Individuals help change the sanitation story of Ganga bordering villages

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When the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) campaign was started in the villages located along the banks of River Ganga in the District of Khagaria in Bihar, several individuals took a bold stand to convince people that they interacted with on a daily basis.  Their courageous stand, together with activities of the district administration,  successfully made the villages open defecation free (ODF).

Take the example of tea vendor Anil Saha who operated from the Rampur gram panchayat (GP) in Gogri Block.  He put up a board outside his stall that said, ‘People defecating in the open cannot have tea in my stall.’

“The tea vendor was actually compromising his daily earning for the sake of making his village ODF,” said CEO, Zila Panchayat, Abdul Wahab Ansari.  His act was definitely an inspiration for others in the village.

Ansari also tells the tale of Veda Devi, a member of the vigilance team of Rahimpur North GP who faced an attack on her life by anti-social elements.  As a result, she suffered considerable loss to the crops that she grew on her 2-acre land.  Nevertheless, she remained firm in her decision to be on the vigilance team that eventually made her GP ODF.  In the end, those who stood against her, conceded as they joined in the ODF mission.

And then, there’s the incident involving Triphul Devi who belonged to the Mahadalit community of Rahimpur Uttari GP.  When her husband refused to have a toilet built in her home, she revolted by refusing to cook food.  In due course, her husband yielded to her demand and had a toilet facility built.

“There were many such seemingly insignificant incidents that helped take forward the campaign,” Ansari said.  As per the baseline survey, these villages along the Ganga comprising of 31,397 households had no more than 7604 toilets, the toilet coverage a mere 24.21%.  However, as the campaign progressed, as many as 23793 toilets were built in the 23 villages and 21 GPs located along the Ganga to make them ODF.

Implementation of the campaign began with a survey to identify homes without toilets at panchayat and ward level and an ODF plan was prepared with approval of the Gram Sabha.

As far challenges were concerned, changing the mindset of the communities that were used to defecating in the open was by far, the biggest challenge.  In addition, for the down trodden or BPL (below poverty line) families, generating resources – both financial and material for construction of toilets; and availability of land were other obstacles.

In this regard, the district administration experimented with Gandhigiri (truth is conveyed in an affectionate and peaceful manner); and Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) which got the community involved and ready for construction; even as they bid goodbye to the practice of open defecation.

During the awareness programmes, considerable focus was given to crimes committed against women who went out to defecate in the open; and the adverse effects open defecation had on health of children and all people – young and old.  “This led to a gradual behaviour change as it inspired people to construct toilets and use them.

Further, the most economically backward families were identified and provided loan by adding them to the Jeevika Group.  Astonishingly, public representatives, using their own credit helped such families to secure the required material from the suppliers for toilet construction.  As for families that had no land for toilets, they were provided space while a few were persuaded to build toilets within the available area.

The district administration also nominated nodal officers for evaluation and monitoring of work at GP, block and district level.  Also, to ensure that each GP achieved ODF status, 4 trained CLTS motivators, an expert motivator and block coordinators were deputed.  IEC materials used in the process were pamphlets, videos, wall writing and painting, hoardings.

To boost community morale, ‘toilet completion certificates’ were awarded to households having toilets.  This motivated others to do likewise.

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