Indian health minister urinates on wall amid cleanliness drive

Image of Kali Charan Saraf causes stir as country aims to end public defecation

An Indian state health minister has been pictured urinating on a wall amid a nationwide drive to end public defecation and promote cleanliness and hygiene.

Kali Charan Saraf, the health minister for Rajasthan state, was pictured relieving himself on a wall in the state capital Jaipur in an image tweeted by a staffer from the opposition Congress party.

The picture went viral and caused embarrassment for Mr Safar and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ending public defecation and urination are key priorities of the "Clean India" campaign, a flagship policy for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi is frequently pictured handling a broom himself and sweeping streets as part of the campaign, which produces an annual list of the 100 cleanest Indian cities. Jaipur is yet to appear on the list.

Mr Modi has pledged to eradicate open defecation by October 2019 and his administration claims to have built 60 million toilets across the country since coming to power in 2014, with another 20 million scheduled to be constructed by the middle of next year.

“We have to build toilets before temples,” Mr Modi said in a speech last year.

Men urinating in public is a common sight in Indian cities and villages and an estimated half-billion people in the country still defecate outdoors, a practice considered the main reason for the country’s high rate of diarrhoea-related deaths among children aged five and under.

Nearly 190,000 children die each year from conditions linked to frequent bouts of diarrhoea, which weakens their immune systems and makes them more vulnerable to malnutrition and diseases such as polio or pneumonia.

Reviews of the toilet-building programme have shown that many Indians continue to defecate in the open despite the presence of new latrines in their villages.

A 2015 study argued the practice is deeply woven into the culture of some communities, in one case giving women an opportunity to leave their homes and socialise away from the scrutiny of their mothers-in-law. It also found many toilets were inadequately built and frequently flooded.

Mr Saraf has declined to comment in detail, telling Indian agencies the picture was “not a big issue”. – Guardian