With the state government planning to make rural Maharashtra open defecation-free by March 2018, there were reports that an IAS officer in Solapur district went ahead in pursuit of the mission’s objectives and allegedly “shamed” some women by garlanding them for defecating in the open. The officer, however, said on Sunday that he had done no such thing.
Officials from the zilla parishad administration said Solapur Zilla Parishad’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Rajendra Bharud was on a visit to Chikmahud village in Sangola tehsil to take stock of the open defecation issue in the village. The CEO aimed to create awareness among the villagers and convince them to get toilets built at home, said an official.
On October 6, Bharud, along with other officials, was visiting the gram panchayat office early morning when a few women, who were reportedly caught defecating in the open, were brought there by a ‘good morning squad’ — these groups, comprising representatives of local bodies, self-help groups, NGOs, students and social workers, have been formed by the state government to monitor open defecation. The official said the women were garlanded in the presence of Bharud after they agreed to get toilets built at home.
Congress legislator from Solapur Praniti Shinde has sought Barud’s suspension. “It is not right to disrespect women in such a way. It is very shocking that the women were treated like this. It also reflects the mentality of the current BJP government towards women. The officer must be suspended to send out a strong message,” she said.
“I didn’t felicitate the women by garlanding. It was (done by) the local members of self-help groups, who are involved in the work of making the village open defecation-free, after the women promised to get toilets built at home in a week. A member of our team clicked the photos and shared them on WhatsApp without my knowledge, with a positive intention,” claimed Bharud. “Forget about sharing the photos, I never click photos of my official work,” he added.
Bharud challenged anyone to prove that he had clicked or shared the photos of the women being garlanded. “If it is proved, I will take voluntary retirement from service and start working as a medical professional,” said Bharud, who is a doctor by qualification.
Some villagers too have spoken in support of Bharud. “He came here to create awareness among people. After his visit, around 100 toilets have been built in the past two days. He requested people with folded hands to get toilets built and also touched the feet of a 70-year-old lady,” said Balasaheb Bhosale, deputy sarpanch of Chikmahud village.
Bhosale said the villagers would pass a resolution in a gram sabha meeting Monday to support Bharud, stating that he did not do any wrong.