A public toilet in India
A public toilet in India | Commons
Text Size:

Data reveals 25% of Hindus who own toilets don’t use them, only 10% of Muslims do the same.

Far from his dwelling let him remove urine and excreta –The Laws of Manu (a Hindu sacred text), Chapter 4 verse 151

More than half of the Indian population, over 600 million people, defecate in the open, without the use of a latrine or toilet. The prevalence of open defecation (hereafter OD) is particularly high among India’s Hindu majority. Data from the most recent wave of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of India show that as of 2005, 68% of Hindu households defecate in the open—e.g., in fields, near streets, or behind bushes. In comparison, only 43% of the relatively poorer Muslim households do so.

To investigate these patterns in more detail, we turn briefly to the Sanitation Quality, Use, Access, & Trends survey, which was collected by one of this study’s authors in rural northern India in 2013 and 2014. Unlike our main analysis dataset, the NFHS, this survey was specifically designed to elicit preferences over latrine use. We use it here to provide a clearer context and understanding of the stark demand differences we exploit below.

Table 1
Table 1

Table 1 summarizes responses at the individual and household levels, with Hindu means in column 1 and Muslim means in column 2. Consistent with other data sources, the first row of the table shows that Hindus are significantly more likely than Muslims to practice OD—that is, they are less likely to use a latrine or toilet. This difference in revealed preferences is deeply embedded: The second row shows that a substantial minority of Hindus who reside in a household with a working latrine nonetheless choose to defecate in the open. 25% of Hindus who own functional latrines choose not to use them, compared to 10% of Muslims. These findings are consistent with accounts from Indian commentators and evaluations by researchers that toilets constructed or paid for by the government often remain unused or repurposed by Hindus.

The roots of these behavioural differences are difficult to trace and are beyond the scope of this paper. Sanitation practices may have evolved differently across Muslim and Hindu communities for purely secular reasons, and could have been privately or socially optimal given the context under which they arose. Even specific religious instruction with respect to sanitation and hygiene that we observe today may have been established long ago— codifying then-existing norms, rather than establishing those norms. Regardless of the historical path, we show here that religion is a highly predictive marker for group differences.

While we take no position on whether religion causes OD per se, it is common for Indians to discuss waste disposal choices with reference to religious purity. Row 4 of Table 1 shows that a substantial fraction of both Hindu and Muslim respondents self-report that a religious leader has told them explicitly where to defecate. The last two rows of Table 1 show that Hindus are more likely than Muslims to respond that OD away from the home is pure, while using a latrine near the home is not pure. All Hindu-Muslim differences in the table are statistically significant at the 5% level.

The possibility that open defecation would ever be chosen if a working toilet or latrine were available may be surprising to many readers, but these patterns, and indeed the Hindu-Muslim behaviour difference itself, are well known to many residents of rural India.

Moreover, this behaviour has long been recognized and documented publicly: Cultural scholars attribute the modern persistence of OD among Hindus in India to the persistence of the Hindu caste system, with its ritual avoidance of excreta. Recently, Hindu politicians across the political spectrum have publicly recognized this pattern. And nearly a century ago, Gandhi campaigned to change Indian behaviour with respect to excreta disposal, famously declaring, “Sanitation is more important than independence.”

In short, the prominence of OD among Hindus is not merely a matter of the affordability of latrines and toilets. Instead, Hindus report and reveal clear preferences against using latrines. Indeed, the nationally representative data shows that the Hindu-Muslim demand difference holds at all levels of wealth. This demand difference is key in our identification of the mortality externalities of latrine use.

This is an edited excerpt from May 2015 working paper titled “Neighbourhood sanitation and infant mortality” conducted for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The full text of the report is available here.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism



  1. Who can question about the purity of Islam. It asks to perform ablution five times a day before Salaat.
    It is not hidden from anyone that in the last survey in Ganga river 70% urine found. If you look at the zamzam water, scientist told it is the purest water on the face of earth.
    It is not about taking bath daily as many have raised, but keeping yourself pure.

  2. And christians are more likely to convert people through falsehood than muslims.
    Muslims are more likely to spread terrorism than hindus.
    (Logic of this article, not gonna lie)

  3. Is there a pattern? First you find an article about cast discrimination in ” hold your breath” USA against dalit then this stupid article about who uses and don’t use toilets in the home. This article looks like planted stories with falsehood written all over it. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom to spread divisiveness, anyway Indians specially younger sets are smart to see through this plots. You want succeed in your nefarious designs. Congress that thrived on divisive agendas will be things of past very soon.

  4. Very intellectual, printing a piece, from a 2015 article in 2018. It shows how hypocritical this page is. You will always print selective data. But no worries, we the real population of India, know the truth. And we also know who’s image you try to tarnish. It won’t work.

  5. Becouse muslim fear that as their penis has been done khatna then urinating in public will identify them as Muslim and hindu will kill them.

  6. Muslims have to rub ‘stone’ on there penis after urination, as ordered by their religion, which will look very funny, if they do it in open. Also Muslims have to beg mercy and money from Allah, 5 times a day, and its very difficult to bath 5 times a day, especially if you are a Muslim from Gulf (water-less) country. That is why they normally prefer not to bath and it is also not very sure if a Muslim has taken bath each day you meet them. This is why they always use some strong fragrance. Since they do not bath, they have to ensure there sanitation, all the time.
    On the contrary while Hindus have to pray only once, and so they are ordered by their religion to bath before praying, which ensures that they have bathed every day, thus they are mentally not inclined towards every hour hygiene.
    Hope you are able to find some logic in my arguments, rather than just protecting and protesting each other religion.

  7. What kind of article is this? Rubbish statistics… So we are now getting aadhar linked to potty banks? The writer is an idiot!

  8. Now in all case you will.divide Hindu and Muslim. Tomorrow you will say Hindu breathe more air than Muslims

  9. What’s there in a person shitting. Muslim or sindi or Hindu or Christian or jain. When it comes u have to go. Media is the culprit creating a divide and rule among Hindu and Muslim.

  10. Is this important things to Discuss
    Religion is the way the god. Not for going toilet. Don’t mention or compare any idiot things under religion

  11. Pure? Idiots defecating in the open and allowing the breeding of bacteria, leading to infection and lowering of mortality. Purity is more important than life, I suppose!

  12. What a stupid article designed to compare and divide religions, the data doesn’t take into account poverty levels and who has access to toilets.

    • RTFA
      “25% of Hindus who own functional latrines choose not to use them, compared to 10% of Muslims.”

      in other words quarter of hindus who have toilets, some built at the expense of taxpayers, do not use toilet compared to 1/10th muslims.

      so there foes your poverty strawman.

  13. It’s because of the different way of life. A Muslim is taught to sanitize before offering the prayers like before and after the urination and ambulation which a non-muslim very unlikely to take care of.

    • You can’t always claim that.For example, it took Bangladesh almost 12 years to achieve near OD free tag.If religion is the main issue then in bangladesh or in pakistan OD should not be an issue in first place.In sub-continent the socio-economical conditions plays a much,much more cruecial role in our life like every single place on earth but we are willing and categorically played down into the hands of DALALs of religion (in all 3 countries) who along with crony capitalists loot the resources of our countries and still get away with it.Until we put the money where the mouth is,there is very little hope for us.

      • Dear brother, Asif Islam, “Mohammed A H Shareef did nor quote with clamis”. He just spoke the concept of hygiene of a muslim. You being a muslim yourself, leave the entire time of personal hygiene, but atleast while going for praying salah, you yourself must be making your body pak then wuddu then you must be offering salah (and so on).

        Infact in a real entity, if a muslim ignores (reciting quran everyday or reciting dua everytime as a schedule) foe sometime and thinks, atleast m not doing those but will offer salah. Even due to the five times of salah, a muslim is bound to be pak-saaf.

        And lets take someone ignores everything no recitation of quran and not even salah, he is still bound to be pak saaf for even speaking bismillah. And for doing any wajib work , the body should be pak. (Excluding some exceptions for female ).

        (Bdw, do not take it as any personal issue or any religion dividing reply. But still, I apologize for any future sentiments on the reply).

        • Hahah Muslims and hygiene never go together. Visit any muslims household, and you will be shocked with the unhyeenic practices. They don’t even wash their hands off after the loo. Bathe once a month. Every muslim dominated neighborhood reeks of filth, foul odour

          • Hahaha do you even fear God when making lies like this. Admittedly areas of muslims might be filthy and yes there are hindu areas filthy too. Meet me in Delhi, I will show you. That being said, Hygiene is a very important part of our “religion”, everything is stipulated by law like washing hand after urinating and pooping, purifying ourselves at least 5 times a day everyday, having a purifying bath after sexual intercourse, ejaculation etc. So, you have no idea what you are talking about.

Comments are closed.