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4 Key Elements Without Which The “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” Will Be A Failure

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By Urvashi Prasad:

Nearly 100 million people in India lack access to safe drinking water and over 700 million continue to defecate in the open. Over 600,000 children under 5 years lose their lives to water and sanitation related diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia every year. In this context, the recent launch of the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Campaign) by the Prime Minister can be seen as a welcome and much needed step. However, if the campaign is to go beyond symbolism and actually achieve the goal of making India open defecation free by 2019, it needs a multi-pronged strategy that encompasses the following key elements:

clean India

1) Sustained involvement of multiple stakeholders: While it was heartening to see celebrities and Government officials sweeping the streets on 2nd October, it is important to ensure that the interest of all stakeholders (politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs, private enterprises, funders and communities) is sustained and they work towards this goal in a concerted fashion.

While the Government has brought on board, major organisations like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, they need to ensure that all stakeholder voices are heard and various efforts are coordinated in order to avoid duplication or gaps in implementation. For instance, there is a UNICEF led coalition on Water, Sanitation & Hygiene in Schools which has produced a roadmap for ensuring access to basic services in schools in India. The document was released by the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Government of India in August 2014, but the initiatives highlighted in that need to be integrated with this campaign so that it does not remain just another publication.

2) Focus on changing behaviours: This is perhaps the biggest roadblock to achieving the desired goal of clean India. Several families are habituated to defecating in the open and this is perhaps why large numbers of toilets that have been constructed are lying unused or in a dysfunctional state. In fact, I have spoken to many people who find toilets claustrophobic and have a clear preference for going out into fields. Even though it has hardly been a week since the launch of the campaign, we saw photographs of people leaving litter behind after the Prime Minister’s rally in Mumbai.

Changing behaviours is therefore going to be far from straightforward and this is where the engagement of community-based organisations and community leaders will be critical. While involvement of celebrities can help (Mr Amitabh Bachchan has successfully been the Goodwill Ambassador for polio eradication), it will be imperative to understand local cultures, motivations and belief systems. Not everyone wants a toilet for better health. Some want it for convenience or because it is safer for women. Until there is a strong understanding of these aspects, it will be impossible to change behaviours.

More importantly, hygiene education needs to be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum, as opposed to leaving it to the discretion of State Education Boards to decide whether or not they want to include it. Once good hygiene habits have been inculcated into children, they can champion the cause of sanitation in their communities. Children are known to be important change agents and can make a significant contribution to the success of this campaign by spreading the message of cleanliness to their families and communities.

3) Going beyond toilet construction: Previous governments have also allocated a lot of money to sanitation through initiatives like Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. It is extremely important that the Government realises that merely constructing more toilets is not going to be worthwhile. The toilets need to be usable and for that quality of construction as well as operation and maintenance needs to be robust. The latter needs ownership from people but also innovative models like involving private sector enterprises to maintain community/public toilets on a fee basis. Water availability in toilets also needs to be ensured. Moreover, solutions for collecting and recycling waste are also essential. Thus, a comprehensive package of interventions is the need of the hour, as opposed to focusing primarily on toilet construction.

4) Going beyond fund allocation: The Swachh Bharat Kosh which has been set up to attract funds for the campaign from corporates and individuals is another potentially good idea. However, the fund needs to be managed and monitored to ensure that the money is spent appropriately. Among the several government officials I have interacted with during the course of my work, no one has ever said that the biggest hurdle is shortage of funds. The challenge has always been spending money in the right manner and that needs systems to be put in place. It also needs roles and responsibilities to be defined in a manner such that there is clear accountability for how the money is spent and what it is spent on.

The targets set out by Government schemes also need to be broadened to assess toilet functionality and usage as opposed to merely the physical presence of infrastructure.

Ultimately, I believe that the success or failure of this campaign depends on each one of us. We can choose to be sceptical and not participate or we can ensure that we begin the change with ourselves and our surroundings. The Government also needs to have a clear plan for achieving the 2019 target, taking into account some of the issues highlighted above, so that the campaign does not get reduced to a one-off popularity stunt.

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  1. sdas

    please avoid using plastic bags, main source of garbage production…Can sustain for over thousand years.If we can avoid using that, half of the garbage problem will be solved.apart from that.
    polybags are dangerous to the nature.Its applicable everywhere in this world.nowadays everybody using polythenes and its not dissolvable and not mixed with the soil.Animals are dying by eating these, its creating poisonous fumes if burned and also choking the sever lines and blocking the underground lines ,a major cause of flooded streets during rainy seasons .50 percent of garbage is forming because of these poly bags and polluting our nature.
    So for swacchh Bharat mission, we should take a pledge to not use the plastic bags…JAI Hind..

  2. Monica

    A very timely piece. Swachh Bharat Mission has nothing on the rag pickers though. Their services are used sparingly by the government but their contribution in keeping our cities clean is hardly recognized ever, It would be good if organizations working for the cause involve them and take measures for their protection, provide them safety gear etc.

  3. Amarnath Murthy

    स्वच्छ भारत
    स्वच्छ भारत का बापू का सपना
    हर भारतवासी का हो अब अपना

    गंदगी को देख सभी नाक भौं सिकोड़ते
    गंदा करने मे कोई कसर भी नहीं छोड़ते
    मानसिकता यह अब जानी होगी
    बुरी आदतों से निजात पानी होगी

    गंदगी एक घिनौना जहर है
    फैले चारों ओर बदबू की लहर है
    जकड़े बीमारी मे सारा शहर है
    पड़ता पर्यटन पर बुरा असर है

    जन जन मे ये जागृति फैलाएँ
    गंदगी कहीं भी पनपने ना पाये

    घर मोहल्ला हो या गाँव शहर
    गंदगी कहीं ना कर जाये घर
    पड़ता स्वास्थ्य पर बुरा असर
    स्वच्छता मे ना छोड़ें कोई कसर

    स्वच्छ भारत अभियान एक अच्छी पहल है
    जज्बा ये बनाए रखना सभी को हर पल है
    यह मात्र शुरुआती जोश बनकर ना रह जाये
    सारे सार्वजनिक स्थल इसकी जद मे आयें

    लगाकर हम तन मन धन और प्राण
    सुंदर स्वस्थ भारत का करेंगे निर्माण

    पूरे देश मे घूमेगा स्वच्छता का ये रथ
    आज हम उठाएँ सच्चे ह्रदय से शपथ
    चाहे हो जाएँ पसीने पसीने लथपथ
    स्वच्छ रखेंगे गली मोहल्ला हर पथ

    प्रगति के पथ पर चढ़ेगा परवान
    तब हम सबका प्यारा हिन्दुस्तान
    प्रकृति का भी तो हमको है वरदान
    हर गाँव शहर अब बने उद्यान

    गंदगी का हो ना कोई नामोनिशान
    पर्यटन को भी मिलेगी एक नयी जान
    बढ़ेगी देश की आन बान और शान
    विश्व मे मिलेगा भारत को सम्मान

    स्वच्छ भारत का बापू का सपना
    हर भारतवासी का हो अब अपना
    *** ***
    अमरनाथ मूर्ती
    उपमहाप्रबंधक ( ई एवं टी)
    ओएनजीसी
    क्षे॰ का॰ सूचना संचार , मुंबई

    1. Amarnath Murthy

      I hope this poem would be helpful in generating awareness

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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