I vividly recall the first train trip I took in India almost a decade ago. I remember waking up to watch the red sun rise in the western state of Rajasthan in May, the hottest month of the year. It revealed a stunning landscape: scorched grass as far as the eye could see, weathered trees, and rows of brown mud huts. The terrain brought with it an array of new sounds and smells—the clamoring of pots and pans, chickens squabbling, and bubbling, fragrant, gingery chai.

Looking down, I also saw a long row of people squatting along the train tracks. It took me a few minutes to realize that they were defecating. As the train continued, I saw more and more people in groups openly defecating; it was part of their morning ritual before bathing and eating. I wasn’t shocked by the scene;...

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