‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’
This popular adage has been used and overused by many people who intend to drive home their respective point and in this context, a more inclusive perception which is– Cleanliness doesn’t necessarily restrict to physical clarity but also purity of the mind and soul.
Using the same proverb to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF), the Deputy Commissioner of Jorhat District in Assam, Virendra Mittal took upon himself the onus of ensuring that every family in his district, who were excluded from the 2012 Baseline Survey of the Swachh Bharat Mission, has a toilet and that the importance of ‘Cleanliness’ is understood by every citizen.
A crucial meeting on cleanliness held at a village in Jorhat was a turning point for Mittal as it fostered a sense of responsibility towards the families belonging to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) who were left out from the Baseline Survey.
The idea to mobilise public support to facilitate the government’s goal to achieve 100 percent ODF was soon transformed into an action in the form of a momentous initiative of Daan Toilet which started in 2017– to mobilise the common people to understand the importance of a toilet and thereby lend their support to turn this concept into a reality through ‘durable’ donations.
“This idea came to me when I was attending a meeting in a village. Then it strike me that I should do something while strictly following the basic concept of – Purification of mind, body because this adage has a direct connection with the project as it concerns attaining physical purity,” Mittal said adding “It was responsibility to foresee that the idea turned into action.”
WHAT IS DAAN TOILET
A momentous initiative of Daan Toilet has managed to mobilise the common people to understand the importance of a toilet. Within a short span of five months, a total of 220 toilets have been constructed and donated to poor people without a toilet in Jorhat. A model toilet from Swachh Bharat Mission cost Rs. 12,000 and in this way, the donated toilets corresponds to a significant amount of Rs. 26, 40,000.
“At present, around 235 toilets have been constructed in Jorhat district,” Mittal said adding that they aim to construct around 1000 toilets by June 2018.
WHY WAS THE PROJECT NEEDED?
Swachh Bharat Mission has been aiming to achieve universal sanitation coverage by making villages Open Defecation Free (ODF) and in this regard, a baseline survey was done to identify the eligible poor households which needed the incentive of Rs. 12,000 for building a toilet. It was observed that a significant number of households were left out from the base line survey of 2012 for SBM in Jorhat. There were some households that were newly grown in the following five years till 2017. These households number over 30,000 continue to use kutcha toilets or openly defecate as they are unable to afford proper sanitary toilets. As such, the impacts of open defecation and using of kutcha toilets still continue, even if the coverage of BLS Households is completed.
“Unless and until these households are covered with sanitary toilet facilities, the district cannot be said to be Open Defecation Free in the true sense of the word,” asserted the Jorhat DC.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
The District Water and Sanitation Committee Jorhat has taken the initiative of facilitating donation of toilets to the poor and actual needy persons whose names were not listed in the baseline survey 2012. An appeal has been made for public participation in donation of toilets, citing the importance of a toilet by drawing a symbolic comparison of attaining physical purity in a “Shauchalaya” to that of the spiritual purity in a “Devalaya”.
“So we adopted the Corporate approach where we reached out to individuals, educational institutions and religious communities to donate money to facilitate the construction of toilets for the BPL families,” Mittal said.
An appeal was made to the potential donors (an individual or a group) to donate generously for a sanitary toilet and become an active partner in ensuring Open Defecation Free Jorhat. Such appeals were made through approaching personally or through social and mass media.
“The plea was taken positively by the citizens who without a second thought lend their support in the form of donations,” Mittal said adding that they received more than Rs 30 lakh donation from the citizens and various communities. “Many people have extended their support; even my family and I too have chipped in a bit – because if we are to turn this into a reality, we have to practice what we preach,” added Mittal laughingly.
Elaborating on the meaning of connection between Devalaya and Shauchalaya, Mittal said the two words are similar in more ways than could be imagined. “If a Devalaya ensures purity of soul, a Shauchalaya ensures purity of the body. And both of them are required for a person to lead a meaningful life. So donating a Sanitary Toilet to a person in need, to a person who cannot afford this basic necessity, is one of the greatest offerings that can be given,” he added.
The concept of Devalaya and Shauchalaya was explained to the citizens through discussion and examples. The DWSC and public representatives themselves have set examples by donating toilets as individuals or as groups. The Chairman, DWSC cum Deputy Commissioner has donated one toilet and even his family (his wife, his mother, his mother-in-law and father-in-law) has donated four more. The Member Secretary, DWSC cum Executive Engineer (PHE) Jorhat has donated one toilet. Sectional Officers, GP Presidents, ward members, SBM Team of Jorhat, everyone has tried to set examples themselves by contributing and getting involved in this initiative.
It is important to mention here that this initiative in the leadership of Chairman, DWSC cum Deputy Commissioner, Jorhat has been successful mostly because it has tried to motivate others by showing the motivation of the DWSC itself in achieving actual ODF status.
The concept of Daan Toilet is a sustainable solution to the issue of left outs/newly grown households. The donee beneficiaries are made to understand that the toilets which they receive are not from any government scheme but a part of someone’s hard earned money.
One donee beneficiary Janmoni Bora from Dhekorgarah GP acknowledged this fact and said “If someone can think so much about the health and future of my children, we can definitely start changing our ways.”
She is a widow with four children, all aged between 8 and 15. The family was using a kutcha toilet built by digging a pit on the ground at the back of their house. The youngest child added to his mother’s words that he even used the nearby drain as a toilet sometimes. Now, all the children and their mother are using the sanitary toilet donated to them.
The donated toilets are being built across several Gaon Panchayats in the district. It is noteworthy to mention that Dhekorgarah Gaon Panchayat of North West Jorhat Block had achieved the targets of BLS, but there were 59 households whose names were left out for which the GP could not be declared as Open Defecation Free.
From the 220 donated toilets, 59 of them were constructed in Dhekorgarah GP, as a result of which the GP was successfully declared as Open Defecation Free on 15th August, 2017.
It is notable to mention that apart from such donation toilets directly from groups and individuals, DWSC Jorhat has also facilitated CSR contribution from ONGC. ONGC Cinnamara has sanctioned an amount of Rs. 253.8 Lakhs for constructing 2115 Nos. of toilets in left out/newly grown households, which will help in making 7 GPs of Titabor Block of Jorhat to be completely ODF.
Bought Leaf Factory Association, Marwari Thakurbari, Star Cement, Anamika Motors, Sohum Shoppe, Pragati Motors, Kaziranga University, Punjab Engineering, GDCL, Prerona Mahila Samiti, several businessmen, NGOs and citizens have come forward to donate generously for this cause.
WAYS OF APPRECIATING THE DONORS
Public meetings are held to appreciate the efforts of the donors, and their names are written in front of the toilets donated. Appreciation letters are also given for their charitable contributions. One documentary is being filmed about this initiative where the perspective of donors, donees and DWSC officials are taken and this shall be used for motivating more people to join this cause.
“We try to create a space where the donee and donor can connect directly,” Mittal said.
- The biggest challenge is convincing people to donate. They understand the cause, sympathise the situation but generally fall back when it comes to donation. DWSC Jorhat is trying to tackle this challenge by trying to set examples and showcasing the success stories. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”
- The huge number of left out/newly grown households is a challenge. Hence we try to focus the donation in those areas which is nearing ODF status. But the donors have the freedom to donate anywhere they like, as long as the beneficiary is poor and have not received any incentive from Govt. Scheme for a toilet.
- Swachhata falls behind the line, when it comes to priority areas for the media. “Publicity of this issue is not as much as we wanted, although DWSC is trying their level best through social media, print media, filming documentaries and speaking about it in almost every public meeting,” Mittal said adding that publicity of this initiative will make the donors feel appreciated and also motivate others to join in and engagement of all stakeholders in this initiative will create a mass involvement in issues of sanitation.
The DC said that so far, they haven’t advertised this concept but the success of this initiative has even reached the ears of chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. It was informed that the CM has asked other district administrations to follow suit, to adopt a people-government partnership to bring about change ‘Because change can only happen if we help each other,” Mittal opined.
It was also informed that other departments like PHE Assam are also exploring the possibilities of adopting the same approach.
In line with the saying ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, this initiative is a reflection of the society’s readiness to help (Godliness), marching ahead with an objective to free their district from Open defecation (Cleanliness).
(The writer would like to extend her gratitude to Assam’s based journalist — Aamir Hazarika for providing the necessary inputs. The writer can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)