By Jaywant Mehta
Gram Panchayat Odha, Rajsamand, Rajasthan: Along stony lanes dodging bushes and thorny branches trudging somewhere out in the wild far from home in the early darkness of every morning to answer nature’s call is obviously a tedious job. Even the cool freshness of a summer morning fails to exhilarate while winter prods one to linger on in bed, leave alone the idea of stepping out of the house.
Living in this hilly region from his birth Hari Singh is a happy man today. For the first time in his 60 years he is feeling relaxed because the need to go out to the jungle in the morning darkness has at last ended for him. In his village Odha there is a toilet for every family.
Hari Singh says in Rajasthani dialect, “mane pelha barsaat mein bohat mushkil veti hee. Saanp bichoo nikale hai laikin daroo koni punh sardi jucam un bar bar bimar par jato ho. Chaato lein jaano parato par aalo tho veij jaato.” (I do not care for the large number of snakes and scorpions during the rains in my village but I just can't bear getting wet despite the umbrella and falling ill again and again because of cold and cough).
Hari Singh is not alone. There are many other old people in the Kumbalgarh block of Rajsamand district of Rajasthan living in the gram panchayat of Odha and the nearby gram panchayat of Taladhari. Both the places have many similarities: each has about seven hundred families, ten schools, and because of their geographical odds they are not well off economically. The youth from both panchayats have migrated to the south in Surat in Gujarat for work.
As a result most of those who are left behind in Odha and Taladari are old. Nevertheless in spite of their age and adverse economic conditions they successfully took up the challenge of getting toilets built in their villages. And for safe drinking water the use of ladles has become quite prevalent.
Odha and Taladhari have made landmark achievements in hygiene and sanitation; they have qualified for the President of India's Nirmal Gram Puraskar. In both these panchayats open defecation is a thing of the past. I
In schools girls and boys have separate toilets. The dignity of women has of course been respected but even those who have become old are adequately relieved and protected.
The two Sarpanchs, Narulal Sen and Gangadevi, had reason to feel gratified when President Abdul Kalam honoured them on 4th of May 2007 with the award.