It was 9.30 in the morning when district officials, panchayat leaders, members of the legislative council, motivators, students and interested members of the general public gathered at the Taluk Office in Chikkamagaluru, the district in Karnataka where coffee was first cultivated in India.
The gathering of 750 plus were there to participate in the SBM (Swachh Bharat Mission) Jatha (rally), thereby showing their solidarity to the movement which is set to change the sanitation history of their district.
Sporting white caps and T-shirts with the iconic logo of Gandhiji’s spectacles and the district SBM logo ‘Bayalu Mala muktha Malenaadu’, meaning open defecation free Malnad; and the slogan ‘Swachhata ki ore’ splashed across the front and back; the participants beamed with enthusiasm as they commenced the walk. Malnad refers to the region located on the Western Ghats in the district which receives heavy rainfall.
Organised by the CEO of the Zilla Panchayat, Dr. R. Ragapriya, the walk began at 9.30 am from the Taluk Office and ended at 11.30 AM at Kuvempu Kala Mandir, covering about 1.5 kms.
“We wanted to create awareness about matters relating to hygiene, the need to use toilets and the benefits such practices would bring to their families, the communities and the village,” the CEO said.
According to her, people seemed to get the message. It made them believe that cleanliness is not a job that one has to be forced to do. Rather, it is a good habit and a healthy way to a healthy life. The exercise also helped inspire and motivate field level functionaries so they could champion the sanitation cause with renewed vigour; and be change agents in the war against open defecation; ensuring sustainability of toilet usage.
Another vital objective of the activity was to encourage rural folk, leading to their behaviour change.
Currently, 139 gram panchayats out of 227 GPs; 591 out of 996 villages; and 5 out of 7 Taluks in the Chikkamagaluru district have been declared ODF.
Mudigere Taluk Panchayat Executive Officer, M.N. Gurudath tells the tale of 16 year-old Sunita of Kukkodu village near Mudigere who was unable to persuade her father Sheshe Gowda to get a toilet built at her home. Desperate pleas from mother too failed to sway her father. In fact, each time either of them brought up the matter, they were subjected to hostile reactions that left Sunita in tears. “My father drinks his earnings away,” she lamented.
Even the officers had tried to convince Gowda to use Swachh Bharath Abhiyan incentive to build a toilet. But he remained firm in his refusal.
Saddened by her plight, Kukkodu panchayat officials decided to help. “We were moved by what we saw. So we decided to do it ourselves,” Mr. Gurudath said. They began work soon after Sunita left for school in Kalasa that Saturday. They collected tools from the neighbourhood and commenced digging work, while summoning the material they needed. Thereafter they got the help of a couple of masons to lay the foundation and complete the walls.
When the teenager returned home that evening, the toilet was nearly ready. And what a surprise it was! Her joy at seeing the toilet was satisfaction enough for the officials who built it gratis for the teenager in less than a day. I will never forget the joy in her eyes when she saw it,” the officer said.
The new toilet was the officers’ gift to Sunita and hence they bore the cost of the toilet that amounted to Rs.22,000. They allowed the family to keep the incentive of Rs.12,000 for Sunita’s education.
More toilets are yet to be built in Kukkodu village of Kalasa Gram Panchayat which currently has 160 households without toilets.