y Aditya Malaviya
PATNA, BIHAR: Gulzarilal is happy for his home is soon going to have a toilet. He just cannot hide his excitement from the motley crowd of villagers thronging his house.
Gulzarilal’s is one of many families in Sikarpur village in Nalanda district of north Indian state of Bihar, who have opted to construct household toilets to get rid of the stigma of open defecation.
“Ours is a big family and it is extremely embarrassing for us to defecate in the open, especially during the monsoons. And then there’s always the risk of snakes and insects in the night, which is when most of the women-folk go to the open fields to defecate,” says Gulzarilal.
“Now, everything will be fine. We are all happy and everyone in the village perceives it as an extremely progressive step,” beams 40-year-old Lal.
Getting rid of indignity and humiliation
With available open spaces now becoming rare because of growing urbanization, it is much more than ‘snakes and lizards’ that are driving people like Gulzarilal to opt for household toilets.
More often than not, it is a matter of human dignity.
With available open spaces now becoming rare because of growing urbanization, it is much more than ‘snakes and lizards’ that are driving people like Gulzarilal to opt for household toilets. More often than not, it is a matter of human dignity.
Ramchander Prasad, Mukhiya (village president), of the near-by village of Durgapur, puts in perspective the stigma of defecating in open.
“A woman holding a tin of water scurrying for suitable place that gives her some semblance of privacy to defecate is demeaning. Household toilets are the only answer to this daily humiliation,” says Prasad.
The availability of large tracts of open land in past coupled with lack of awareness about the importance of having household toilets have been among many disincentives for villagers to construct toilets.
Also the misinformation about costs incurred for constructing toilets acted as a dampener.
Concerted efforts by UNICEF and the Government to help out
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) envisages reduction by half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
The state of Bihar has to have 1,11,713,14 toilets constructed by 2012 to meet these MDGs. At present 1,72,667,7 household toilets have been constructed .
However the Government of India’s Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) aims at providing toilets to all rural households by the end of the Eleventh Plan, i.e. 2012.
Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, while launching the Bihar Gram Gaurav Yatra in January 2009 has promised a toilet in every home in Bihar by 2012. The state government body responsible for the implementation of the TSC is the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). UNICEF is partnering with the PHED to help the government reach its goal.
Incentives to meet the goals
The State Government commitment is reflected in 156 panchayats (local village administrative body) in Bihar receiving the National Clean Village Award or Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP).
The NGP is awarded to Gram Panchayats which have achieved 100 per cent coverage of household sanitation, 100 per cent school sanitation and have eliminated open defecation in their area.
The State Government’s seriousness is also seen in the dedicated availability of funds under national flagship programmes, like TSC and the state-level Lohia Swacchata Yojana, wherein funds have been clearly ear-marked for the campaign.
In all, the Yatra will cover 38 districts, 534 blocks, 8471 Gram Panchayats, and approximately16,000 villages, 16000 schools and 16,000 anganwadis.
A principal focus of TSC is providing information, education and communication to the rural poor for the sustainable use of toilets.
The mobilisation effort is backed by a massive communications campaign involving dozens of trucks and jeeps displaying hoardings, posters, banners, wall writing and playing songs and jingles about sanitation and hygiene through loudspeakers.
“As awareness was quite low, people were not clear about the role they needed to play in the TSC campaign,” explains Ajay Pandey, District Coordinator, Action for Community Empowerment (ACE), an implementing partner in Nawada district.
“Now, we are addressing issues like water quality, cleanliness around hand pumps, hand washing and environmental hygiene, as well as toilet construction,” he adds.