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Nirmal Satyagrah (Cleanliness Agitation)

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of Satyagrah or truth force, a new mass movement has been introduced in Chhattisgarh that aims to inspire the state’s vast rural population into adopting healthy sanitation practices and pledge to stop open defecation.

Christened Nirmal Satyagrah, this pioneering campaign will add teeth to and revolutionise the ongoing Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC).

Nirmal Satyagrah has been envisioned as a people’s movement. It works from bottom up and concentrates on grassroots work to bring about a sustainable change. The campaign attempts to bring about behavioural change in the sanitation habits of the rural masses as this is the single most important means of achieving the goals of India’s TSC as well as the Millennium Development Goal in sanitation.

As the Nirmal Satyagrah is a people’s movement, all its agrahis (willing volunteers) are drawn from small villages themselves. They inherently known the best means of communication in a rural set up and armed with their knowledge of the benefits of healthy sanitation habits they are best suited to drive the point home.

Beginning with 42 volunteers, the campaign has already kicked off in the Ambagarh Chowki block of Rajnandgaon district. The campaign will cover all villages of Ambagarh Chowki in three months. This is a precursor to a wider campaign that will stretch across the entire Rajnandgaon district as it strives to become a Nirmal Zila (Clean Zone). The campaigners have been divided into eight groups and have spanned out in such a manner that they are able to cover even the farthest lying villages in Ambagarh Chowki.

Each group spends three days in a village mingling with the local people and engaging them in discussions and debates about sanitation habits and the consequences of open defecation. As the Mahatma suggested, the idea is to wean your opponent (in this case the campaign audience) away from error with patience and sympathy. The agrahis adopt similar tactics and do not shy away from telling their audience the harsh truth of problems emanating from open defecation and unhealthy sanitation habits.

Some of messages conveyed even shock the villagers but the agrahis stick by what they say and patiently explain the reasoning behind their message. The campaign is not just about bombarding the villagers with information but also spending time with them to listen and understand their grievances.

The agrahis use songs, slogans, stories and puppets as communication devices. The colourful communication techniques attract people and some even end up participating in the activities.

Participation and attendance guarantees that the message is heeded. The agrahis organise public meetings in the evening where they are able to engage the working population of the village who return from work at this time. Their itinerary is usually dotted with processions, village rallies and door-to-door campaigning. The agrahis also form village groups among youngsters and women who will keep the spirit of campaign alive and continue the struggle after the campaigners depart. Each village campaign is culminated with a sankalp, (an oath) which is a show of strength and a resolve to adopt healthy sanitation habits and stop open defecation.     

Nirmal Satyagrah steers clear of propagating toilet construction and instead focuses on effecting a behavioural change, aimed at motivating the people to stop open defecation and seek alternative options. When the people realise the import of these issues they will inevitably take steps towards using toilets and not just getting them built because the state provides subsidy on it. This is when the agrahis step in to provide them information about government schemes to build cheap and efficient toilets.
 
In the short span of time that it has been active, Nirmal Satyagrah has already generated immense enthusiasm among villagers and state sanitation programme officials. They believe this campaign is addressing the unlying causes and confronting the villagers with the harsh realities of poor sanitation habits.

They say that by living among the villagers and continuous interaction, the agrahis are getting accepted in these communities. This acceptance means they are treated as equals and not outsiders who have come to preach developmental jargons.


 

 

 

 

 

Nirmal Satyagrah

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