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Budaun won PM award, don’t tell that to Dalit mother who carries excreta on her head

Women like her are called “metranis” here. Metranis are the manual scavengers of Ramzanpur and adjoining Mirzapur Midholi.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | Badaun |
October 1, 2014 2:18:56 am
The 35-year-old who works as a manual scavenger sits near the broken toilet at her home which she now uses to store bricks. Source: Oinam Anand The 35-year-old who works as a manual scavenger sits near the broken toilet at her home which she now uses to store bricks. Source: Oinam Anand

Budaun district

Villages: 1,469;
Population: 36.81 lakh;
Literacy: 51.29%

Sanitation status: Nirmal Gram Puraskars to 12 villages in 2010-11 for ‘eliminating open defecation’; in 2011, 6 of 13 awards from Centre to UP went to Budaun district; DM got PM’s award

She lost her husband 13 years ago, at the age of 22. By then, she already had five children, who are now between the ages of 13 and 19. Like her neighbours among the 100-odd families in the Valmiki Mohalla of Budaun district’s Ramzanpur village, she covers her face till her chin with a ghunghat as she ventures out carrying a covered wicket basket on wooden planks. She insists the stinking garbage that she is carrying to a dump 4 km away, flies hovering around it, is household waste.

Once inside her house, a brick structure with a roof of hay, the 35-year-old opens up.

Women like her are called “metranis” here. Twenty years after the first law against dry latrines and manual scavenging was passed in 1993, and a year after Parliament passed an amendment banning it, the “metranis” are the manual scavengers of Ramzanpur and adjoining Mirzapur Midholi. The pradhans of the two villages estimate that at least 200 families such as the 35-year-old’s are involved in the practice.

Budaun district which hit the headlines after two teenaged cousins who went to defecate in the open were found hanging from a tree has won several government sanitation awards. In 2011, then district magistrate Amit Gupta won the PM’s award for excellence in public administration for his campaign ‘Daliya Jalao’ for eliminating manual scavenging and the practice of dry or insanitary latrines.

According to officials of the District Panchayati Raj Office (DPRO) which oversaw the UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) programme — now set to be replaced by the Swachchha Bharat Abhiyan — between 2009 and 2011, 48,915 toilets were constructed in homes in Budaun that had dry toilets, mostly in villages with over 80 per cent Muslim population. However, officials say, about a thousand households are back to using dry toilets or insanitary toilets while some never gave them up. The DPRO office has identified 1,600 homes using dry toilets that are to be given funds this year to convert to double-pit toilets.

Says Rajesh Yadav, DPRO, Budaun, “We used to raid homes. Many people using dry toilets and some metranis who cleaned them were also arrested. Though the numbers are down, the practice continues in some parts.”

The 35-year-old mother of five gets Rs 60 and 1 kg wheat each a month from the 15 houses she cleans. She was rounded up by the police once in 2010, and her basket confiscated, but had no choice but to continue the work. “I have been trying to get my widow’s pension of Rs 300 a month for 10 years now. I have a BPL card but still they don’t sanction my pension. My husband died of alcoholism, now my eldest son has become a drunkard. How else do I feed myself and my three young girls?” she says.

Till recently, she herself had a standard double-pit toilet at home, built in 2007 from Rs 1,500 under what was then known as the Total Sanitation Campaign, even as she cleaned dry toilets in others’ homes. But after her toilet seat broke in 2012 and the boundary wall came down, she has been using it as storage. She now defecates in the open.

The double-pit toilet was introduced in 2006, and further modified under the NBA in 2010. It has two adjoining pits, honeycombed with bricks, where faeces get decomposed by natural bacteria. When one pit gets filled up — usually in two-three years in a four-five member household — the second can be used till the faeces in the first is completely decomposed.

With most of the “metranis” being widows like the 35-year-old from the Dalit community having no alternative source of income, officials now try to counsel them instead, and urge gram panchayats to help them financially.

The Phassu Nagara Colony in Ramzanpur has at least 10 dry toilets. Hamsheera Begum also constructed a double-pit toilet under the Total Sanitation Campaign. “We used the toilet till 2010, but then the seat broke. We don’t have money to repair it so we went back to our dry toilet,” Hamsheera says.

At Mirzapur Midholi, the gram panchayat submitted a list of 72 homes with dry toilets this year to the DPRO, requesting for funds to replace them. Zahida Sheikh, 70, and her three sons are all BPL-card holders. None has ever got funds for double-pit toilets and they continue to use dry toilets. “It has become so difficult getting metranis, but what should we do? Should I forget all decency and go into the jungle at my age?” Zahida frets.

In Shekhupur village with at least 20,000 voters, while dry toilets have been totally eliminated, around 50 Dalit families defecate in the open. Pradhan Farzand Ali says he deployed photographers to fight manual scavenging. “Till last year, women would hide faeces baskets. We videographed them or took pictures to scare them. At the same time, I ensured they got work in the same households cleaning other garbage and got the same wages.”

Budaun faces two very stark sanitation challenges born of cultural practices, officials say. Compared to Muslim-majority villages which have traditionally used toilets, albeit dry ones, villages dominated by OBCs such as Yadavs, Jatavs, Palis, Maurya Shakyas swear by open defecation,

So, in Gaijulia in the Yadav-dominated Seheswan block, where most people are land-owning farmers with pucca houses, just one home in the village with 2,000 votes has a toilet — pradhan Kailash Yadav’s. This despite it being identified as one of the Ambedkar villages under the BSP government, which received priority in development projects.

Sunita and Pushpa, both BPL-card holders, have fought their husbands endlessly for toilets. “We have to walk 4 km, and trucks and cars on the road flash their headlights on us… My husband bought two bikes last year, but he refuses to build toilets. He says he will make one only when we get the government subsidy of Rs 9,100 under the NBA,” Sunita says.

The pradhan says though 350 houses were identified under the NBA in 2010, the funds never came. Officials blame the trifurcation of toilet funds, and delay in the MNREGA component of it.

Chatuiiya village in Ujhani block won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2011. Pradhan Badri Prasad says that a third of the homes with toilets in this village of 4,000 people still defecate in the open. Most of the people here are Palis, an OBC community.

Ram Kali, 58, who has had a double-pit toilet since 1997, constructed from Rs 35,000 under the Indira Awaas Yojana, is among them. “I feel more comfortable going out,” she says, adding that she is afraid of the “small” toilet pit she has at home stinking. So the toilet is now used by her goats.

Officials say the perceptions regarding pit size and depth have been a huge deterrent. “As per NBA guidelines, the two pits should be each a metre deep. People think the deeper the pits the better because these will take longer to fill. But the bacteria that decomposes the faeces cannot survive below 2 metres, so actually deeper pits fill faster,” DPRO Yadav says.

Those who can afford it build toilets with septic tanks, but officials say that also does more harm. “Tanks release waste water in the open and villages do not have any sewage disposal system,” an official points out.

As per Central guidelines, 15 per cent of the NBA funds are reserved for ‘Information Education and Communication’ activities to sensitise people to facts such as these. But in Budaun, less than 3 per cent of this money is spent. “Like in the run-up to the PM’s sanitation pledge, we received instructions on September 26 to start a van or cart to promote toilet use from September 28. Two days is just not enough time. So we organised street plays,” an official says.

Hopefully for Swachchha Bharat Abhiyan, that was just a false start. Otherwise, the metranis of Badaun have seen too many projects executed hastily to fall by the wayside.

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