In the run-up to the third anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated a commitment he made while inaugurating it. There will be no coercion in the implementation of the programme, he said. The PM has, on several other occasions, emphasised the SBM’s links with peoples’ dignity, especially that of women.
He has underscored the programme’s association with public health and said that the SBM should become a jan aandolan or people’s movement. Putting these ideals into practice requires a sustained engagement with people. Unfortunately, however, the pressure to implement the SBM’s targets is forcing local officials to use desperate measures. On Wednesday, this newspaper reported that, as part of Bihar’s Open Defecation Free (ODF) campaign, block development officers (BDOs) in Bihar’s Aurangabad and Muzaffarpur district have asked teachers to photograph individuals defecating in the open.
The Aurangabad district administration has decided to declare Pawai Panchayat of Deo block ODF by December 31 and has asked 61 primary school teachers to participate in the campaign. The Kudni block administration in Muzaffarpur district has engaged 144 teachers for the same purpose. The Kudni BDO’s order explicitly mentions that the teachers take “photographs of people defecating in the open”. The Deo BDO’s order is less specific.
“There is no pressure to take photographs,” he told this paper. But teachers have refuted the official’s contention. “We have been told to take photographs of men, if not women,” one teacher told this paper. It is pertinent to point out that the teachers support the ODF programme — their main complaint is that BDOs’ orders undermine human dignity. It’s a concern that should be taken seriously if the SBM has to run according to the principles repeatedly stressed by the PM.
The orders by the BDOs in Bihar are part of a disturbing pattern. In the last week of September, this paper reported that 10 people in Ranchi who were caught defecating in the open were made to hand over their lungis to enforcement teams of the municipality. The Ranchi Municipal Commissioner had said, “Public ostracism is a good deterrence against open defecation”. Such measures may ensure participation in the short-term, but coercion and threats are antithetical to the mission’s main objective — triggering behavioural changes on matters related to sanitation.