Girl's toilet at Primary School
By Kulsum Mustafa
May 2007: When Neetu, eldest of six daughters, came to Mirzapur Kalan as a new bride she was greatly impressed by the flush toilet at her husband’s home. At her parents’ house in a nearby village there was no such facility and attending to nature’s call in the open fields at unearthly hours was a nightmare.
So when Neetu visited her parents first time after marriage, she prompted her father to install a toilet in the house. Her father gave in and work was started immediately. When Neetu finally bid goodbye to her parents a few days later, she left them with a gift of hygiene and sanitation for lifetime.
A hundred kilometers from Lucknow, the village of Mirzapur Kalan in Unnao district is a surprisingly pleasant sight. Sans filth, dirt and squalor, the village, with a population of over 2,000 and a literacy rate as high as 65 per cent, look almost idyllic. Out of the 301 families, 177 are classified as Below Poverty Line but have acquired a flush water toilet in their homes. The village also boasts of two government schools, an aanganbadi centre, 30 deep hand pumps and an underground drainage system. Fulfilling all the criteria of total sanitation, the village has been selected for the President’s Nirmal Gram award this year.
"It was woman-to-woman contact that really did the magic,” pradhan Kusma
But just over a year ago, it was a very different story. It was only after Kusma Singh, the village’s first woman pradhan, took over the reins as ‘headwoman’ that development of the village gathered pace and momentum.
High school graduate, Kusma, who in the past twenty years of her marriage has borne five children, is now playing the second inning of her life – that of mothering the whole village.
Women's brigade-Sanitation rally in village (Kusma in middle, pink sari)
Her 19 year old son Raghvendra, who is pursuing graduation, says, “My father has been Pradhan here for years but to see my mother in the seat makes me truly proud.”
But this success has a long tale of hard work behind it. Ensuring proper water and sanitation in the village was high on Kusma’s agenda once she became Pradhan. But she became passionate about it when she chanced to visit the adjacent Dosti village and found that their cleanliness drive had fetched them the President’s Nirmal Gram award.
My father has been pradhan here for years but to see my mother in the seat makes me truly proud,” son RaghvendraThere was no stopping Kusma after that. She called a meeting of all the women of the village and explained the concept and the convenience of having a flush toilet. Personal exchanges with the women continued for days and the initial reluctance gave way to acceptance. Soon, all the women were rallying behind her. Kusma’s mantra was simple: woman-to-woman contact. It worked like magic in transforming the village.
“No woman would ever come in the path of the health and progress of her family. The women of Mirzapur Kalan are no different. The results are before you,” Kusma asserts.
Devendra Tewari, member of a local NGO, echoes the same sentiments, “She got the right support from all quarters once the women of the village rallied behind her. Due to the accelerated sanitation drive the disease graph has dipped,” he says.
Dr Rambabu Sharma, the village doctor since 1982, endorses the statement. “Fewer patients with stomach diseases come to me now. Cleanliness has definitely played a major role in this,” he comments.
It is a happy coincidence that right from the village motivator Vibhawari, to the District Sanitation Co-ordinator Poonam Dwivedi, Divisional Sanitation Co-ordinator Anubhava Pandey, District Panchayat Raj Officer Praveen Chaudhury, and right upto to the District Magistrate Deepika Duggal – it is all a women’s brigade that is spearheading this revolution in the district.
In Mirzapur Kalan the wall-writings of ‘Remain Clean, Remain Healthy’ are not hollow words. They have made their impact for all to see.