Chhattisgarh, the predominantly tribal State is leaping towards open defecation free status. Perhaps, Chhattisgarh is the only Indian State where the State reviews achievement of open defecation free (ODF) villages, from the districts, and not, the number of toilets constructed. This shows the emphasis of the State on achievement of collective change for health benefits. The State has also actively roped in the key district officials – District Collectors and CEOs of Zilla Panchayats – to lead the programme proactively. The programme has high priority in the overall development agenda – in fact, the State has linked development schemes to ODF villages and also has high political priority as the Chief Minister belongs to Rajnandgaon, one of the best performing districts of the State.
The overarching policy of the State is focus on behavioural change, especially collective behavioural change and involvement of people but the state still faces many challenges. The first one is short-time frame available to achieve outcomes. Slow acceptance of low-cost technology, geographical inaccessibility of far-flung areas, dysfunctional toilets and availability of sufficient water are other challenges. But the State marches ahead “doing what is right, the right way, at the right time!” However, there are certain stories which inspire all and teach the lesson of community service.
The Tipakhol Story
The atmosphere is upbeat in Tipakhol, a remote tribal village in Chhattisgarh, as women gather to narrate their sanitation story: How all the 70-odd families used to climb up and down a distant hill to answer the nature’s call, spending, at least, an hour every day in the process, and how everything changed in a matter of just two weeks. Tipakhol is one of the first few villages in Raigarh district that have become open-defecation-free (ODF). The transformation in the village has not only liberated men and women from the age-old practice of open defecation but has also empowered marginalized groups. “We constructed our toilets using our own money and locally available materials like bamboo and stones,” said Parvati Naik, a middle-aged woman with a veil. “If we could end open defecation in our village, we can also end alcohol abuse and other vices that have been the bane of our populace,” Parvati continued. She not only constructed her own toilet but also supported the entire village in becoming ODF. Raigarh is not the lone district in Chhattisgarh working on sanitation. Many other districts have joined the crusade. Rajnandgaon district, which was facing slippages in its sanitation performance, decided to scrap the subsidy-driven approach and switch to CLTS. In Brahman Bedi, a sleepy tribal village in Rajnandgaon, the movement is led by a differently-abled boy, Mithlesh Sevta. He takes his tricycle, painted with sanitation messages to every nook and corner to create awareness.
Supported by the “Navratna”, a team of nine gems from the village, he also plays songs in the local language to educate the villagers. Chhattisgarh is one of the most backward States in India in terms of access to sanitation with over 85% of its rural population practising open defecation. But if the current wave of reforms continues, Chhattisgarh will send across a strong message to other States that mass-scale transformation is possible even in the poorest and conflict-ridden regions in India. And that this transformation is led by communities and its unsung heroes with the power to break barriers, transform behaviours, and unite people towards a common cause.
*Jinendra Parakh is Law student, HNL University, Raipur