The sanitation programme in Bikaner district located in the heart of the arid Thar Desert in Rajasthan State was almost destined to fail, given the traditional approach to sanitation. But the BankoBikano campaign, when it was launched, surprised everyone. Unlike other target oriented government programmes, this one focused on being community led and community driven. Moreover the basic premise of the programme was pride – pride and self respect for the women, pride for the family, pride for the village and ultimately for the district. This thought and vision using local language and customs, caught on in the social fabric of rural Bikaner and the programme became almost self-propelling.
To begin with, the District Collector with technical support from Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) went about forming a dedicated team, the District Resource Group and convincing people’s representatives. Thereafter there was intensive capacity building of stakeholders. While toilets were built by householders themselves, they were checked by Nigranisamitis and monitoring focused on ODF achievement. The movement involved women and children as entry points into the community. The programme achieved remarkable success with all 219 GPs and 890 villages declared as ODF in 2015.
Here’s what the former District Collector, Arti Dogra who initiated the BankoBikano campaign wrote:
“Before sunrise every morning, groups of men, women and children can be seen walking through the sand dunes of Bikaner. These heterogeneous groups, known as the nigrani committee, are often spearheaded by little tolis of children and are bound together by a common agenda — to seek and shame those from the village who step out in the early hours of the morning to defecate in the open. This activity is a part of the two-year-old community-led campaign BankoBikano, which aims to create open defecation free (ODF) gram panchayats in Bikaner district in western Rajasthan. Since the launch of this campaign, spearheaded by the local community and supported by the district administration, over 200 panchayats in the district have been declared as ODF.
The truth is that even the people practicing open defecation are aware of the risks, whether to their health or socially. However, this knowledge has not been enough for them to build and use toilets. Poverty and lack of space to build a toilet are often cited as reasons to explain why the age-old practice continues, but enough evidence has been generated to show that these are not valid.
Communities were “triggered” by igniting in them disgust and exhorting them to feel pride in a clean, ODF village. Once a collective mindset change was ensured, communities came together to generate innovative methods to ensure that each person in the village constructed and used the toilets. Toilets, therefore, became an aspirational need and a symbol of the dignity and pride of the family and community as a whole, instead of merely a financial subsidy provided to an individual by the government. Payments for toilets were made in Bikaner after the entire village had achieved and maintained its ODF status. Ensuring the ODF status through early morning nigrani was therefore in the interest of the community. By reorienting the administrative setup in Bikaner to act as facilitators (of behavioural change) and not providers (of individual toilets), the collective conscious of the community was kindled. This led to a massive increase in the number of ODF villages in Bikaner, and an increase in the percentage coverage of toilets from 29 per cent (Census 2011) to 82 per cent (in January 2015). Over 1,99,000 toilets were constructed in the district during a two-year period, re-emphasizing the point that when the focus is on creating ODF communities, toilets get built on their own.”