Political Will and Community Action Merge into a Social March
Babloo Ki Maa is flanked by her community members after receiving the toilet constructed for her and the community by the Bihar state government in the Halsi village of district Lakhisarai in the eastern Indian state of Bihar
By Natasha Sinha
Bihar, India, 22 March 2010 – Babloo Ki Maa has lived all by herself in the Halsi village in the district of Lakhisarai in the eastern Indian state of Bihar since her two sons migrated to the nearby state of Delhi in a bid to earn their livelihood.
The sixteenth of February 2010 marked an important day in the life of this frail 70 year-old woman and the Mahadalit (socially excluded) community that lives in Halsi village.
Babloo ki Maa was given a toilet, the first one in her village. It was constructed by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) of the Government of Bihar and the Minister of Bihar, Mr. Ashwini Kumar Chaubey himself, along with his team and the local community, actively participated in digging up the leach pit toilet for the families in the village.
As part of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), the PHED in collaboration with UNICEF, organised a state-wide campaign, “Bihar Gram Gaurav Yatra” to enhance community participation and weave in a sense of ownership of the programme.
The campaign has covered 23 districts and 273 blocks and their villages, across the state. It has successfully inspired and sensitised large groups of school children to take pride in good health and to adopt good hygiene practises.
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The elements of this unique 23 day crusade have included the promotion of toilet construction for households, for schools, for aanganwadi (day care) centres, for communities and also an awareness and mobilization drive on clean drinking water, health, hygiene and sanitation practises.
“Toilets are a basic human need and they make life comfortable, so my sons in the city tell me. I live all by myself and am ageing and it is becoming increasingly difficult and unsafe for me to go out into the fields, especially at night. There is also the danger of being bitten by snakes and insects,” says Babloo Ki Maa.
“I am proud to have this facility and also being the first person in Halsi village to have a toilet,” she adds with a twinkle in her eyes.
In the vicinity of Rajoura, another Mahadalit village in Begusarai District, lives Vijay Kumar Chaudhri. Kumar is not just another assiduous farmer.
When the Bihar Gram Gaurav Yatra visited his village, an inspired Vijay Kumar Chaudhri announced that he would donate a large patch of his land for toilet construction to benefit the entire community. Such was the ripple effect of the Bihar Yatra over the course of its zealous journey.
The Yatra proved to be a focussed crusade to mobilize communities for collective action, so that the seemingly distant dream of making Bihar an “Open Defecation Free” state can be realised.
The drive also witnessed the efforts of school girls of Class VII and VIII in the town of Motihari who played an active role in sensitizing and mobilizing their communities. The empowered voices of the women in various villages, emphasising their need for toilets did not go unheard either.
Since the launch of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in the year 1999, other schemes and programmes like the Lohiya Sanitation Scheme, Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) and Jal Mani have evolved towards greater community participation and sustenance of sanitation practices at the household, village, school and aanganwadi centre levels.
NGP has also provided additional momentum to TSC with a surge in villages attaining 100 per cent toilet coverage.
The Cabinet Minister of Bihar, Mr. Ashwini Kumar Chaubey, spoke at the Halsi Village and focused on “Swa-achhata” which stands for overall cleanliness including the issues of personal hygiene, washing hands, safe disposal of water and safe drinking water.
He also emphasised how the construction of toilets aims to fulfil the rights of women and girls of rural Bihar.
“In Bihar 2.2 million household toilets have been constructed in the last 4 years as opposed to only 2,400 between 2002 and 2004,” said Mr. Chaubey.
These endeavours, he felt, along with the active participation and awareness of people in rural areas would pave the way for clean villages in every part of Bihar.