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Walk of Shame Triggers Toilet Consciousness
" Om Prakash, showing the high-grade mannure yielded from his toilet pit, Bahtarai Village, Bilaspur Jugran "

BILASPUR (CHHATTISGARH): Under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), a comprehensive government programme to ensure sanitation in rural areas launched in November 2005 in five districts of Chhattisgarh, the small village of Dabena in Bilaspur district became the first recipient of the ready-made toilets.

Each of the 33 families of this village was provided with latrines constructed near their houses, but majority of the 180-strong population preferred the old and trusted ways of heading for the open fields to ease themselves. Fed up with the stubborn refusal of villagers to use their private latrines, Sarpanch Dinesh Kaushik decided on drastic action. He issued an invitation to officials of the district Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), the nodal department implementing the TSC, to visit Dabena and directed the villagers to extend all hospitality to them.

What unfolded next is still remembered with horror by the inhabitants of Dabena. After the cursory greetings, the Sarpanch blandly suggested that the visitors might like to have a casual tour of the village. The excited villagers proudly displayed their tidy dwellings and the attached sparkling, but as yet unused, latrines for inspection. And then the Sarpanch edged the guests towards the open, lush green fields encompassing the village.

As visitors and guests alike began the tough and unsavory navigation around mounds of excreta and refuse scattered all around, the magnitude of the open toilet ground stood exposed. To drive the point home, The Sarpanch captured the dismayed and horrified expressions of the villagers on video film which he screened for all after the infamous walk around the fields. It was dubbed the “Walk of Shame” and on the spot the villagers pledged to never again besmirch their green fields but to use their in-door toilets.

“It was the first time that the villagers had toured the entire fields and it was a rude awakening for them”, recollects Mr Sameer Gaur of Bilaspur PHED. Within 20 days the entire village was declared a ‘Nirmal Gram” village, i.e., achieving total sanitation by virtue of using toilets and the Sarpanch was given an award by the district authorities.

Taking courage from this, Mr Kaushik, in his capacity as Sarpanch of Bahtarai village, of which Dabena is a dependent village, decided to bring about change there.

A meeting was called with special emphasis for women to attend, the logic being that women as caregivers are responsible for the cleanliness of the home, family and community. A resolution was passed at a Gram Sabha meeting that anyone found defecating in the open would be fined Rs 50 and those informing against the defaulters would get Rs 25. “The move was an effective deterrent and we collected Rs 750 in fines and awards”, claims Mr Mithulal Devangan, former Sarpanch.

With the collective and enthusiastic involvement of Local NGO Jan Vigyan Sanrakhan Samittee which focused on information, education and communication (IEC) activities including the use of folk media like Kala Jhattha groups, the 14 women’s self help groups (SHGs) in the village and motivators, the TSC programme made positive inroads in the community.  The Kala Jhattha, in which young men and women dance, sing and perform skits based on the seven components of the campaign – community, sanitation, safe drinking water, personal hygiene, school sanitation, solid and liquid waste disposal and individual household toilets – has been one of the most effective strategies of the campaign. “The Kala Jhattha is the first step in igniting the awareness process”, states Mr Debnath Mukherjee, District Programme Coordinator. “They are the best means through which we can enter a village and they can collect crowds immediately and transmit the message”.
For Ms Tulsi, a Kala Jhattha performer, the experience has been enriching. “Before I began to spread the message of sanitation through dance and song in several villages, I was an illiterate village girl myself. The campaign has taught me so much about personal cleanliness”, she confesses.
For Om Prakash Kaushik, who grows his own vegetables and fruits, the programme has been the means for additional income generation. The life of each latrine pit is between 3 to 5 years. “After the pit is full, you must leave it alone for six months after which the soil will set. It then becomes high quality organic manure and the yield is between 80 to 100 kg. The forest department purchases this manure at the rate of Rs 35 per kg”, he informs.

The elderly residents, who were among the most staunch in resisting in-door toilet use for a variety of reasons such as proximity to home, thus resulting in stench, and confined space of the toilet area, were converted after personal experiences made them wiser. One such is Ram Dular Kaushik who had an operation on his stomach three years back and had great difficulty walking long distances for bathroom. “Someone had to always accompany me to support me and for months afterwards I could not even bend and had to walk with the help of a stick. My in-door latrine is a blessing to me”, he avers candidly.

Bahtarai is among the 90 villages in the state selected for the 2007 Nirmal Gram Puraskars, announced by the government of India for achieving total sanitation. The programme started in November 2005 and focused on 552 of the total 1600 villages in Bilaspur district, says Mr Gaurav Dwivedi, Collector and District Magistrate. “This year, 22 villages in the district have been selected for the Nirmal Gram award”, he adds.
According to the Collector, a significant part of the scheme is tackling the mental mindset of the target group. “It is not enough just to construct the toilets. We have to change the thinking of people so that they are amenable to using the toilets”, he observes. In this he is believes that it is better to target women by getting the message across of the improvements in their lifestyle with toilet installation. “They will save time and energy as well as the possible threat of harassment and scorpion and snake bites, all hazards of defecating in the open spaces”.

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