Praying for toilets

by Dinesh Suna last modified 24 November 2016 04:30 PM

24 November 2016

For many of us “toilet” is a taboo subject to talk about. To do so in the prayers is all the more not acceptable to many of us! We can talk of water in our prayers due to its strong spiritual significance with all religions, including Christianity. But it seems the issue of “sanitation” is rather a profane one! But it is high time we talk about it as lack of adequate sanitation affects 2.4 billion people – that is 1 in every 3 in our planet.

There are several church hymns based on water. However, there is almost nothing on issues related to sanitation. Last year the Ecumenical Water Network requested a renowned hymn composer, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette from the USA, to compose a hymn focusing on the sanitation issues, which then can be used during the services commemorating the World Toilet Day (19 November). Thanks to Carolyn now we have a hymn dedicated to this important cause.

A hymn for World Toilet Day, written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

Having to defecate openly infringes on human safety and dignity. This holds particularly true for women and girls, who lose their privacy and have to face humiliation and shame or – painfully holding their bladder and bowels all day – risk their health by waiting until night falls.

Four thousand children die every day due to as preventable a disease as diarrhea. Poor sanitation is the major cause of diarrhea. It’s a shame that this happens till today when water and sanitation are declared as human rights! Many teenage girls go absent from school when they start menstruating, as there are no toilets in their schools, and therefore, there is no privacy. Frequent absences from school eventually make them school dropouts.

This year’s theme for World Toilet Day is TOILETS AND JOBS. The sanitation workers around the world get treated and paid differently for their valued job.

Have you ever been in a situation where your toilets at home are out of order? It’s a mere co-incidence that me and my family were in that situation for the whole of yesterday, when my 3-year-old decided to flush down a plastic object and the toilet got blocked. I got quotes from anywhere between 300 -500 Swiss francs from plumbers to get it fixed! We were desperate and finally it was done by a plumber at a “reasonable” rate according to Swiss standards! The plumber had all his safety gears at his disposal.

On the other hand, in India and other parts of the world, there are sanitation workers who have to literally plunge into manholes filled with human excreta to fix a toilet without any safety gear or hygienic condition and get paid anywhere between 2-5 Swiss francs for this filthy job. And this job is done by a particular community, called the Dalits in India, who are on the lowest strata of the caste based segregations. Despite the government of India having abolished “manual scavenging”, the practice is rampant and the government is the largest employer contributing to the problem, when it comes to maintaining Indian railways (with 23 million commuters every day and toilets opening directly on the tracks).

We as the church are called to play a prophetic role by speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and are called to defend the rights of the vulnerable. To discuss, sing and pray about better sanitation and toilets for the have-nots, including the safety and hygiene of the sanitation workers, is a good starting point!


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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