Name, shame; but not the children

From Dr. Nipun Vinayak

The Swachh Bharat is a programme different from many. Rather than a typical government programme talking of subsidies, beneficiaries and target, it is taking the form of a social movement with its passionate soldiers working at ‘behaviour change’. Learning from its earlier avatars, Swachh Bharat has realised that if only we are able to convince people that open defecation is disastrous for them, and that open defecation by anyone in their village is equally disastrous for them, the rest of the job is easy.

However, this is easier said than done. Converting a programme from a sarkari programme to a social change movement first requires ‘unlearning’ on the part of implementers – coming out of the role of ‘providers’ of welfare and subsidies to ‘facilitators’ of development. Before working on the mindset of people; before attempting to change their age old practice of open defecation; our own mindsets have to be worked upon!

Working on behaviour change is a science of sorts. Primarily, yes, it requires a basic nature of love for the people. But beyond that, one needs tools to bring about this behaviour change. Sermons, bhashans etc have been tried for long, but have had limited effect. The CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) brought in refreshing ‘trigger tools’ that spread like wild fire and caught the imagination of facilitators and people alike. Practiced over many years in different milieu, these tools increased in number and variety. Practitioners across, challenged with the goal of ODF, improvised and developed innovative ideas. The whole idea was to use something that catches the imagination of people, facilitates sustained engagement with them in an interesting way and is effective in the sense of nudging communities into action.

Naming and shaming developed as a tool for behaviour change. The original purist form may have been a ‘walk of shame’ where the facilitator took villagers through the site of open defecation, walking through the shit, even standing there and discussing. This was a major change from ‘sober’ public meetings held in Gram Panchayats or public places. And proved useful. The shaming thus developed as a tool widely used.

What may be realised is that this shaming was usually collective shaming. Even if names were taken in the collective shaming discussion, it was with a view to collectively improve, and not shame a few. The skill of the facilitator ensured that the naming and shaming was ‘unifying’ not divisive.

As the work is scaling up, two facts become relevant: One is a subconscious timeline pressure to achieve results quickly. And two, there are constraints in reaching out good trainings across the country. Timelines are important, since we cannot continue with the blot for too long, and have to work in a Mission mode – start to finish. On trainings, novel ways such as virtual trainings are being considered to reach out fast. However, irrespective of these, what is happening also is that implementers across the country are devising novel ways to influence behaviours. Many of these are innovative and enriching the pool of ‘trigger tools’. An example is ODF Olympics in district Harda, Madhya Pradesh, where the district administration organised sports competitions only between the ODF villages. The non-ODF villages were not allowed to participate in these popular sports! This is also naming and shaming of sorts; however it is again ‘collective’ naming and shaming and therefore still acceptable (? less harmful).

Another type of naming/ shaming is also emerging at some places. Somewhere it takes the form of social restrictions, somewhere linked with law to deny benefits to those who do not own a toilet (in Haryana and many States, one cannot contest a Panchayat election, unless one has a toilet at home- this has been upheld as a reasonable restriction by none other than the Supreme Court in Rajbala case), and some places extended to schools. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a ‘self -respect’ campaign, wherein in schools the names of children who have toilets is written separately from those who don’t have it. In some districts of Rajasthan, in schools, the children who have toilets are ‘positively discriminated’ by giving them special bags etc.

It is difficult to judge the utility and impact (positive or negative) of these interventions, primarily because they are all contextual. However, some general impressions can be drawn. The foremost remains that naming and shaming, if used, be primarily collective, and not individualistic. The whole idea is to propagate sanitation as a collective good and not an individual good. In case where individual naming/ shaming is done, (if at all it has to be done!)  it makes more sense if the naming/ shaming tools are left to insiders i.e. the villagers themselves, and not outsiders ( read bureaucracy). One also has to be watchful that the naming/ shaming does not promote exclusion of specific castes/ communities etc.


As far as children are concerned, it has proved very effective to involve them in campaigns, collectively. Children in groups, as vaanar sena, going from house to house, asking elders to construct toilets (Zid karo abhiyaan, Madhya Pradesh) seems a very potent tool. However, anything divisive amongst children, such as separately naming those children who do not have a toilet, or rewarding those who have one, may be evaluated carefully, since child psychology is sensitive, and since a child may not be able to influence decision in his/her house, despite wanting to have a toilet.

Overall, the talisman may be – anything that is unifying (resulting in the overall cumulative good, all adopt good practice, there is no coercion or heart-burn, the process brings all people together) is good; anything divisive, rethink!

*The writer is Dr. Nipun Vinayak, Director, Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India


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