In the current sanitation policy discourse, cultural norms of purity and pollution are considered as major obstacles to toilet behaviour leading emphasis on behavioural change to orient people to use toilets. This study conducted in 21 slums in Angul and Dhenkanal, two small towns in Odisha, explores the sociocultural norms, behaviour and practices that influence sanitation in small towns. The study shows that culture doesn’t operate in isolation. Cultural interacts with multiple factors such as physical space in urban areas, resources people have to invest in toilet, essential infrastructure such as water, and cost effective technology that people can access. Culture influences these aspects of sanitation as well as gets influenced by them. The study highlights that people adapt in various degrees to their physical environment, thus compromising on cultural norms and beliefs but there are certain non-negotiable norms that are not compromised. This calls for decoding the cultural determinants of sanitation. The study suggest that for effective governance of sanitation, policies need to take the above mentioned factors into consideration, and create scope for understanding how culture works in a particular context and influences sanitation behaviour, choices, and practices of the poor.
The study was conducted by the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, under the Scaling City Institutions for India (SCI-FI) Project on Urban Sanitation, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.