On 10th January, 2017, the women of Sultana Panchayat in Chirawa Block of Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan staged a symbolic burial (Shav Yatra) of the undignified and age old practice of open defecation. Having ensured access to quality sanitation facilities for all, the village located in a semi-desert region has now been declared open defecation free (ODF).
For a few weeks prior to the event, the ladies committee kept a watch in the early hours of the morning and in the evening and chased people who went to perform their ablutions in the open. It certainly made a mark, as people had no option but to use the facilities available to them.
The village also boasts of a complaint box that was inaugurated by Sarpanch Rekha Saini on December 24th. People can now drop their written complaints with names of people they had seen defecating in the open and the women’s group would take it up directly with the defaulters. The system is working well to sustain ODF status, according to ZP Panchayat Extension Officer, Satyaveer Singh.
The success of the ODF campaign in this village could be attributed to 12-year old Ankita who is currently studying in Sultana Secondary School. When the daughter of Shree Virendra Singh of Kyamsar village won the first prize for a quiz competition on cleanliness at her school, she was motivated to do much more.
She realized that the biggest hurdle in the way of progress of her village was the practice of open defecation. Wise beyond her years, she resolved to do something about it. For starters, she began to wake up early and would make her way to common defecation spots. There, she approached people and told them about the health risks posed by defecating in the open – not only to the individual but to the entire community, including those who use toilets. However, her request for them to use toilets was met with the old excuse of tradition. They failed to take her seriously.
In due course, Ankita realized that the task at hand was extremely tough. Not giving up she met with the Sarpanch, Rekha Rani and asked her why people were still defecating in the open when they had access to sanitation facilities. The Sarpanch acknowledged that they needed stricter measures to ensure that people used their toilets. Ankita then decided to target the womenfolk of the village first as she went door to door and convinced them of the need to use their toilets.
At this point in time, with the support of a few women in the village, the district administration on October 2nd formed an Executive Committee of ladies at the Panchayat level.It is this committee that was instrumental in the aggressive campaign that followed. They held a candle march, gave flowers to people to raise awareness about the ills of open defecation, put the complaint box in place and held the mock burial ceremony or ‘Shav Yatra.’
When the State SBM Director, Dr.Arushi Ajay Mallik (Director) heard about Ankita, she informed the CM of Rajasthan who wrote a letter of encouragement the student. On 10th November, the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Chirawa felicitated Ankita at a programme in the Gram Panchayat office; also gifting her a laptop.
Source: Satyaveer Singh, PEO ZP Jhunjhunu