In their desperation, officials are adopting coercive ways to stop open defecation. Sushmita Sengupta, Snigdha Das and Rashmi Verma look into the ethical and practical challenges in achieving the …
It's June 16; the morning sun has just begun creeping over the horizon of Mehtab Shah Kachhi Basti, an illegal settlement in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh district. Three municipal council employees and Nagar Parishad Com missioner Ashok Jain have their eyes on people coming out of the shanties. They start clicking photographs as soon as four women squat down to perform the morning ablution in an open field. Or, at least, that’s what the women thought who start screaming for help as the officials approach the field. Zafar Hussain, a social activist in his mid-40s who happened to be in the nearby area, rushes to their rescue. The officials do not like the interference, and a violent altercation ensues. Hours later, Hussain is declared dead. He is survived by two daughters and wife Rasheeda (shown in picture).
Down To Earth (DTE) visited the colony two weeks after the incident. Anger was still palpable among the residents despite an eerie silence prevailing over the region. Death certificate of Hussain states he died from “cardiovascular failure”. But Ajay Saxena, an advocate fighting for justice for Hussain’s family, claims, “The officials brutally kicked, punched and beat Zafar, which caused his death.” People from the colony say Hussain fell victim to the aggressive and unethical ways officials are following to bag open defecation-free (ODF) status for the district under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), a flagship programme of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre which is directly monitored by the prime minister. The residents also say that for the SBM officials, photographing people in objectionable position is the simplest way to compel them to change their morning routine.
Zahreena, an eye witness to the clash between Hussain and the officials, says, “Earlier this month, Chachaji wrote a memorandum to the Nagar Parishad opposing public shaming of women who defecate in the open due to lack of toilets. Now, no one would dare speak up for our dignity.”
“Defecating in the open is not a matter of choice for us,” says Dhaku Bai, another resident. “People here either work as daily wage labourers or at local shops. How can toilet construction cross someone’s mind who struggles to make ends meet, lives in a dilapidated hut with no land of his own and depends on leaking municipal pipe lines for water,” asks Bai. In March this year, three families in Mehtab Shah Kachhi Basti, including Bai’s, volunteered to build toilets under SBM. “So far, I have spent Rs 18,000, but received Rs 8,000 of the promised Rs 12,000. I’ll be able to complete it only after I get the remaining money,” she says.
Though the government constructed a community toilet in the colony three years ago, Bai says it is much cleaner and safer to defecate in the open than using those. Her resentment is not unfounded. The community toilet, meant to cater to the 3,000 people of Mehtab Shah Kachhi Basti, has only 10 units. In the absence of water supply, the toilets remain soiled and clogged.
District magistrate Neha Giri, whose office is barely 2 km from the settlement, says work under SBM is yet to begin in a full-fledged manner in the district as it was formed in 2008. “We are waiting for the baseline survey to be completed,” she says.
Throughout her conversation with DTE, Giri remained tight-lipped about what led to Hussain’s death and what the officials were doing near the colony in the wee hours. Since no arrest was made till the magazine went to press, DTE cannot confirm the allegations.
The incident nevertheless highlights that of late, the foot soldiers of SBM, right from the district administration to municipal and panchayat functionaries, are using coercive tactics to make people abandon their age-old habit and embrace new ethos. A close analysis of the measures reminds one of what India witnessed during the 1975 Emergency—to embark on an ambitious population control programme some 6.2 million poor Indian men were forcefully sterilised in just a year; 2,000 died from botched operations.
SBM foot soldiers are wielding whatever stick they can lay their hands on—from blowing whistles to denying welfare benefits
To understand this, we first need to understand what the ODF status means and why the foot soldiers of SBM are trying to bag it for their districts. According to the UN data, every morning about 600 million people across India walk to the fields, roadsides, railway tracks, banks of water bodies, or any other outdoor place to relieve themselves; 87 per cent of them are from rural areas. Germs present in their faeces then spread out to infect others. This is a major reason India fares worse than several poorer countries on human development indicators, including infant deaths. This is also the reason a large fraction of children in India are underweight and stunted and the country has failed to eradicate debilitating diseases like polio and cholera despite international cooperation.
To improve the quality of life, the government for the past three decades has been trying to provide sanitation facility to all its citizens—it first launched the Central Rural Sanitation Programme in 1986. Scope of the programme was expanded in 1999 and Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was launched. In 2012, the government revamped TSC to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), which continued till late 2014 before being renamed Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (or SBM as it is known today) by NDA.
In 2015, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India published an audit of TSC and NBA, which says 48-56 per cent of the households did not have toilets. Of the toilets built since 1986, over 20 per cent were lying defunct and used as storerooms or cattle sheds. The NDA government claims that SBM has been designed to ensure that people not only build toilets but also use those. “Unlike the previous sanitation programmes, SBM focuses on the behavioural change which has been a major challenge in moving towards a clean status,” says Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary of the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. This is for the first time the ministry is counting the number of villages and districts that are becoming open-defecation-free every day, adds Iyer.
At the last count on July 5, 2017, some 149 of the 707 districts were declared ODF and 64 million toilets were to be built before October 2, 2019—the deadline by which Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants India to attain ODF status, to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. To achieve the target, India needs to build one toilet per second. While achieving the target seems highly improbable—India will take another three years to achieve the target if it continues to build toilets at the rate it was building during 2016-17—it does indicate one thing: the mounting pressure on district collectors and panchayat functionaries to construct toilets on a war footing and persuade people to use those. And at this very juncture, a social and health objective assumes the form of a diktat.
Social activists tell DTE that the pressure is so high that SBM foot soldiers are wielding whatever stick they can lay their hands on—from blowing whistles at those defecating in the open to denial of ration from the public distribution system (PDS) and social welfare benefits, and arresting offenders under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
THE UNSAID DIKTAT
None of the coercive measures so authoritatively used by SBM officials is part of the SBM guidelines, which say the behavioural changes should be brought about through “intensive IEC (information, education and communication) and advocacy, with participation of NGOs/Panchayati Raj Institutions/resource organizations”. DTE analysis shows that in 2016-17 the government spent 0.8 per cent of the funds allocated for awareness programmes against 8 per cent recommended in the guidelines. In districts, such as Puri in Odisha, neither the district collector nor SBM coordinator was aware of sanitation-related IEC programmes. Worse, some tactics used by SBM officials violate rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
For instance, Kapasi village in Chhattisgarh’s Balod district uses CCTV cameras to stop people from defecating in the open. The village panchayat slaps a fine of Rs 500 on those found defecating in the open. It also awards people who report about the offenders. Similarly in West Bengal’s Nadia district, the district administration and a few gram panchayats have set up “wall of shame” in the village on which the names and photographs of those defecating in the open are pasted. The steps have helped Kapasi to be declared the first ODF village in the district and Nadia as the first ODF district in the state. “These are clear violations of right to privacy guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, which says, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’,” says Prasanta Kumar Hota, executive director of Solidarity for Social Equality, human rights organisation in Odisha.
In some states, such measures also have the approval of the district administration and state government, says Sulakshana Nandi, activist with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Chhattisgarh. In Jashpur district of the state, officials have pressed students of around 2,000 primary and middle-level schools to secretly submit the names of their family members or neighbours who defecate in the open. The state government has appreciated the district administration for the system, now dubbed Swacchata ballot, and plans to replicate it in other districts.
In February this year, the representative of Mali gram panchayat in Madhya Pradesh’s Chindwara district informed the residents of Tumadar village at the gram sabha (village council) that those who fail to build a toilet in their house will be stripped of all government benefits, especially ration from the PDS. The panchayat suspended its order after the village residents submitted a memorandum to the district collector, saying the village does not have proper water supply. Around the same time, panchayat officials of Kota in Rewa district informed people that those who do not construct toilets by July would not get food grains from ration shops. “We must understand that people are entitled to receive subsidised ration under the legal framework of the National Food Security Act, 2013. Under the law toilet is not an eligibility or exclusion criterion. Depriving the poor of food grains is a violation of the law,” says Sachin Jain, food rights activist in Madhya Pradesh.
Philippe Cullet, Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, says, “We seem to be witnessing a shift from a position where we understood fundamental rights as individual entitlements to a situation where the individual is made responsible for certain aspects of their own rights. The relationship between the individual and the state thus changes dramatically.”
BULLIED BY AD?
To make sanitation everybody’s business, the Narendra Modi government has roped in celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Kangana Ranaut, Shilpa Shetty, Ravi Kishan, Isha Koppikar and Anushka Sharma. While it is too early to judge to what extent these ad campaigns have succeeded in convincing people about the health implications of open defecation, there is a possibility that they could be propagating ways to bully “the lowly and the dirty ones”? In the Jadugar ad, “Bachchaji” asks “Bachchanji” to enact some magic he learnt while doing the film Jadugar. Bachchan’s effort entails him throwing a stone at a tree, which in turn makes birds fly out of their nests. Unimpressed, Bachchaji throws a stone in another direction and men appear with buckets and mugs in hand as they were out to defecate. In one of the Darwaza Band ads, we see Bachchan whistling at the offender. In another, Anushka Sharma is shown prompting women and school children to jeer at the offender. These are the common tactics that SBM foot soldiers are using to compel people to build a toilet and use it.
There is a strong bitterness brewing among “those people”. In the drought-hit Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu, the village panchayat of Theethampatty denied work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to people who did not have toilets at homes. The verbal order issued in February deprived about 200 farmers from MGNREGA benefits at a time when the state government had extended the 100-day scheme by another 50 days to provide relief to drought-hit farmers. Objecting to the non-existent rule, a 70-year-old farmer C Subbiah has now moved the Madras High Court.
In Haryana, three aspirants of panchayat elections moved court against the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, which disqualifies a person without a toilet at home from contesting panchayat election. The petitioner claimed that the amendment violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which says “the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. The court has upheld the amendment.
While such instances are so far limited, analysts say the quick-fix approach could push the country towards a bigger disaster.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula to change behaviour. The government needs to assess problems before sensitising people
WELCOME TO Hesal in Jharkhand’s Lohardaga district. This 1,000-house gram panchayat has recently bagged the ODF status. Almost everybody here lives in kachcha huts, made of wood, mud and grass. But they all own a spacious toilet, made of concrete and neatly painted. There is another common feature among Hesal’s residents: all toilets have remained locked since constructed over a year ago. The few families who have figured out some utility for these concrete blocks use them as a poultry house. Block coordinator of SBM Sabrej proudly told DTE that since Hesal is located close to the district headqua rters, the then sarpanch Devnath Oraon decided to showcase it as a model gram panchayat and in 2015 got toilets installed for all the households. But except Oraon and Sabrej no one else in Hesal appears to be aware of their importance. As toilet pans gather dust and remain covered with cobwebs, residents of Hesal continue to march to roadsides and fields for defecation.
Cut to Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. In 2016, the district was declared ODF. To make this happen, panchayat functionaries had been impo sing fines on those who defecate in the open. But the latest survey by the Quality Control of India (QCI) on toilet usage, published in 2016, shows that only 83 per cent people in Dhamtari use toilets.
In the absence of any data available with the government on toilet usage, QCI’s analysis of 75 districts with high sanitation is the only credibel way to judge SBM’s performance. However, the QCI analysis shows that toilet usage is less than 50 per cent in several districts. This points to the bleak future if SBM officials follow the top-down model and coercive measures to bag ODF status. Officials of districts that have achieved ODF status are, however, divided over ways to change the age-old habit of communities.
Benu Gurung, additional district collector (development) of South Sikkim, strongly believes that there is a need to put pressure on people. “We provide incentives for constructing toilets. So, we need to have a stick to make people use those,” she adds. Sikkim, the first state to be declared ODF, introduced in 2015 a stringent policy, which says those without a toilet at homes will not receive any welfare benefits or certificate of birth, death and caste. “Open defecation is not part of Sikkim’s culture. But we have a large number of migrants in the state. We had to make them comply with SBM,” Gurung says.
Rohit Gupta, district collector of Kota, Rajasthan, agrees with Gurung. “There are always some people in a society who do not want to change even for the larger good. If they are not compelled to change using tactics and peer pressure, they would set a wrong precedent,” says Gupta, who has successfully implemented sanitation programmes since 2012. Besides, not all tactics create negative pressure. In Churu and Pali districts, SBM officials write chokho ghar or footro ghar (good house) on the entrance wall of houses that have toilets. Their ration cards also carry a similar seal. Children who regularly use toilets are awarded in schools. Sports tournaments are organised where only ODF gram panchayats can participate. All these encourage people to change their behaviour.
Rahul Mazumdar, additional district magistrate of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas, which was declared ODF in 2016, differs. “We never used coercive measures. Rather, we used social pressure and made them aware off ill-effects of open defecation,” says Mazumdar. If a person suffering from diarrhoea or typhoid goes to a doctor in the district, they would write in the prescription that the disease has been caused due to poor sanitation. “We made schoolchildren aware of the health impacts of poor sanitation and they acted as the messenger of SBM,” he adds. Kerala, declared ODF in 2016, is also known to have achieved the success through sustained awareness campaigns.
Kurukshetra, a case of lost and found
I STARTED working on the sanitation of rural areas while I was the Additional Deputy Commisioner of Kurukshetra district during 2010-2013. Then Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan was then under way. In 2011-12, we launched a 100-day campaign to motivate people and 303 of the 382 villages were made open-defecation free (ODF).
These villages even received Nirmal Gram Puraskar for attaining a clean status. As the next step towards sanitation, I initiated a pilot project on solid waste management and named it Kachhre se kamai (waste to wealth). At least 42 solid waste management plants were set up in different gram panchayats. All this was made possible by maintaining a constant communication with village residents through nigrani (vigilance) committees, which comprised panchayat functionaries, health workers and government officials. I was transferred from the district in 2013.
After three years, when I returned to the district as Deputy Commissioner, only 67 villages were maintaining ODF status. The government officials had lost all communication with the communities on sanitation. Provision of incentives had prompted people to dump old toilets and apply for new ones. Once again I constituted a nigrani (vigilance) committee. Every morning and evening, the committee members march through the village with torches, sticks, blow whistles to dissuade people from open defecation. Women take a lead role in these committees. On December 1, 2016, Kurukshetra was declared ODF district.
Some administrations also offer incentives to promote toilet usage. One such is the district administration of Barmer in Rajasthan. Three years ago, while launching SBM in Bytoo and Gira blocks, it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with one Gurgaon-based oil company Cairn India. The reimbursement provision under SBM often dissuades people to build a toilet. This hurdle was obliterated after Cairn India agreed to fund toilets. “We saw a remarkable rise in the demand for toilets,” says Madan Lal Nehra, chief executive officer of Barmer Zilla Parishad. “But we did not see much change in people’s behaviour,” he adds. Then the oil company started incentivising toilet usage instead of funding toilets. The company pays Rs 2,500 to a household if all the family members use it for three months at a stretch. While toilet construction has slowed down since, Nehra claims that families who have toilets at home have stopped going out for defecation. In fact, people have innovated ways to use toilets during the lean period. They have installed tanks for storing rainwater or grey water which they use for flushing during the lean period.
Earlier in 2014, municipal officials of Kothrud and Warje in Pune also tried to achieve total sanitation through incentives, such as mobile and DTH top ups, discounts on provisions from certain shopkeepers, access to facilities such as tuition and dance classes for their children. Though it started as a pilot project by roping in just one family and one shopkeeper, soon more families joined the scheme. However one wonders why incentives could not bag ODF status for these areas.
Gupta says incentive is definitely needed for the poor and marginalised sections. But it should not be the cause of toilet construction. Kamal Kar, founder of Kolkata-based CLTS (community-led total sanitation) Foundation also discourages using incentive as a sanitation tool. “While doing so we assume that the person is poor. But the individual might posses a mobile or a bicycle, which he bought because he realised its need,” he says. In other words, Kar explains, behaviour change cannot be introduced by an outsider; a person needs to be motivated from within. And an entire community can change its behaviour only through CLTS, he adds. It aims at creating disgust about shit, making people aware of their self-respect, creating fear in the parents about their child falling sick due to poor sanitation and making them feel shameful. Since 2000, CLTS is followed in 43 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and is the basis of national sanitation strategy of at least seven countries, including neighbouring Bangladesh. However, Kar says, the “shame” tool used in CLTS is different from “naming and shaming” tactic used by SBM officials.
Researchers who have worked in other developing countries with a large rural population say no strategy can be used as a blanket solution.
SUCCESS LIES IN COMBINATION
Kevin Bardosh who teaches at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, UK, says CLTS is popular in rural Africa due to its participatory approach. However, CLTS tools do not have the same impact in all the places, says Bardosh, who has tried to find out the impact of CLTS in eastern Zambia. Few communities may react to shame and disgust but others may not. In such areas, notes his 2015 study published in journal Geoforum, people also need durable construction materials, technical knowledge, leadership and socio-economic development. According to WHO, one-third of Zambia’s population lacks access to improved sanitation.
Other African countries, such as Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa, are experiementing with a different approach—Community Health Club (CHC). Africa Ahead, a group of researchers, academicians and development practitioners who pioneered the programme, states that CHC has a six-month programme. People join it to sing, dance and discuss about how to prevent diseases. This brings about a change in their behaviour. CLTS no doubt motivates people to construct toilets but CHC approach will make the movement sustainable, claims Africa Ahead.
A 2009 Bulletin of the WHO also suggests implementing a combination of strategies. The bulletin published a study conducted in Tihidi and Chandbali blocks in Odisha’s Bhadrak district. The researchers observed that 33 per cent of the behaviour change among the households was triggered due to subsidies provided for toilet construction while the remaining 66 per cent change was caused by the CLTS tool of shaming.
Frances Aboud, psychology professor at McGill University in Canada, who has worked on sanitation related behaviour in developing countries, explains how a multifaceted approach will help countries achieve universal sanitation. The governments at all levels need to blanket the country with firm messages about latrine use. NGOs should gently sensitise people, community groups need to help them build latrines, while the government should reward communities that unite to build and use latrines and provide conditional incentives till the practice is established.
Public health experts say SBM officials should follow “nudging” method to motivate people who have traditionally been defecating in the open. The method, also part of SBM guidelines, stops people from making “bad choices”. Signild Valgarda, public health expert at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, says people often do not give full attention to their options; they tend to follow the path of least resistance; or lack complete information. They should be helped to make better choices, and the method has worked in US, France and UK.
It is not possible to say whether a top-down, participatory or financial mechanism is the best way to achieve universal sanitation, says Elizabeth Tilley, research scientist with Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zuruch), who has studied open defecation in developing countries. “We have identified the strategies and tools for each mechanism, but what is not known is the optimal combination. Hopefully, in the next few years we will see more strategies that recognise the need for a multi-faceted approach to sanitation and promote good infrastructure, acceptance and consistent use.”
Till then, says Sulakshana Nandi of Jan Swas thya Abhiyan (Chhattisgarh), people’s health move- ment, the government needs to address the basic issues, such as availability of water, that deter people from building and using toilets, and not blindly rush to meet the ODF target.
Himachal Pradesh: a sustained glory
the STATE was declared open-defecation-free in 2016 as people in the state wanted toilets. We did not chase the number. And this is the reason the state did not slip back in its sanitation status. By 2013, before SBM was launched, the state had achieved 85 per cent toilet coverage. In 2005, as the secretary of Rural Development, I introduced Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) movement in the state.
The core of this movement is to involve communities and make them aware of the connection between health and sanitation. Between 2006 and 2013, the communities had built toilets on their own without any subsidy. In 2006, trainings on CLTS were conducted for those who were facilitating SBM implementation. Between 2007 and 2009, I was monitoring the progress of the state on toilet coverage.
There is a doubt whether the state has really covered the last mile in toilet coverage but we are sure that the state is a sustainable model in sanitation. This became possible only because the communities played a key role in the whole movement.
India has been trying to achieve zero open defecation for three decades. But of late, officials are using coercive measures to achieve the target. A snapshot analysis of incidents reported across the country
This story was first published in the July 16-31, 2017 issue of Down To Earth magazine.
Due to strict deadline of the SBM, the officials are now trying to coerce communities to stop open defecation and passing stringent laws
Failing to address wastewater as a social and environmental problem would nullify other efforts towards achieving 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Besides sustained campaigns on sanitation, Down To Earth has been exploring the connection between sanitation and health in order to trigger a mindset change in rural India
The government is still correlating the number of toilets built with open defecation-free status of villages
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