Dabena village in Chhattisgarh was one of the first to receive ready-made toilets under a state government campaign to ensure sanitation facilities in rural areas. But a majority of villagers were initially hesitant to use them.
Each of the 33 families of Dabena in Bilaspur district were provided with latrines constructed near their houses under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) launched in November 2005 covering five districts. But most the 180-strong population preferred the old way of heading for open fields to ease themselves, reports Grassroots Features.
Fed up with the stubborn refusal of villagers to use their private latrines, Sarpanch Dinesh Kaushik decided to take drastic action. He invited officials of the district Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), the nodal body implementing the TSC, to visit Dabena and directed villagers to extend all hospitality to them.
What unfolded next is still remembered with horror by the residents of Dabena. After the cursory greetings, the sarpanch suggested that the visitors have a casual tour of the village. The excited villagers proudly displayed their tidy dwellings and the attached sparkling, but as yet unused, latrines for inspection. And then Kaushik led the guests towards the open, lush green fields.
As visitors and guests began the tough and unsavoury navigation around mounds of shit and refuse scattered all around, the magnitude of the open toilet ground stood exposed. To drive the point home, the sarpanch captured the dismayed and horrified expressions of the villagers on video film, which he screened for all after the infamous walk around the fields.
It was dubbed the "Walk of Shame" and the villagers immediately pledged to never again dirty their fields but use their in-door toilets.
"It was the first time that the villagers had toured the entire fields and it was a rude awakening for them", recollects Sameer Gaur of Bilaspur PHED.
Within 20 days the village was declared a 'Nirmal Gram' (clean village) - achieving total sanitation by virtue of using toilets and the sarpanch was awarded by district authorities.
Kaushik, in his capacity as sarpanch of Bahtarai village, of which Dabena is a dependent village, decided to bring about a change there as well.
A meeting was called with special emphasis for women to attend - the logic being that women as caregivers are responsible for the cleanliness of the home, family and community. A resolution was passed that anyone found defecating in the open would be fined Rs.50 and those exposing defaulters would get Rs.25.
"The move was an effective deterrent and we collected Rs.750 in fines," claims Mithulal Devangan, former sarpanch.
The sanitation campaign made inroads into the community with the support of NGO Jan Vigyan Sanrakhan Samitee, which focused on information, education and communication (IEC) activities using folk media like Kala Jhattha groups, women's self help groups.
In the Kala Jhattha, young men and women dance, sing and perform skits based on seven components of the campaign - community, sanitation, safe drinking water, personal hygiene, school sanitation, solid and liquid waste disposal and individual household toilets.
"They are the best means through which we can enter a village and they draw crowds immediately and spread the message," said Debnath Mukherjee, district programme coordinator.
For Tulsi, a Kala Jhattha performer, the experience has been enriching. "Before I began to spread the message of sanitation through dance and song in several villages, I was an illiterate village girl myself. The campaign has taught me so much about personal cleanliness," she confesses.
Slogans like "Clean village, healthy village", and "Ghar ghar ho sochalaya nirman" (Every house should have a latrine) are plastered outside the walls of individual homes.
Rameshwari Patel, a village motivator, sees the difference it has made to women's lives. "The biggest gain has been the restoration of our dignity. We faced so much difficulty defecating in the open and many times had to wait till dark to be free from household chores as well as ensure privacy," she explains.
The elderly residents, who were among the most staunch in resisting in-door toilet use for reasons like proximity to home - resulting in stench, and confined space, were converted after personal experiences made them wiser.
Ram Dular Kaushik had a stomach operation three years ago and found it difficult to walk long distances to defecate.
"Someone had to always accompany me to support me and for months I could not even bend. My in-door latrine is a blessing to me," he remarks.
Bahtarai is among the 90 villages in the state selected for the 2007 Nirmal Gram Puraskars, announced by the central government for achieving total sanitation. The programme focused on 552 of the 1,600 villages in Bilaspur district, says Gaurav Dwivedi, collector and district magistrate.
According to him, a significant part of the scheme is to tackle the mindset of the target group. "It is not enough just to construct the toilets. We have to change the thinking of people so that they are amenable to using the toilets," he observes.