Singing, laughing and talking toilets

Braving Delhi’s pre-winter chill, the city’s millennials gathered in huge numbers on a misty evening in the sylvan surroundings of Nehru Park to sing and laugh about toilets. But more on that in a while.

Let’s begin with some grim stats, it’s really no joke that India has the world’s longest queue for people waiting for safe and private toilets. The country also has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of people defecating in the open! Over 1.4 lakh children under five years of age die every year from preventable diseases like diarrhoea, which are linked to poor sanitation and hygiene.

All this and more was highlighted by WaterAid in their global report titled ‘It’s No Joke – State of the World’s Toilets’, which was released on the eve of World Toilet Day i.e. 19 November. Almost 1 out of every 2 Indians doesn’t have access to safe and private toilets. Flushing their ‘poo’ away in a toilet for these millions is still nothing less than a luxury.

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Providing access to toilets and sanitation is a crucial challenge for the country. Millions of toilets have been constructed under the government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), and there have been numerous philanthropic efforts from the private sector but much still needs to be done. In the rural context, tackling the sanitation crisis is all the more difficult since it is linked with behavior change and mere construction of toilets doesn’t seem to be working.

According to estimates by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the government’s nodal agency for data collection, not even half the government provided toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission are being used. Moreover, the state governments are slow in spending funds allocated under SBM.

But there is always some glimmer of hope. In some areas of the north eastern states, there are reports of 100 percent usage of toilets. A project area of WaterAid India, a slum in East Delhi – Safedabasti – was declared Open Defecation Free. These are reasons enough to cheer and hence everyone gathered to sing, laugh and talk about toilets on 19 November at Nehru Park, New Delhi.

Laxmi Thakur from Safeda Basti teaching other children from the area.
Laxmi Thakur from Safeda Basti teaching other children from the area.

Over 1000 people came for the concert to listen to their favorite folk-rock band Indian Ocean. The band put on a superb show and performed their popular numbers, played some of the audience’s special requests and interspersed their performances with snappy toilet jokes.

The concert took off at around 8 pm just after a laughter riot by one of Delhi’s popular stand-up comedians Vikramjit Singh. The comic tickled the audience’s funny bones with his crisp and unabashed performance where with rib tickling humor he brought to the fore the importance of toilets and sanitation. He also narrated the favorite ‘toilet jokes’ that WaterAid India received from contestants who participated in its online ‘It’s No Joke Contest’. Before that, WaterAid India’s brand new website (where you are reading this) was launched by Indian Ocean and its Chief Executive, Mr. Neeraj Jain.

Indian Ocean member Amit Kilam in action at the Sa Re Ga Ma Poo concert.
Indian Ocean member Amit Kilam in action at the Sa Re Ga Ma Poo concert. Photo: WaterAid India

Parnashree Devi, a Delhite who watched the show commented, “Loved the concert and the whole idea of promoting such a serious issue which we tend to ignore everyday. I loved the stand-up comedy by Vikramjit Singh and the performance by Indian Ocean.” Prakash Thakur, commented online, “I loved the title, ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Poo’”.

Audience enjoying at the Sa Re Ga Ma Poo concert.
Audience enjoying at the Sa Re Ga Ma Poo concert. Photo: WaterAid India

“A very well organized and managed event with a great initiative. There are certain taboos associated with talking about sanitation and hygiene which in turn makes it even harder to address the issue and there wasn’t a better way to break those barriers than to associate it with humour and music. Vikramjit Singh and his array of jokes made the commencement of event perfect. Indian Ocean were at their musical and candid best thus making the combination of one of the best fusion bands and a very lively crowd even better. An evening to remember,” signed off Priya Chauhan.

Amit Sengupta at WaterAid India .

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