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Volunteers armed with drums and whistles are being used under a new scheme to shame people going to the toilet in public in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, officials say.

The scheme was launched on Monday in 34 villages in Jhunjhunu district.

Four to five people will “shout, beat drums or blow a whistle” if they see anyone urinating or defecating in the open, said an official.

Repeat offenders may even be asked to pay a fine, he said.

Nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home and they defecate in the open.

Correspondents say spitting, urinating and defecating in public are a common sight across India, and in rural areas many people continue to go out in the open even when they have toilets at home because they prefer the outdoors.

But the authorities in Jhunjhunu now want to change that behavior.

“Nearly 80% [of] villagers in the district have toilets at home and we’re trying to motivate the remaining 20% to build toilets at home,” said Ramniwas Jat, head of Jhunjhunu district council.

“We are also giving financial assistance of 9,100 rupees [$166] to people who wish to construct a toilet. We want people to not defecate in the open,” he said.

Spitting, urinating and defecating in public are a common sight across India

Spitting, urinating and defecating in public are a common sight across India

Officials say cultural and traditional factors, a lack of education and too few toilets are the prime reasons why millions of Indians defecate in the open.

Those with no access to toilets have to go to farms and fields and women have to go before dawn or after dark in order to preserve their modesty.

Last year, in Madhya Pradesh a newly-wed woman left her husband’s home two days after her marriage because the house had no toilet.

Defecating in the open is also blamed for the spread of a number of diseases such as tapeworm.

Diseases spread by human waste

  • Ascariasis: An intestinal infection from a large roundworm (growing up to 30 cm) whose eggs are found in contaminated soil. Kills 60,000 a year
  • Cholera: A global public health threat with up to five million cases a year, it results in profuse diarrhoea/vomiting and can kill within hours
  • Dysentery: Highly contagious bacterial infection. Outbreaks are likely in areas where poor hygiene practices exist
  • Typhoid fever: An infection of the intestine and bloodstream causing fever, headache and diarrhoea. 17 million cases a year
  • Trachoma: Infection which turns the eyelid inwards, causing eyelashes to rub and scar the eyeball. An estimated six million worldwide are blind due to the disease

Source: WaterAid/WHO