Patna, July 24, 2017. RedNewswire/– Source: Telegraph India
An IAS officer allegedly asked a villager in Bihar to “sell his wife” if he could not afford to build a toilet at home, reflecting a growing trend among officials of overzealously pushing programmes that enjoy support at the highest levels.
Kanwal Tanuj, district magistrate of Aurangabad, was addressing a ” swachhta mahasabha” – an awareness programme against open defecation – in Jamhor block yesterday, asking people to build toilets at home and promising reimbursement as an incentive.
Suddenly, a man in his 50s interrupted him. “We are poor. We haven’t the money to get a toilet built. Please give us the cash in advance,” he said.
Angry at the interruption, Tanuj shot back: ” Agar paise nahi hai to biwi ko bech do (If you haven’t the money, sell your wife).”
He later tried to provide a context, accusing male villagers of indifference to the safety of their womenfolk who increasingly face sexual assaults when they step out to relieve themselves at night.
“It’s shocking that in spite of such incidents, you can’t afford Rs 12,000 for the sake of your wives’ safety,” he told the gathering of about 500.
Bihar’s poor who build a toilet at home would be entitled to Rs 12,000 under a combination of the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s “Seven Resolves” for the state that include “toilets in all households”.
But the money would be paid only as a reimbursement after the panchayat chief has verified the toilet’s construction, Tanuj had told the meeting, prompting the unidentified villager’s intervention.
The annual per capita income in Aurangabad’s rural areas being Rs 12,302, Tanuj was in effect asking the villagers to set aside a year’s earning for a toilet and await reimbursement.
After ordering the questioner to “sell his wife”, Tanuj said, “Which man would say ‘Take the dignity of my wife and give me Rs 12,000?'” — probably oblivious that his comment might itself be construed as an assault on a woman’s dignity.
Government employees’ idea of women’s dignity has collided with their fervour in promoting the Swachh campaign in the past too.
Civic staff in the Rajasthan town of Pratapgarh beat a 55-year-old Zafar Khan to death last month when he tried to stop them photographing women defecating in the open around 6.30am.
Sociologists have pointed to a growing tendency among officials and the public to “discipline or punish” those they see as not conforming to the expectations of those in power. The experts have linked the trend to the increasing vigilante lynchings, saying the mobs are emboldened by perceptions of a sympathetic government.
Earlier, Tanuj had explained that the toilet money couldn’t be given in advance because it could be misused. “Funds released in advance under the Indira Awaas Yojana had been used as wedding expenses,” he said.
Tanuj, a 2010-batch IAS officer, told The Telegraph his statement had been distorted and taken out of context. He, however, did not reply when this newspaper sent him a purported video clip of his statement that has been uploaded on the social media.
Alok Singh, a social activist, said the man who had posed the query to Tanuj was a Mahadalit and that the district magistrate had “hurt the sentiments of the community” by “humiliating” him.
A government survey has revealed that Aurangabad ranks last among Bihar’s 38 districts in battling open defecation. Two mahasabhas had been held in the district’s Madanpur and Deo blocks before the Jamhor meeting.
Secretariat sources said Tanuj had earlier triggered controversy by riding a motorbike without a helmet during a campaign against alcoholism.
In 2013, when he was subdivisional officer at Kishanganj, Tanuj had had a woman constable arrested on the charge of sending vulgar text messages to his phone.