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  • The Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) reported that by February 2019,  44% of the rural population across four large states still defecate in the open.

    The Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) reported that by February 2019, 44% of the rural population across four large states still defecate in the open. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 September 2019

Poor sanitation that forces Indians to defecate outdoors is one of the country's biggest health issues.

Two children belonging to the Dalit - the lowest-caste formerly known as untouchables - were killed Wednesday by two men from an upper-caste in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for defecating in public, according to officials and relatives.

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"I heard them crying for help. I went out to see what had happened and to my utter shock, I saw two men hitting them with sticks at a distance of about 60 to 70 feet from our house," one of the children’s fathers Manoj Valmiki told Al Jazeera.

Roshni Valmiki, 12, and her 10-year-old nephew, Avinash, were attacked by Hakam Singh and Rameshwar Singh on Wednesday morning as the children had to defecate in the open because the family didn't have a toilet at home, a common problem in the country.

Police arrested the men and informed that "the accused are mentally stable and during the interrogation, they have said they committed this crime," Rajesh Chandel, the superintendent of police of Shivpuri, told Reuters news agency, adding an investigation was ongoing.

Shivpuri district's magistrate visited them on Thursday and gave the families two checks of 400,000 rupees (US$5,637) to each as compensation.

Poor sanitation that forces Indians to defecate outdoors is one of the country's biggest health issues, so much that far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, mission in 2014, and is planning to declare India "open defecation free" (ODF) on October 2 this year, according to Indian media reports.

But the killing recorded on Wednesday morning is just part of a wave of widespread violence based on caste-discrimination that rages in India, especially in the rural regions. 

These sort of crimes are registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act (Prevention of Atrocities), a 1989 law meant to protect historically oppressed communities and ethnicities.

According to an IndiaSpend analysis of 2016 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the latest available, between 2006 and 2016, crime rates against Dalits rose by 25 percent. As per the latest census, they comprise 16 percent of India's population, about 200 million people.

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