Bhubaneswar: Inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission, five young men started a movement in a remote Odisha village. Within an year’s time, things spun around. The number of toilets in the village jumped from 46 to 260 and the village became an open-defecation free zone.
The results, without a doubt, have been encouraging for the villagers. On scratching the surface, however, an ugly truth emerges – a reality that plagues the rural India.
Marred by vigilantism, caste divides and lack of basic necessities like good roads and water, merely building toilet structures in the village seems like a futile exercise.
Welcome to Kandigaon village in Odisha’s Ganjam district.
During summers, when the wells and ponds dry up here, the upper caste and schedule caste still line up in separate queues to fetch water from the tube-wells.
“Everyone depends on the tube-wells during summers. We don’t prevent anyone from taking water and we don’t discriminate, else our purpose would get defeated,” informed Kailash Pal, Village Committee Secretary, who admitted that the communities form separate queues for fetching water.
While the caste differences persist, the striking water scarcity is also hard to pass by.
“Though our village has earned the open defecation-free tag, it is difficult for us to get water for toilet purpose. There are only two-three open wells and tube wells to serve the entire village. In the summer, we face acute water scarcity,” said Rabindra Nayak, Village Committee President.
We have urged the district administration several times to facilitate piped water supply, but there has been no action. Ironically, Ganjam district is represented by four ministers, including Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Despite dealing with such odds, the villagers are upbeat about following hygienic practices and keeping their village clean.
How Kandigaon Village Earned Open-Defecation Free Tag
Manmath Pal, one of the five men, who spearheaded the campaign, said, “The movement started last year. Initially, we did not get support from fellow villagers and they started mocking us. But we continued to sensitise them about the ill-effects of open-defecation.”
The movement began from approach roads. “A squad was formed to keep strict vigil in public spaces, especially on the approach roads, from 4 am to 6 am and from 7 pm to 9 pm. We took this decision after finding two sides of the approach roads filled with human faeces that created a bad impression,” said Mr Pal.
Later, the village formed a Swachh Bharat Committee and adopted a resolution saying that relieving in the open would be a punishable offence.
“We imposed a fine of Rs 151 for defying the order of village committee for the first time. The second time, it is Rs 500, and for the third time Rs 1,000. It is Rs 5,000 for the fourth time. We have collected over Rs 10,000 as penalty so far from the villagers,” said Mr Nayak.
“No one violated the rule for the third time fearing heavy penalty,” he said.
Ramachandra Sethi, the Sarpanch of Kanheipur panchayat under which the village falls, said, “The village committee even collects fines from outsiders. Whenever they find an outsider violating the rule, the villagers come to me and ask to intervene in collecting the penalty.”
Over a period, the village committee also provided Rs 10 lakh to 100 households to construct toilets, and within a year, the number of toilets in the village rose from 46 to 260.
Women in the village now are a happy lot now
The initiative has brought a lot of cheer to the women in the village. “Even though my husband had built a toilet after I got married, I used to see other women going to the fields to relieve themselves in the night. That was embarrassing for us and also a security concern,” said Bishnubala Swain, a self-help group member.
The efforts by UNICEF, which is working on sanitation in the area, also motivated the villagers.
School children have also been sensitised on key hygienic practices and the school walls have been painted with messages on cleanliness.
“We sensitised the villagers on how open-defecation affects everyone’s health. We continued to motivate them to have access to toilets,” said Johnson Rhenius Jeyaseelan of UNICEF.