In a posh ceremony outside Mumbai this afternoon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a state-of-the-art dual-gender outhouse, which will serve a crowded government office building on the outskirts of the city.
“With this milestone we are on track to achieving our goal of 2,000 functioning toilets by the year 2020,” Modi proudly declared. “And by the year 2450 every Indian household will have a real toilet of their very own.
“Some people say we’re aiming too high. They say 437 years is too short a deadline for such an epic achievement. But those same people never predicted we’d get this far, 100 toilets and counting. This is what progress looks like.”
India is known for its lack of proper sanitation, which is of extremely poor quality even compared to other low-income countries. Of the nation’s 1.2 billion people, 665 million openly defecate in the streets for lack of access to basic facilities
Many relieve themselves in streams or rivers, which contaminates drinking water supplies. Unsurprisingly, this practice is known to spread disease and lead to childhood malnutrition.
Poor sanitation also damages India’s reputation abroad. It is at the root of the so-called Delhi-belly, the gastrointestinal sickness that many tourists experience when visiting the country.
Modi was voted into office in May by an electorate impatient with the incumbent Congress Party’s failure to build proper infrastructure. On the campaign trail he often repeated the mantra “toilets not temples” to underscore his commitment to prioritize development ahead of his own party’s religious conservatism.
Since he took office on May 26, the number of toilets in the world’s second most populous country has skyrocketed from 25 to 100. Many leading Bollywood celebrities like Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, and Aishwarya Rai have started to use the devices at home for the first time.
“I can’t wait for mine to be installed,” says Anil Ambani, a local Mumbai businessman who attended today’s ceremony. “My favorite part of attending Wharton was the excellent toilet access.”
Yet in his speech today, Modi made clear that toilets won’t simply be the preserve of the wealthy and connected. “In 100 years every school in the country will have at least one toilet,” he boasted.