the religious sentiments of the majority. Not his own party is ready to support him. But the questions left by his comments are still to be answered.
“There are more temples in this country than toilets. What is more required is toilet not the temple. Unless you go to toilet and keep cleanliness, you can not attain any salvation (mukti),” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, said while addressing a rally in Uttar Pradesh. Bharatiya Janata Party, which claims to champion the cause of majority Hindu population, jumped off with a protest agitation saying that the statement hurt the religious sentiments.
However, it is a truth, an ugly truth, that India needs more toilets than temples. Open defecation is a major problem in the county putting a question mark on the hygiene conditions of the people. Ramesh, who has created controversies in the past as well, had said just three months ago that railway tracks in India are the world’s largest open defecation ground. “60 percent of all open defecation in the world happen in India. Every day, 11 million passengers travel by train and at present waste is dumped directly on to the tracks,” he had said.
While Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) protested outside Ramesh’s residence in New Delhi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, condemned the statement. Manish Tiwari, spokesman of Ramesh’s own Congress party, distanced himself from the statement saying that the party respects sanctity of all religious places.
However, the questions left behind by Ramesh’s statement are still unanswered. Why so many people are forced to defecate in the open? Does Indian public really have misplaced priorities? Why can’t the government, which stands behind those accused of corruption, denies the same support to Ramesh? And most of all, why do organizations and parties think that giving priority to toilets is against their religions?
However, in this era of political instability and short-term alliances, these questions will be hardly asked.