Toilets are a status symbol in UP’s open defecation-free villages

Toilets are a status symbol in UP’s open defecation-free villages

By USHA RAI | Amethi, Uttar Pradesh | 2 July, 2016
Krishna stands outside the toilets in her house in Noherapur. Photo: Dipti Nair
When Noherapur village of Shahgarh block of Amethi district in Uttar Pradesh entered the final frenzied push for being declared the second Open Defecation Free (ODF) village of the District in May this year, the atmosphere was charged. The street plays, the puppet shows, the rallies and discussions to sensitize the community were over. The Pradhan was offering Rs 12,000 to construct a pucca toilet to the last of the really poor in the village and women-headed households that did not have one.  The two Nigrani (watch) Committees of men and women, with youngsters in both groups, were already doing the rounds of the open spaces with torches and whistles to catch the errant defecator. 
Seventeen-year-old Krishna, who lived in one of the biggest houses in the village with her mother and grandmother, was desperate to get a shauchalaya (toilet) too. Her father and a brother worked in Mumbai and without their approval, the toilet could not be constructed. When they came home for Holi in March, she demanded a toilet but her father went back without constructing one. Then he came again a month later and this time she was adamant to get a toilet. Smaller homes and poorer families had constructed toilets, she argued. The pradhan was also giving funds to the last remaining homes without toilets to have the District Magistrate’s stamp of approval and the ODF status for Noherapur. Krishna’s father gave in and not one but two toilets were constructed in the spacious central open courtyard of the house at a cost of Rs 50,000. 
Today a board at the entrance to the village says it all: “Noherapur is Open Defecation Free”. Visitors to the village make it a point to stop at Krishna’s house and congratulate her. 
In April, May and June this year four villages have been declared ODF—three of them Tikariya, Noherapur and Daripur in Amethi district and one, Kheri Dovapur in Sultanpur district. In three of the four villages, a WSH (Water Sanitation Hygiene) programme, supported by the Gates Foundation and administered by the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana has been active for over three years. Whether it is social or economic empowerment or ensuring better health for women and children, the RGMVP has focused on the collective strength of the SHGs. While District Magistrates Chander Kant Pandey of Amethi and S. Rajlingam of Sultanpur have declared the four villages ODF, the state and Cntral teams of the Swachh Bharat Mission are still to give the final approval. Pandey said his target was 52 ODF villages by the end of the financial year but once the election tempo builds up it may not be possible to keep the momentum on toilets, he fears. To give a push to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan both DMs have assured ODF villages priority for other developments like street lights, hand pumps and road repair.
However, leading the charge for ODF status in UP is Bijnor district, its target is to have toilets in over 1,100 villages in a year. In mid-April, the secretary of the Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry, Parmeswaran Iyer and District Magistrate B. Chandrakala visited homes in the district to encourage as well as assess progress of the mission.
Changing public mindsets, especially for construction and use of toilets is not an easy task. It took Shakuntala, RGMVP’s community health trainer, four years to influence the six Self Help Groups of Noherapur, five of which consisted of women and one being a Young Women SHG. Various government schemes for house construction, toilets were tapped for the women and then the menfolk of the village were influenced. She reiterated at every meeting the linkage between women and children’s safety and health with toilets. Under the WSH programme school children were already attuned to hand washing before meals and the use of sanitary napkins for menstrual hygiene was driven home, with ASHAs providing them at reasonable rates. Used ones were burnt at the end of the week in small, covered earthen pots with perforations kept near the toilet and the ashes scattered in the fields. ASHAs and ANMs were constantly talking to SHG members. Before the toilets were constructed, members of the community were encouraged to cover the faecal matter with mud or ashes. So the shift to proper toilets has been step by step. 
Today, all 91 households in the village have toilets and water supply to clean them. Most have smaller, basic toilets, many of them built with government assistance of Rs 12,000. For ten families, however, the toilets became a symbol of their new “status” and they spent up to Rs 50,000 on one or two toilets. 
The model adopted is of two pits—when a pit fills up in about five years, the second one is used and the dried faecal matter from the first pit is used as manure. What is equally heartening is that men and women are taking responsibility for cleaning the toilets. It is hoped this sharing of responsibilities will continue when the hype and hoopla over toilets ends.
Endorsing the community mood against open defecation, Teg Bahadur who is also a Nigrani Committee member said, “earlier people came to see the ‘ghar and var’ (house and groom) in our village, now they come to see if we have a shauchalaya (toilet).” With mud huts and thatched roofs being replaced by brick and mortar constructions, the village has more to offer than a groom and clean toilet.
The DM’s rally around the village on 26 May, the day it was declared ODF, was celebration time with music, lights and everyone turning up to boast “I have a toilet in my house.” Youngsters received whistles, torches and even caps to ensure there is no letup in their vigil. “Shame them to construct and use toilets” is the mood of the moment.
To ensure purity of drinking water small quantities of alum are tied in cloth and stirred in a bucket of water, then it is filtered into an earthen pot, nature’s fridge, for cooling. Teg Bahadur proclaims with pride the village is also free of plastics. “We know plastic does not degrade, it will ruin our soil and choke our pipelines, so even shop keepers desist using them.”
Kheri Dovapur village of Sultanpur district does not seem as affluent as Noherapur village but here too the four SHGs led change. They were motivated by the health and sanitation sakhis that spearheaded the movement for toilets and the district administration supported with funds for the poor. Bhagwati Deen, 65, a daily wage labourer, was one of the last to construct a toilet before Kheri was declared ODF on 24 April. There were eight houses in the village that had no toilets in March when the WSH team sought financial assistance of the administration for toilets and the cost of labour under MGNREGA. Supported by Komal Samooh, Bhagwati Deen who had neither land nor money, squeezed in a small toilet almost at the entrance to his house using a part of the existing roof. The toilet was a gift for his daughter-in-law but all 10 members of the family use it. 
Mayadevi of the Maya Mahila Swayam Sahayta Samooh had earlier taken loans of Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000 for agriculture and medical needs of the family but going with the mood for toilets and the pressure of the RGMVP she constructed two toilets for her joint family of 16 members. At meetings she actually drew pictures to show how the faecal matter and flies reach homes and spread infections. Today all 64 houses have one or two toilets and the vigilance committee is out on patrol two hours at dusk and two hours at the crack of dawn. 
In addition to the toilets the villagers have even cleaned the village pond, removing the hyacinth so that animals have clear access to drinking water. The sanitation slogan resonates across the village with school kids chanting it almost as if it were the national anthem.
Bandhkaro, bandhkaro, khulleh mei shouch bandh karo
Jo khuleh mei jayega, woh kuthha kahlayega
Sou rog ka ek dwaiye, lawo safaiye lawo safaiye
Hum sab ne yeh thana hai, bimari door bhagana hai
Waashyojanaaie, safsafailaihai
Mummy papa bhaiya dada, tatti dhakne karo erada
Mummy papa bhaiya dada, shouchalya ka karo erada
Beti byawo us gharmei, shouchalaya ho jis gharmei
Mummy papa kaka kaki, tatti jawo toh ley jawo raakhi
Khulei mei shouch bandh karo, bimari ki anth karo
 

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