India has made an impressive progress in toilet construction under the Swachh Bharat Mission. As of November 2017, 71.67% toilet coverage has been reported from 38.70% in 2014. However, half of India’s population still defecates in the open. And the existence of a toilet does not always guarantee its use. Often people choose to still defecate in the open even when the household has a toilet for various reasons, like the toilet being considered unhygienic.
Sanitation and hygiene interventions should focus on promoting lasting behavior change. Instead of simply building toilets, a participatory and community-driven approach that motivates households to build, maintain and regularly use their own toilets should be adopted. Behaviour change communication should go hand-in-hand with toilet construction and toilet adoption for India to be 100% open defecation free.
92.4% of rural households in Jharkhand do not have access to toilets, states the 2011 Census. However, the state is now witnessing a major change in its sanitation initiative. In some villages, it has adopted the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) model. Each village has a water and sanitation committee, which motivates people to use toilets. The committee, comprising panchayat members, mukhiyas, residents of villages and a water ambassador has the responsibility to make the village Open Defecation Free (ODF).
Kamal WASH committee in Bokaro district’s Badam Basha village, Jharkhand, is leading the way and bringing tremendous change with just 29 members. All the 192 households in the village now have bio-toilets installed just outside their houses with the help of an NGO, World Vision India. Most of them are migrant workers settled in a semi-slum area near the Bokaro steel plant. Having toilets were unimaginable to the villagers just two years back. It was hardest on young girls like 20-year-old Sandhya, who never had a choice or a say. Her forefathers and parents never owned a toilet. Sudha and her friends are the first generation to own one, and it is a privilege she does not take lightly.
“It was most difficult for us. Men would try to peek at us and I had to go with my mother or with a bunch of girls. Sometimes we would wait for night but even then we were always in danger from snakes and rats as well,” recounts Sandhya. She is one of the few educated girls in the village and currently she is the ‘Swatchalay Mantri’ (Toilet minister) of Kamal WASH Committee.
Even after the bio-toilets were installed, most villagers would go to the open field to relieve themselves. So the WASH Committee led by Sandhya visited houses to educate people on sickness caused by unhygienic practice of dumping faeces outdoors. The committee even went as far as cleaning and maintaining toilets for the villagers, who were so disgusted by the idea of maintaining their own toilets. They have formed vigilance group and keep watch in the morning. If they come across people going to the fields for toilet they would talk to them and convince them not to defecate in the open.
“At first, they scolded us, especially the men. They would say, ‘we have been doing this our whole lives, what made you think you can change us.’ We were discouraged but we did it for 10 days and slowly the number of people going to fields for toilet became less.”
On being asked if the whole village has stopped defecating in the open, Sandhya happily says, “Yes, 99%.” That is good progress. Himani Devi who is also a member of the committee said, “Often I take my goats to the open field to graze them, but I haven’t seen any human faeces lately.”
Not just toilets, Kamal WASH committee also focused on bringing behavioral change in creating a clean environment. “We collected ₹10 from each household and bought brooms to clean the village,” said Rahul, another WASH committee member. The WASH committee has also been able to collectively work and protect the only well in the village by cementing it and preventing it from being contaminated by dirty waters flowing into it.
They have also come together to install a hand pump at the cost of ₹30,000. With support from World Vision India a water filter was installed to the hand pump. A Water Committee which is a part of the WASH Committee is responsible for the monitoring and maintenance of the water filter.
Kamal WASH Committee has gone a long way in bringing positive changes. In the near future, they want to build a shed over the water pump and put lid on the drainage. It is one of the WASH Committees initiated by World vision India, a humanitarian organisation working for children under its Total Sanitation Initiative project. Such committees have been formed in a total of 66 villages in Bokaro district.
India’s development agenda and its priority programmes and policies through Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are aiming to achieve an Open-Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2 October 2019 and complementing the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring clean water and sanitation for all. Badam Basha is now one village lesser on the list of villages practicing open defecation and pushing India towards achieving the Swachh Bharat Mission.
*Story and photos by Jim Wungramyao kasom