NEW DELHI, India — It's difficult for men to admit that women need to use the bathroom — just like they do.
Women in India often have to pay to use public bathrooms, while men do not. The capital of Mumbai has vastly more public restrooms available for men than for women.
And last year, a young woman gained fans for fleeing her husband's home because there was no toilet for her.
Now, some single men are recognizing this problem and are using their safe, clean indoor toilets to try charming the ladies.
The local government in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has in fact made it mandatory for grooms to pose alongside a picture of a toilet in their home in order to get married, the Times of India reported today.
The mandate is the result of a severe toilet shortage in the district. Grooms seem to be embracing this unique solution. "In towns, people are coming to get their pictures, taken on mobile phones or digital cameras, developed at our studio," Devendra Maithil, owner of Raj Digital studio at Sehore, told TOI.
The news comes after Indian's sanitation minister told women late last year to avoid marrying into families who don't own toilets.
Defecating in the open is so common that it is one of the first things noticed by visitors to India. All along the railway tracks, even on busy routes, the ditches and hillsides are lined with squatters — including ladies who pull their saris up over their faces as the trains trundle by.
Walk down the beach a bit from any five-star resort, and the sand becomes a toilet. Even in cities as crowded as Delhi and Mumbai, slum dwellers often use vacant lots and garbage heaps as impromptu toilets — in Mumbai making themselves vulnerable to marauding leopards.
The health impact is serious. According to the World Health Organization, some 626 million Indians defecate in the open — more than twice as many as the next 18 countries combined. That's tons of human waste that never enters the sewage system and all too often seeps into the water supply, causing diarrhea and other illnesses. (Around 10 percent of all illnesses in India can be traced to unsafe water and poor sanitation).
As the Madhya Pradesh government scheme suggests, however, India has recently attacked the problem with a new seriousness.
Under Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, the government has set a goal of eliminating open defecation altogether within the next 10 years. And the department has both dramatically increased spending to build toilets and devised a series of innovative social programs that encourage people to build and use their own.
But due to its acute, and worsening, water shortage, India will also need to develop and encourage new technologies for dealing with waste. The simplest design from the WHO, embraced by the non-profit Sulabh International, is based on a concrete pit that turns feces into fertilizer.
But however suitable it is as a stopgap measure in rural areas, it is not a wholly practical long-term solution for India's metropolitan cities. And many such installations, when built by the government, fall into disuse as villagers discover that they prefer the great outdoors to a stinking, feces-spattered concrete box.