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Ranchi authorities publicly shame open defecators: State-sponsored vigilantism can be a dangerous idea

The Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) has come up with a rather unique idea to punish people form defecating in the open. On Sunday, RMC officials took to the streets of Ranchi to take away the lungis as punishment of those who were defecating in the open, The Times of India reported.

The report added that only after they took a pledge of not defecating in open that the municipal officials returned their lungis.

The RMC's crusade aginst open defecation is part of its "Halla Bol Lungi Khol Abhiyan", which aims to make Ranchi an open-defecation free (ODF) city by 30 September.

"It was a drive to show people how embarrassing it can be when you defecate in the open.The people who were caught have toilets in their homes. We made them promise that from now on they will use toilets," The Times of India quoted RMC city manager Shashi Prakash as saying.

But this is not the first instance of the authorities using unusual methods for implementing policies.

In April 2016, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) began a campaign to publicly shame those who defecated in public.

According to a May 2016 report, the BMC vigilance squad caught at least 35 people and made them to do sit ups. At least 16 more people were caught spitting, who were then made to clean their own mess, the report added.

The Indian Express also reported of similar vigilantism by municipal authorities across Maharashtra.

The 2016 report noted that in Sangola Municipal Council in Satara, municipal officials would photograph those answering nature's call in public and post them on a billboard outside the municipal office.

 Ranchi authorities publicly shame open defecators: State-sponsored vigilantism can be a dangerous idea

The Ranchi Municipal Corporation office. www.ranchimunicipal.com

In Gandhiglaj, a town in Kolhapur, workers from the municipal council deterred open defecation by organising a public procession for repeat offenders.

“Despite warnings, if someone is found going out in the open to defecate, we had instructed our teams to follow such people home with a procession. Using toilets was much better than suffering social embarrassment, so people started doing so,” Gadhinglaj Chief Officer Tanaji Narale told The Indian Express.

In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, the plan to make Gwalior an open defecation-free city followed a script similar to the one witnessed in Sangola. The city's municipal authorities decided to reward those who clicked photos of people defecating in the open.

According to The Asian Age, the Gwalior Municipal Corporation would pay Rs 100 for each photo.

However, the Congress criticised the initiative. “The order sounds very strange. The civic body authorities are announcing monetary awards for taking ‘dirty’ pictures of people. This is also an attack on the privacy of people,” a local Congress leader told The Asian Age.

Indeed, there are several voices which have raised concerns over the way state authorities have used vigilantism to enforce regulations. A DailyO article points out how vigilantism in the name of a cleanliness drive could widen the social gap, as most of those who defecate in the open are from economically weaker sections and lower castes.

The article also noted that as a consequence of the government's zeal to make places open-defecation free, the authorities are indirectly encouraging students to disrespect elders who defecate in the open.

Activists like Supriya Sonar have also said that the tactic  of shaming people will not yield any result as people defecate in open as authorities have not provided enough toilets for them. Sonar clearly put the onus of providing the basic sanitation facilities on municipal authorities, before involving itself in "innovative" ideas to dissuade people.

The use of vigilante-like campaign by state authorities is not just limited to making cities open-defecation free.

Cow vigilantism, which is becoming a major issue across the country, has more or less been given state sponsorship in Maharashtra.

The state's Ministry of Animal Husbandary issued notices for volunteers “engaged in animal welfare activities on religious grounds” to apply for the honorary position of welfare officers. According to The Indian Express, the circular sought people who could monitor the beef ban, which was imposed by the state government last year.

While the applicants are supposed to be non-political in nature, an investigation found out that most of them belong to Hindutva outfits like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Ram Sena, Hindu Sena, Shiv Sena, Durgavahini, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Maharashtra and Haryana are examples of state "outsourcing" the job of handling certain aspects of law and order to cow vigilantes, an article in The Indian Express noted. Such a devolution of power to such non-state actors would weaken state machinery, the article argued, citing the example of the shrinking of the Uttar Pradesh police force, which lacks 1,01,619 policemen, as of May 2017.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Sep 25, 2017 15:36:12 IST

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