16-year-old Mallamma from Koppal district in northern Karnataka recently went on a hunger strike to pressurise her mother to build a toilet at home.
The youngest of three siblings, Mallamma had reached a stage of desperation, when she couldn’t take it any longer. “I had to wait until the early hours of the morning when it was still dark to relieve myself,” the adolescent recalled. It was not just about overcoming her fear of the dark and insects that she might encounter along the way. It had become a matter of dignity for the student of standard 10 in the government high school of Danapura in Gangavati Taluk of Koppal district.
For over a year now, representatives of the panchayat had been speaking to her village community about good sanitation practices and the need to build and use toilets. In her school too, the teachers talked about the ill effects of defecating in the open. But when she asked for a toilet at their home, her widowed mother, Sangalingamma was firm in her refusal; owing to the fact that she had no resources or the space to construct a toilet at home.
Determined to have her demand met, one day, Mallamma simply refused her morning meal. At noontime too, her mother coaxed her to eat something in vain. It was when she refused dinner that her mother and siblings Shivraj and Nirupagni became alarmed and people around the village too heard about it and gathered at her home.
President of the village panchayat, Mohammed Shafi went across to Mallamma’s home and seeing that the girl was adamant, persuaded her mother to build a toilet. He contacted the district administration and organized finance amounting to Rs 18,000 and within a week a bathroom was built.
Satisfied with the turn of events, a beaming Mallamma says that she intends to study hard and hopes to become a lecturer some day.
Commenting on the incident, “Children are key to the success of a campaign such as this, because of their pestering capability,” said R. Ramachandran, CEO of the Zilla Panchayat, adding that once they are convinced about something, they will not relent until the job is done.
For this reason, he has included students among the teams which he is part of, that regularly visit homes each morning. Currently there are 5-6 teams that include teachers, ward members, Asha workers and block development officers who engage in the door to door campaign starting at 5.30 am to motivate residents. “Swachhta is our target and toilets are a means to achieve the same,” he added.
Among the most backward districts, Koppal with a population of about 14 lakhs lies in the shadow of the Western Ghats, owing to which it receives less rainfall and is drought prone.