Indian state requires candidates to own a toilet before they can run in village elections

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Authorities in an east Indian state have made it mandatory for candidates contesting village elections to have a toilet in their home as part of a move to improve sanitation in the country, a senior official said.

On Wednesday, the Bihar state assembly passed an act mandating that candidates must confirm that they have a toilet inside their home in order to be nominated for the 2016 elections.

The requirement to own a lavatory in a nation where half the population defecates outdoors has raised fundamental questions about elitism in India’s politics. If all 29 states adopted similar laws, more than 600 million people would be barred from election — the equivalent of banning everyone in North America from politics.

“Our objective is to improve sanitary conditions at the micro level and end the disgusting practice of open defecation which is the root cause of many ills,” says Binod Prasad Yadav, Bihar’s Panchayati Raj (village governance) Minister..

Less than 1/3 of India’s 1.2 billion people have access to toilets and more than 186,000 children below the age of five die every year from diarrhea related diseases caused by contaminated water and poor sanitation.

Three out of the four states that have made toilet ownership mandatory for candidates are governed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate open defecation.

India’s central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, has made building toilets a top priority and he has pledged that every household will have a toilet by 2019.

Jack Sim, founder of the Singapore-based World Toilet Organization, is among the proponents of Haryana’s new laws.

“This is an innovative and exemplary model that should be applied the world over,” said Sim, whose organization works in more than 50 countries. “If a person doesn’t have a toilet, they’re setting a bad example as a leader in public office. I think every public figure should have a toilet, from teachers to doctors to lawmakers.”

Bihar, ruled by the opposition Janata Dal United party, is the second state after Gujarat to have passed such legislation ahead of next year’s village and district council elections.

“With such a huge number of candidates contesting elections … the move will lead to a toilet construction rush which will leave a positive impact on the society,” Yadav said.

“How can you ask the people to construct toilets when you yourself don’t have one?”