During the rainy season, Radha Bamnele (28) had to wade through knee-deep muck to find a suitable spot to answer nature’s call. The predicament was similar for other women in the Khulri Panchayat that is home to about 4550 residents. With all of them having access to toilets now, the women feel immensely relieved of a huge burden they were carrying.
“You cannot imagine the kind of problems we faced when we had no toilets. Now it is wonderful to be living in clean conditions,” Radha said. Her mother in law, Draupadi and sister in law Parvati expressed similar sentiments. “We also feel that our health has improved considerably,” they said.
According to Pratibha Pal, CEO of the Zilla Panchayat in Narsinghpur District of Madhya Pradesh, women and children played a big role in motivating and sustaining the ODF drive. “They are the biggest beneficiaries too,” she added.
When the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign was started in the district comprising 1050 villages, 446 gram panchayats and 6 blocks, toilet coverage was barely 31%. Needless to say, open defecation was rampant, particularly in the rural areas.
Attitude: People were of the opinion that it was normal and harmless to defecate in the open as it was a traditional practice passed down through the ages. Even in families that owned toilets; some of them relieved themselves outdoors through force of habit. They had a misconception that building a toilet in a residential premise was not good; and if a toilet was built, they felt it was meant for senior members or women. Hence all people did not use it on a regular basis. Further, they believed that building a toilet was the government’s responsibility and hence it was a low priority for them. As for the leach pit technology, people felt the small pit would be filled soon and they would have a nasty problem of emptying the pit. In contrast, defecating in the open amounted to freedom.
Public spaces: Public places such as hotels and bus stands had no sanitation facilities whatsoever. Considering that Narsinghpur has a lot of small sugar mills and the economy is chiefly based on agriculture, the area sees as many as 1.5 lakh migrant wage labourers during the cropping season each year. Such labourers had no access to sanitation.
In addition, River Narmada flows through across 170 kms of the district, its banks prone to open defecation. Each year, lakhs of pilgrims visit the area for various religious festivals and in the absence of sanitation facilities, have no alternative but to relieve themselves outdoors.
Two national highways pass through Narsinghpur that sees considerable traffic. However, both drivers and passengers had no access to sanitation. Under the circumstances, the district administration had to deal with geographical, social and economic issues besides lack of trained manpower in the process of generating demand for toilets.
As far as implementation was concerned, the administration ensured strategic positioning of community led ODF campaign with holistic agenda for ensuring a clean and pure Narmada and a “Pawan Narsinghpur.”
They formed a District level resource team which comprised of line department officials and eminent personalities and developed a phased plan while engaging the common people, to take pride in creating a clean environment. It began with a household survey to ascertain actual sanitation access in all households of the district which revealed the work that needed to be done and the resources required in terms of human resource, materials and funding.
Thereafter, the first phase of the campaign was initiated in one of the most populated blocks with a community approach and a target to achieve ODF status in 3 months. This generated learnings for scaling-up the movement district wide. It also underlined the specific role that had to be played by each department, based on the strength and capacity they had in reaching rural areas.
Foot soldiers: To undertake the massive job of community mobilization, an army of 175 sanitation motivators were engaged with a time bound GP wise plan for mobilisation. Mainly youth with a commitment to change the society, they were foot soldiers employed to generate demand and improve service delivery. Such youth were provided skills on tools and techniques to mobilize communities and facilitate collective decision for elimination of open defecation; and breaking customs of open defecation. This process helped in the identification of natural leaders – men, women and children who were made responsible to change mindsets and continue surveillance to create an ODF environment.
Supply chain management: Government engineers were deputed to facilitate easy availability of construction material and masons and ensure quality of toilet construction. PRI functionaries were made accountable for speedy reporting and availability of funding. In addition, district and block level nodal officers were deputed for each GP to coordinate and monitor demand generation as well as supply chain.
Frontline workers like Anganwadi and ASHA workers took the lead and continuously strengthened the women surveillance committees to sustain the ODF environment. Children surveillance committees (vanersena or monkey brigade) emerged as effective change agents and took charge to demotivate open defecators through their early morning and evening follow-ups.
Convergent agenda: The district administration chalked out a convergent agenda to ensure access to sanitation facilities at every possible public space. Through the engagement of all departments especially revenue department it was mandated that all public places, road side restaurants/hotels/dhabas have toilets for people traveling or arriving in the district to prevent open defecation. Owners of sugar mills and farmers were asked to build toilets for migrants labourers and ensure that they always used them. Functionality of schools and anganwadi toilets were ensured through both departments. This ensured that everyone coming to the district had access to a toilet.
Grievance redressal: A system of regular reporting, reviewing was established with the deployment of nodal officers. Constant review meetings were held to identify bottlenecks, grievances and issues hindering performance. Solutions were found and timely redressals at each level were made. Social media like Whatsapp was used very effectively to monitor and provide real time support.
Monitoring and review systems: A monitoring mechanism framework with specific indicators to continuously track and monitor the coverage, processes as well the outputs and outcomes was established with clear flow of information from villages to district level. Continues visits were undertaken by district nodal officers to the blocks and villages to review with various teams.
CLTS approach: Based on the learning and previous interventions and experiments across the State, it was decided to use community approach tools and techniques to mobilize a sense of disgust and shame of defecating in the open. The approach integrated collective decision at community level as a first step to initiate implementation of sanitation plan in each of the villages.
In addition, to create an enabling environment for elimination of open defecation, sanitation motivators and frontline workers were trained and engaged at villages to continuously reinforce the open defecation free agenda at each level from Gram Sabha to schools and women meetings. Activities in this regard included triggering among communities, schools and anganwadis; campaigns such as Kalash Yatra, walk of pride, walk of shame, hallabol, pawan yatra, ODF sports competitions, etc. In all this, focus was on usage of toilets and sustainability; as development of local ownership was strengthened.
The mission of achieving an ODF district and taking pride in doing so first and setting an example of implementing one of most difficult social change campaigns kept the team motivated, according to the CEO. That ODF meant better health, nutrition and development, the team was well aware of. In addition, there was enthusiastic involvement, of workers at all levels.
Hinotia village: Durgaprasad Thakur (60) is happy that his family played a significant role in turning his village Hinotia, in Kareli block of Narsinghpur district, ODF within two months. In his village, the surroundings are extremely clean and walls of almost all houses are painted with colourful slogans on the importance of sanitation. Other than his home which is spick and span, the roads leading to the village, the banks of the canal that were prone to open defecation earlier, are now clean and free from litter.
According to Pratibha, when the local monitoring committee was formed, these two areas were targeted the most. Villagers formed groups to take rounds of the entire village, with particular focus on these two spots. Thakur carried a stick with him and led the monitoring team.
As always, women and children played a very active role. “We were always concerned about the safety of women and the embarrassment for them to defecate in open. So we ensured that every home got a toilet and everyone used them,” Suman Bai Thakur, an active member of the monitoring committee said.
Aakash Thakur, a student of class 8 always carries a green whistle. “If I see anyone trying to break the rule, I whistle and inform the elders of the monitoring team,” he said.
Nidhi Mehra, a student of class 7 said that she is very happy that her village looks so clean. Children do not fall ill as often now.
Munnibai, whose family had a toilet constructed in their agricultural field to ensure regular water supply, said that it is a relief to be able to use the toilet at any time. “It is extremely convenient and safe,” she said.
Arvind Mehra, the village sarpanch said that while most people cooperated in the process, some villagers had to be warned about penalty and stopping of pension and other benefits to convince them to give up open defecation.
Vimlesh Dubey, member of Janpad Panchayat said that achieving any social target becomes easy when people become committed to the cause. “Right from top officials to children in the village, everyone got totally involved in the process and achieved the ODF status in two months,” he said.
Rajiv Langhate, Janpad Panchayat CEO said that since the village had achieved the ODF status and was sustaining it through constant monitoring, a detailed project report had already been prepared for solid and liquid waste management in the village.
Sihora Gram Panchayat of Chawarpatha block: A few months ago, Kalpana Shrivatava (22) wrestled each day with the problem of having to defecate in the open. Along with her younger sister, who was pursuing her graduation, they would wake up early each morning before dawn and go quite some distance from their home to answer nature’s call.
“There was constant fear, discomfort as well as embarrassment. But it’s now a matter of the past. We cannot adequately express our happiness,” the young woman beams as she proudly shows the newly constructed toilet at her home.
Kalpana who is currently studying for an MA in Hindi literature is keen to clear her exams and secure a good job. She does not let the fact that she lives in a remote village deter her from her ambition to become a government college teacher.
Like Kalpana, there are many other women who are smiling and resting easy in homes across 83 panchayats of the Chawarpatha block that became the first ODF block in the district on October 2, 2015 under the district’s ‘Paawan gram’ campaign under the Swachch Bharat Mission (rural) initiative.
The achievement was not an easy task. The entire district administration machinery actively supported the community, and worked in mission mode for almost three months to ensure that every home in the block had a functional toilet and that residents used them effectively to end the blot of open defecation.