Swachh Bharat Mission: How tulsi saplings, rangolis helped Odisha's Ganjam district in ending open defecation

Manish Kumar
The Ganjam district administration, roped in women self-help groups (SHGs) and swacchagrahis to take an innovative way to ward off open defecation.

Ganjam: Narmada Swain, a 23-year-old swachhagrahi (local volunteer), is now motivated to witness her mission €" to ensure her panchayat becomes Open Defecation Free (ODF) €" becoming a reality. Swain has been working as a volunteer in her Golamundala village in the Kabisuryanagar block of the Ganjam district of Odisha under the Swachh Bharat Mission since March 2018.

But her journey was painstaking and arduous. "We were entrusted with the task of making sure that people are encouraged to construct toilets and actually use them. In 2014, my village had only 50 households with toilets out of the total 400 households, but now, all households have toilets and are using them," Narmada said.

The young grassroots worker of the ambitious sanitation mission of the Union government explains that after being trained, she went to uncovered households to persuade people to construct toilets, organised discussion sessions with groups of non-interested villagers and apprised them about the health hazards of open defecation. Her village now has 100 percent toilet coverage and is free from open defecation.

Tackling the 'Ganjam Salute'

However, the journey was not as smooth as it seemed to be. Even by last year, when all the households had toilets, not everyone had shunned open defecation and the district administration had to think of innovative ways to ward off the menace. The local issues required the administration to work on behavioral change to boost the ownership and usage of the toilets.

In Ganjam, as per the own admissions of the villagers, many people consider the agricultural land as pious and avoid defecating on to agricultural fields, which is not the case in other parts of the country. They often line up alongside roads for open defecation.

The district was also notorious for a strange practice locally termed "Ganjam Salute", which was also mentioned by journalist Ruben Banerjee in his biography of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Many men and women used to sit along the Ganjam roads to defecate, but whenever vehicle lights flashed, they used to suddenly stand up one by one, mimicking a "salute" for an outsider.

To tackle the localised issue, the district administration, based on the inputs from many locals, roped in women self-help groups (SHGs) and swacchagrahis to take an innovative way to ward off open defecation. Many SHGs soon started planting Tulsi (Basil, which is considered sacred by Hindus) plants and painting rangolis along street sides to discourage open defecation, which became a trend in many parts of the district.

Narmada also jumped on to the bandwagon and started taking other women on board to discourage people who defecated in the open despite having toilets of their own.

Sasmita Das, another grassroots worker at the Chingulikhol village at the Beguniapada tehsil of the district, joined in to execute the maverick plan. "We saw that many people, despite having toilets, used to go on the road sides, making the whole area dirty. We started planting tulsi and making rangolis after cleaning the area, to instill the feeling that these were sacred places. It soon started making a difference, and out of guilt, many shunned open defecation," Sasmita says.

With the help of women SHGs of the panchayat, they soon had 550 volunteers running a mass campaign to ensure behavioural changes for improved sanitary habits in the area.

Narmada and Sasmita say they were paid Rs 150 as incentive when a toilet was constructed in their village and the families started using it.

Offering roses, halting ration

Apart from planting tulsi and making rangolis, the district administration also tried other "name and shame" tactics to target open defecation. From November 2018 onwards, many grassroots workers embarked on a mission to give roses to people who were found defecating in the open.

Several blocks like Beguniapada even tried to threaten people with punishment, like stopping their quota of government ration, if they continued open defecation.

Such a drive was earlier implemented in several panchayats of the district and later extended to other areas as well. Some of the panchayats where it was tested and yielded good results included 10 gram panchayats of Sanakhemundi block, nine gram panchayats of Purusottampur block and seven gram panchayats of Kukudakhandi block in the district.

According to the officials figures, before the starting of the SBM, Ganjam had a toilet coverage of a meagre 17.83 percent, as out of the total 6,08,751 village households, 5,03,513 (82.71 percent) did not have toilets of their own and the notorious "Ganjam Salute" was rampant. Now, it has 100 percent toilet coverage across all the blocks.

"The solution, through such innovative ideas, was the brainchild of the district administration, which decided to take on board community level workers and women and create a mass movement.

"Women helped to magnify the movement and acted as harbingers of change. We targeted many vulnerable areas to change the mindsets of the people," says Gokul Maharana, district project coordinator, Water Sanitation Mission, Ganjam.

The district administration is now overwhelmed with the figures, as while Odisha is still among the worst performing states in terms of toilet coverage, Ganjam has achieved 100 percent sanitation coverage and has been declared an Open Defecation Free (ODF) district.

"We observed that despite having toilets, many people in rural areas used to go outside for defecation. We tried some fresh ideas to tackle the issue. The main objective was to bring behavioural change among villagers so that they are encouraged to use toilet. We will continue our mission with good ideas to discourage open defecation," Ganjam district collector Vijay Kulange said.

The overall situation in the state is not yet hunky-dory as Odisha remains the second worst state of the country under the Swachh Bharat Mission, with merely 78 percent (till 5 January, 2019) toilet coverage, while many other states have crossed 99 percent coverage. The state, however, had only 11.72 percent toilet coverage before the Swachh Bharat Mission started, the worst in the country.

(Manish Kumar is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)

Also See: Four years of Swachh Bharat: Open defecation down 26%, but toilet use doesn't match construction spree

Swachh Bharat Mission in Odisha hits roadblock as abundant open defecation, insufficient toilets defeat cleanliness drive

Swachh Bharat Mission in Bihar stumbling due to govt corruption and slow construction of toilets, say villagers

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