Population: 1.83 lakh;
Sanitation status: 283 of 334 villages won Nirmal Gram Puraskar; declared open-defecation-free in 2008
Six years ago, Premo Bai of village Theri Mor Singh was given a “lal seeti (red whistle)” as a “swachhata doot (community volunteer)” working on an intensive sanitation drive lasting two and a half months in Sirsa district. She wore it on a red thread around her neck. There was this old man in her village, Ratan Singh. “I remember the first time I found him, it was 5 am, around the time our daily patrolling would start. I followed him to the fields and whistled every time he would start squatting to defecate,” Premo recalls, to giggles from the crowd around her. It was the same the next day, with the old man begging her to let him be. She gave in, but on the third day, she did not relent. Putting her own embarrassment aside, she continued trailing him, firmly blowing her whistle every time Singh attempted to sit down. That day, he ended up soiling his dhoti. He cursed her, Premo says, but promised never to defecate in the open again.
Starting October 2007, the Sirsa District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) adopted this “shaming” strategy among other measures as part of the UPA government’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) to achieve total sanitation. In the 2011 census, 87 per cent of the population in Sirsa was registered to be using toilets, the highest for a district in the country.
Those heady first days of the sanitation effort, however, are already long behind Premo. A BPL-card holder who was identified in 2010 as among those entitled to a Rs 9,100 subsidy to build a toilet at home, she is still waiting for her funds. Premo’s daughter who accompanied her during patrols as a swachhata doot is now 15. She dropped out of school three years ago after Class VI to help at home. Today she goes to the fields to relieve herself, with Premo accompanying her for security.
Ratan Singh died in 2011. His wife Najab Bai, 70, is back defecating in the open.
The expert opinion is that once initiated into using toilets, households do not go back to defecating in the open. Premo smiles at this. “In 2007-08, the pradhan would come with the district authorities everyday and promised us the first government toilets if we motivated others to stop going to the fields. But we never got the toilets. Instead, the landowning farmers became so ‘modern’, they don’t allow us into their fields anymore. Now we have to go to a canal 3 km away.”
Apart from whistling at defecators to shame them, the sanitation drive used measures such as mixing a glass of water with real faeces to tell villagers that the water they drank was similarly contaminated, and involving women and children as volunteers. Ther Mor Singh village won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2008 for ‘eliminating open defecation’. In the next three years, 283 of the 334 villages of Sirsa district got the award, which came with funds between Rs 25,000 and Rs 5 lakh depending on their population, to improve sanitation further.
DRDA authorities say cracks emerged soon after the government withdrew from the villages. Says Indraj Singh, NBA project director for Haryana, “The true test of a sanitation campaign is the practice sustaining in the village. But we haven’t been given funds for follow-up surveys. The last survey to identify BPL families eligible for toilets was in 2010. New beneficiaries have emerged.” From 500-odd volunteers, the programme is down to 14 “paid motivators” in the district.
Officials say the demographics of Sirsa helped achieve the initial success. “When we started, 70 per cent of the population was already using some form of toilets. We had one belt of Rajasthani Chaudharies, another of Sikhs of upper castes. Both culturally reject open defecation. The main challenge were the migrants and lower-caste Sikhs and Dalits,” says Sukhwinder Singh, consultant, DRDA.
Premo’s is among the 100-odd Rai Sikh families in Theri Mor Singh.
At Dhani Satnam Singh village, barely 5 km away for example, people who initially used dry single- or double-pit toilets upgraded to ones with septic tanks on their own. Jageer Singh, the pradhan of the dominant Rai Sikh community, says, “We were successful in changing mindsets unlike our neighbouring villages. So from knee-deep muck, we have clean roads now.”
But in other villages of the district, the sanitation programme was determined entirely by caste. In Patli Dabar, which also won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar, Jats and upper-caste Sikh families have toilets, while the hundred-odd families of Valmikis, Dalits and Mirasis defecate in the open.
Gurban, a 25-year-old Mirasi, has strikingly shaped eyebrows, a skill she picked from the only beauty parlour in the village. A BPL-card holder, identified as a beneficiary for a toilet, she has a mobile phone, a TV — on which she watches 54 channels — and a motorcycle the family bought in 2010.
But Gurban, her two daughters, her sisters-in-law, and her nieces, all defecate in the open. “We go together for security,” Gurban says. She doesn’t mind the 2-km walk either. “It gives good motions,” she laughs. Ask why they don’t have a toilet, and she says: “We have not got any help from the government. And if we do, why would we spend Rs 9,000 on a toilet? Toilets are for rich people. My husband’s two brothers have got married, we need to first build them separate rooms.”
In Sahuwala village’s Moddu Kheda Colony, caste determines the type of toilets built. The village won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2008, but the Dalits who comprise a majority of the beneficiaries are still awaiting the sanctioned amount. So, they built dry toilets. The Indian Express found only two families of the 150 defecating in the open — temporarily, they said, as their toilets had started smelling too much.
“We just dig a pit to about 10-15 ft. When it smells too much, we close it, dig a similar pit. One pit lasts us about a year,” 40-year-old Jaggo Devi says.
The upper-caste Jats and Sikhs though have pucca toilets, with septic tanks, while some families have built double-pit toilets. “A pucca toilet costs at least Rs 20,000… But this (pit) works, it helps us keep our dignity,” Anjana, 18, says.
Officials admit disbursal of funds has been delayed. “We have to release Rs 4,500 from MNREGA, Rs 4,600 from NBA, and the family has to show it put in a labour cost of at least Rs 900. Since January, the funds for MNREGA have not come to the state,” Singh says.
“The programme is designed such that people have to wait to construct their door from one funding source, the seat from another and the tank from a third,” an official points out.
The community sanitary complexes, put up on trial basis in 50 villages of the district in 2008, have also proved a “total failure”, again due to caste. “The upper castes will never go to a toilet which the Dalits use. Where some people used them, we found security, especially for women, a major concern,” NBA consultant Sukhwinder Singh says.
At Sahuwala village, two such complexes with three toilets each have not been cleaned even once, say villagers. Kamla Devi, 43, used the toilet initially. “I would go to the one near the chaupal. But a few months later, the boundary wall around the toilet broke after a tractor rammed into it. I feel scared going there now,” Kamala says.
Her 16-year-old daughter Suman once slipped and fell over the mounds of dried faeces. “The men at the choupal started laughing,” Suman says.