“Brother and Sisters, we are living in 21st century. Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? Whether dignity of women is not our collective responsibility? The poor womenfolk of the village wait for the night; until darkness descends, they can’t go out to defecate. What bodily torture they must be feeling, how many diseases that act might engender. Can’t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?”
India has 490 million people, or nearly 1/3rd of the population, practising open defecation causing numerous hygiene related issues. In a bid to improve this, the Government of India has taken up an initiative wherein a large-scale drive has been initiated to create awareness and construct toilets on a mass level – as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission launched on October 2014. In keeping with the vision of the Prime Minister of India, Government of Uttar Pradesh has taken initiatives to implement SBM with a significant emphasis on ODF. Among the several other districts of U.P, Ghaziabad is on its way to make its villages ODF. In this context, the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Ghaziabad, engaged a group of six students including me from IMT Ghaziabad under the guidance of Dr S K Chaudhauri and Dr Vibhav Singh to conduct a rapid assessment of a nearby village, Sadatnagar Ikla, for its ODF status. Sadatnagar Ikla is a village located in Ghaziabad Tehsil in Ghaziabad district. As per 2011 census, the village has 432 households with a population of 2,600 people, mostly comprising of youth. Literacy rate was 79.38%. Objectives of the rapid assessment were three-fold to validate the achievement of the ODF status of the village to understand the drivers, motivators and barriers in making the village ODF and understand the lessons learnt and the way forward. In-depth interviews were carried with Gram Pradhan, Nigrani committee head, and elderly people of the village. We held focus group discussions in various age groups and went for household surveys. The results of the survey were satisfactory. No household was found without a toilet during the audit. There was no evidence of villagers engaging in open defecation when the team visited various sites (fields, forest area) earlier used for open defecation. It was observed that significant effort has been put in by the Nigrani committee and the Gram Pradhan to bring in behavioural change among the villagers. The Nigrani committee comprised of respected elders of the village in the drive against open defecation to encourage adoption among those people who showed rigidity towards toilet usage. Arousing strong emotions of embarrassment due to non-conformation to social norms was the key catalyst utilized. Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) programs were conducted by government and Nigrani committee in the village to sensitize people about the ill-effects of open defecation on their health. Five teams of five members each (separate for women, men and children) regularly visited the sites of open defecation during early hours in the morning and in the evening, and used CLTS tool to discourage people from going into the fields. During our stay for two days, we were impressed by the hospitality from the Gram Pradhan and from the villagers. It was our first field-based experience in Development Consulting and the lessons learnt through the practical experience were insightful. Post-fieldwork, our team analyzed the data and came out with a report. We shared the recommendations with the CDO. Proposed recommendations focused on sensitizing masses towards health hazards of open defecation, activating and empowering women and children as change agents as they are the most vulnerable groups, inducing emotions such as fear and shame to bring about behavioral shift in people with rigid mindset, catering to the special needs of elderly people by providing convenient and larger sized toilets and building public toilets near fields and other public areas. Sadatnagar Ikla has set an example in being Open Defecation Free village through its various CLTS programs and initiatives through community engagement. As we left the village we hoped that all villages of India become like SadatNagar Ikla and get rid of Open Defecation one day.