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Table 3 Sanitation rituals among different castes

From: Socio-cultural and behavioural factors constraining latrine adoption in rural coastal Odisha: an exploratory qualitative study

Caste Men Women Children
Brahmins (the highest caste) and, other general castes (with better economic status) Change of clothes pre- and post-defecation, and body cleansing with water after defecation is an important aspect of the defecation ritual practiced by rural people. The common belief is that clothes worn while defecating become impure, and by rinsing or washing with water, they are ‘purified’. Therefore, they have a separate cloth (a dhoti or lungi, meaning towel) to be worn while going for defecation. This cloth is usually kept outside the living area, away from the main house and away from the reach of children and adults, so that no one touches it. In case of urgency, where they fail to change their clothes, the clothes have to be rinsed with water after defecation. Wearing the same clothes without rinsing or washing is forbidden and they are restricted from entering the house. Full body bath is not necessary. The sacred thread (called paitaa) is wrapped around the right ear twice while going to defecate and once when they urinate. After anal cleansing, followed by full body washing with water, the thread is taken off the ear and made wet and put back on the shoulder again. They are restricted from touching the water point after defecation (see details in next column on women’s rituals). As described for Brahmin men, body cleansing with water after defecation, is strictly practiced among females as well. Females of all age groups (excluding the very young) have to change their clothes, each time they go to defecate. Adhering to this ritual, the common practice is to keep aside an old unused gown, saree or dress, and change into it for defecation. For those with latrines, stepping over the squatting pan is considered chuan (i.e. getting impure) and both the body and clothes worn get impure. They are forbidden from entering the house wearing impure clothes. They can purify only by rinsing the dress/clothes they have worn or by changing them. For this reason, they prefer urinating outside the latrine mostly in the backyard and the latrine is used only to defecate. Similarly, they prefer to dispose of young children’s faeces which are not considered impure, outside of the latrine, to avoid having to perform these lengthy rituals. They are restricted from touching or accessing water points (tube wells, or wells) at home with clothes worn while impure from defecation. Therefore, they have to collect and store enough water for not only anal cleansing and flushing, but also for bathing and washing their clothes before going for defecating when using the latrine. In case they did not fetch enough, someone else has to assist them to fetch the water they need to use the latrine. Changing of dress or clothes is not mandatory for infants or young children. Children who can defecate on their own have to remove all garments when they need to defecate. Faeces of children above 3 years are considered impure as by that age, the child starts eating rice and the faeces smell. Mothers develop a disgusting feeling for it. For a baby who defecates on the ground or floor, the mother may pick up the faeces with straw or other old materials and dispose of it in the bush or the waste/garbage pile. Mothers are unaware of the need for safe disposal, or of methods to do so, and prefer to avoid changing their own clothes which would be necessary if they entered the latrine to dispose of children’s faeces or help young children use the latrine. It is more convenient for them to throw these faeces on vacant land next to the house or in the backyard, and have young children defecate outside.
Other castes (poor) Changing of clothes is a common practice, but many poor families do not have extra dresses for changing during defecation. So, they use the same clothes each time they go for defecation and wash their fully clothed body (both body and clothes together) with water. Women do the same as men. They don’t strictly follow the rituals of changing clothes, each time they defecate. Mothers are not very strict or particular about the changing of clothes of children.
Lowest castes (Scheduled b) (poorest) They mostly are the landless and work as labourers or share croppers. They usually defecate on their way to the fields and bathe before returning home. They don’t have any strict practices of changing clothes. Those who are more hygiene conscious prefer to change their clothes. Women also work as agricultural labourers, and their defecation practices are similar to those of men. Children accompany their parents to the fields, and their practices are the same as their parents.
  1. aPaita is a thin consecrated cord composed of distinct cotton strands and worn by adolescent and adult male Brahmins. The thread is worn across the torso and over one shoulder, after the thread ceremony conducted when a boy is seven years old, but this is changing with time
  2. b Scheduled castes are also referred to as “dalits” or “harijan”