Shit will be fought with shit

07 June 2016

Hands of majority of motivators in Fatehgarh Saheb rise to a question – ‘how many of you have taken shit in your hands?’ It is surprising. Hands rise without hesitation, with pride though. One would expect hands rise to holding a sweet in hand, their child in arms, or a precious thing, may be. But shit?

Asked don’t they feel the disgust, they reply in negative. They say that this way, they are able to explain most convincingly the relation between shit, flies and food. A sarpanch (village headman) seconds this – he says people get moved by this the most.

Places such as Fatehgarh Saheb are witnessing this change for the first time – a change where sanitation soldiers (government officials, motivators etc.) are taking pride in their work. Reluctant to take on the shit-job earlier, they now feel that for the first time in their careers, people are treating them with respect, and they are getting the satisfaction of being part of real change. The villagers said they could not believe when these people said they would visit the village at 5 am in winters for nigrani – when they did, the village responded positively. Thousands will live for money, but millions will die for dignity and self-respect!

Punjab is a place with relatively high sanitation coverage. Prior to Swachh Bharat however, some men would not feel it odd to relieve themselves in the fields. One sarpanch said he was no exception. But now that he had been through the process and his village was ODF (open defecation free), even if he was somewhere outside and needed to go for shit, he would hold on to find some public toilet in a Gurudwara or elsewhere, but not go outside! The villagers say motivators should continue to visit their village off and on to continue momentum.

Many of the motivators deployed here are either youth, selected through a screening or government officials at grass root level – a Junior engineer, pump operators etc. The junior engineer, unhappy when moved from water to toilet side, now proudly says he and his team have made one full block ODF. He also recounts difficulties encountered – a group of poor migrants from Rajasthan were not constructing, despite being given incentive, and forwarding lame excuses of lack of space etc. He caught hold of the one amongst them who was most adamant, and told him that a police complaint would be filed – upon which those people constructed. Another sarpanch mentioned that they actually levied a fine of Rs 2500 on a group of open defecators.

Work is starting with stopping open defecation, not constructing toilets (which follow). Open defecators are told to cover their shit with soil, if they go out (till they construct toilets). Motivators visit individually the houses of open defecators – women motivators are particularly effective since that shames the household.

Toilets are constructed/ got constructed by people, with government money flowing into their individual accounts. People are putting in their own funds (my toilet has to be better than my neighbour!) and constructing bathrooms along with toilets.

Some of the motivators are young girls. When someone asked them, how do their parents react to their leaving houses early mornings (when it is still dark) for nigrani, one of them said – ‘we are not only triggering the villages, we are also influencing our parents!’

The programme is led in the district proactively by the DC (Deputy Commissioner) S. Sangha. He has roped in all departments (education, health etc.), and taken political people on board. He says most of his meetings, irrespective of the subject, would start with the subject of open defecation and cleanliness. ‘Jaisa raja, waisi praja’ ( Like king, like subjects) – the message from the top is quickly imbibed by all.

S. Jasbir Singh, Executive Engineer (called Ex En sahebs in Punjab)’s designation is now ‘district sanitation officer’. In Punjab, the engineers working in the sanitation sector are now transforming into ‘social engineers’. The ‘union leaders’ are ably brought in the programme, their high energies channelled positively. As the government reaches the door step of people through this campaign, other issues of villages also tend to get solved better. An engineer said, when they went for ‘toilet work’ in the village, the village questioned them as to why the water supply scheme gave water for 1 hour only. The engineer looked at the whole issue – sought cooperation of the village; and the scheme is 24*7 today.

The programme in Punjab took off when the State Government got serious about it last year. Best officers were brought in to lead the programme. Mohhamad Ishfaq, a relatively junior in hierarchy, was made the State coordinator, given his impeccable sincerity, passion, hardwork and abilities. The State, with jugaad or otherwise, managed to pull along practical interventions with speed and scale – trainings were conducted across, existing cadres were mobilised, new motivators taken and given incentive linked with outcome, monitoring apps developed (through engineering students at peanut price) to keep a check, convergence done with education department – books published for children with sanitation messages (the close involvement of school children had a positive effect on overall education level as well as ascertained by the State through an independent Pratham Survey). The State improvised on the model of community approach (in true spirit of flexibility) to suit their condition of high coverage. Demand generation and awareness were however taken as non-negotiable.

Fatehgarh Saheb is the place where two sahebzadas of Guru Gobind Singh ji gave supreme sacrifice. The poet, Maithillisharan Gupt has, on this incident has written:

‘Jis kul Jaati desh ke bachche
de sakte hain balidan,
us desh ka vartman kuchh bhi ho
par bhavishya hai maha mahan’.

His prophecy seems to be coming true.

There are challenges as well. The problem of kachra (litter) and chhappar (village ponds) (both man-made?) are staring in the face. On the shit issue too, one has to be watchful lest there should be slippage. The village leadership seems yet to take things in their hand and to reduce dependence on outside motivators. A collective feeling in the village has to take deeper roots to address other development issues.

However, the shift from pre-Swachh Bharat days, when the programme was contractor-driven with no focus on demand generation or community involvement is stark. It is not important where we stand; it is important the direction in which we move!

Nipun Vinayak is Director of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) in the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Government of India