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An attention-getting headline in the major Indian daily newspaper, The Hindu recentlyobserved: “Half of India’s homes have mobile phones, but not toilets.” Such contradictions portray a country with some of the trappings of modernity combined with living conditions in India’s 247 million households that look more medieval. The Registrar General of India has released statistics on the level of living in India from the 2011 Census and the results are quite revealing. Even more revealing are the changes since the 2001 Census.
Regarding the first two issues in the headline, the percentage of houses with an indoor toilet is still less than half but there was an improvement (see table below). But, if one sees the glass as half empty, should the percentage increase in toilets remain steady, the 2071 Census would be the first to show this figure to reach 100 percent! Conditions in rural areas are much worse than urban areas given that 7 out of 10 households must resort to open places like fields, bush, river, stream, railway tracks, and so forth.
And how about those mobile phones? More than half of households do have at least one, nearly half in rural areas and 76 percent in urban areas. Many households, of course, possess more than one mobile. Perhaps that is not so surprising since a very basic mobile phone costs as little as US$40 and can be relatively quickly purchased; not so for a sewer hookup. That US$40 cost is, nonetheless, quite substantial for many households. Reports indicate that there are now over 700 million mobile phones in India.