South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Rhetorics of Sanitation and School Toilets

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

Discussions of toilets in media and activism often throw a spotlight on the availability of toilets for children in developing countries. Children are imagined both as vulnerable at the moment and as promises of the country's future - they are both recipients of instruction on sanitation and the reason why a society needs better sanitation. This rhetoric plays out in schools through the state designed curriculum and pedagogy on sanitation, and in its (un)built toilets.

In this paper, I explore the rhetoric of sanitation and narratives of toilets in schools through a discourse analysis of excerpts from school textbooks, and audio-visual and textual material published in Tamil and English through the last decade in South Asia in general, and with particular emphasis on Tamil Nadu. I read these texts through a post-colonial lens for continuities from the health and sanitation policies of the Madras Presidency in colonial India during the late nineteenth century, development projects, and the twentieth century. I focus on how these discourses engage the relationship between (un)built environment and children's bodies through ideas of the safety of the "hygienic" and the risk of the "contagious". The sanitation discourse lies at the intersection of childhood (life-stage), gender, ecology, climate, and access to resources. It centers normative narratives of safety, shame, education, and health of children. My paper calls for an understanding of the school toilets and sanitation curriculum in the context of post-colonial politics of children, their bodies, and environments.

Smruthi Bala Kannan

Rutgers University, United States

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