Raipur, Chhatisgarh : In the frugal dwellings of the Bhilai village, a village attached to Patharmohda Gram Panchayat, Raipur district, some of the people who created history live. They don’t have pucca houses and have no permanent source of income in the off-season.
But they do know about sanitation and that it improves health. The prophetic message of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) that has echoed through much of Chhatisgarh has become a gospel here too. Patharmohda is one of the 90 gram panchayats of the state which will receive the Nirmal Gram Puraskars (NGP) 2007 on May 4. Sanitation here has moved from the reams of government agendas to school lessons and become proofs of unprecedented Panchayat activism.
The 70 families which live here don’t have money to build a soak pit for the wastewater generated by the hand pump, the toilets in every house are temporary structures with bamboo walls and plastic roofs. Yet the streets, the houses and the school bear a clean and dignified look in their modest settings.
But this has not always been the case. Brijbhai, a villager, says she was always embarrassed when outsiders faced difficulties because there were no toilets.
Eighteen masons were hired for the construction of toilets in Bhilai and Patharmohda and the 170 houses and schools were covered in just 20 days. The people in the two villages unquestioningly followed their Sarpanch Paras Thankur, who is just 23 years old, in this programme.
“When we were asked if we would like to launch the Nirmal Gram programme in our Panchayat, we didn’t know anything about it. We held four or five meetings in the village, some attended by district administration and PHED officials who familiarised us with the concept and encouraged us to go ahead,” he says.
Thakur is said to have vowed not to marry his fiancée till the panchayat was declared a Nirmal Gram. The Ghariaband Block officials had cracked a deal with the young Sarpanch that they would convince the woman’s parents for the marriage if Thakur succeeded in achieving total sanitation.
“We hope to make the toilet structures permanent with the prize money,” says the elated Sarpanch, who is also in his first year of college.
According to the aanganwadi worker Puran Bhai, three of the 32 malnourished children in the villages have already shown improvement, switching from the alarming grade four and three levels to grade two and one. She attributes this to general increase in reduction of diseases after the launch of the TSC and awareness among people.
The Chhatouna village in the Arang block presents a different picture. Coupled with awareness is a story of intricate planning and efficient implementation. The work on toilets had begun way back in April 2006 when a government directive ordered the construction of a limited number of toilets in BPL houses, prompting a demand from the APL families for government assistance for the same.
According to Rewa Shankar Sahu, the panchaya secretary, the proposal for making the village a Nirmal Gram was put forward in July, which many of the villagers enthusiastically accepted.
“Since the village falls on the main road and shares a border with the Food Corporation of India on one side and a railway line on the other, there was no convenient place for open defecation, especially for the women. Hence, the demand was already present in the village,” says Sahu.
The few families who were opposing the move gave way after a young State Minister Kedar Kashyap held a meeting with the villagers in the chaupal.
Tarjan Jhangra, a villager and also tehsil member, said the only real challenge was to get the villagers habituated to this new phenomenon. Members of self-help groups and children armed with whistles kept vigil in the nights to ensure that people did not relieve themselves in the open. A pamphlet threatening the defaulters with a fine of Rs 100 was issued but no one was penalised.
The Sarpanch, Ghirdari Ram Sahu, himself took to sweeping the streets to motivate the villagers. The 60 BPL toilets in the village have plastered soak pits and proper doors. Girija Bhai, a villager, said she felt so good about having a toilet inside her house that she has spent Rs 12,000 to build a spacious one.
The APL families use toilets with unfinished soak pits with curtains instead of doors. The toilets were built with individual contributions and a generous donation from a neighbourhood college.
The land used for defecation now serves a biweekly market for the neighbourhood, according to the panchayat secretary. “Land available is less but it has got a good response,” he says.
Jhangra’s wife Devaki, who is also a tehsil member, says the Nirmal Gram Puraskar has motivated the women enormously, and they are now rearing to move forward. Three of the village’s four SHGs were formed after the TSC took off. She hopes that with increased awareness the womenfolk will have a better future.