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(Article) CSM - November 2012: Nirmal Bharat Yatra

Nirmal Bharat Yatra

A huge campaign to spread the message of rural sanitation named Nirmal Bharat Yatra, will start on October 3, focusing on making the country free of open defecation. The announcement was made by actress Vidya Balan, the brand ambassador of the rural development ministry’s campaign for improving sanitation, and Union minister Jairam Ramesh. The yatra begun on October 3 from the Gandhi Ashram located in Sevagram in Wardha (Maharashtra) and will end in Bettiah (Bihar) on November 17,” informed the minister. Beginning from Wardha, the yatra will go through Indore, Kota, Gwalior, Gorakhpur and Bettiah, covering over 200 km in 56 days. The programme will cost Rs 12 crore. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra “to make the country open-defecation-free and to ensure proper sanitation in rural India” began from Sevagram in Wardha district of Maharashtra in presence of the Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Conceptualised by Quicksand Design Studio and WASH United, the yatra — a carnival-like convoy of 40 brightly painted trucks and a 500- strong crew — set off on October 2 from Wardha in Maharashtra. It will pass through five States, covering 2,000 km in 51 days. After travelling to Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Kota in Rajasthan, Gwalior in MP, Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, it will end on November 19 at Bettiah in Bihar, where Mahatma Gandhi began his first Satyagraha. The awareness-cumentertainment programme includes games, films, and live dance and magic performances, says Neeraj Bhatnagar of Quicksand Design Studio. An interesting feature is the ‘Tippy-Tap’, described as a soap lab for hand-washing. “An Indian Idol kind of hand-washing dance along with hand-washing carrom boards will make it fun for participating schoolchildren,” he adds. The Yatra will travel almost 2,000 km through villages from Maharashtra to Bihar and will end in Bettiah town in the West Champaran of Bihar on November 19. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Ramesh termed the open defecation as the blot on Indian society and said, “Every Indian should be ashamed that more than 60 per cent of women in India have to defecate in open. Even after so many years, we cannot say proudly that every woman in India has a toilet available for her.” “This Nirmal Bharat Yatra is connected with the dignity of Indian women. We are ranked third in the world in terms of economic growth, but even today we have the problem of malnutrition and one of the main reasons for it is uncleanliness and open defecation. If we want to give dignity and security to the women of this country and to protect the future of our children, then we will have make India an open defecation-free country” he added.

Reffering to Hivre Bajar village in Maharashtra which was among the first open defecation-free villages, Mr.Ramesh said: “We want to make every village in India like Hivre Bajar and we can do it. Sikkim has become the first completely open defecationfree State in India. Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana will also follow the suit very soon.” “In Maharashtra every third village is open defecationfree and the State government has promised to make 4,000 more villages open defecation-free villages this year” said the Minister. He also announced that Rs.10, 000 will be given for the construction of a toilet from this year and Gram Panchayats will be given financial assistance from Rs. 7 lakh to 20 lakh rupees for liquid and solid waste management. “Money is not the problem. This problem is of intent. The Nirmal Bharat programme is not a government’s program but people’s programme” said Mr. Ramesh. “India is a cleanliness deficit, Godliness surplus country,” said Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s words “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” However, the Government’s drive to make India an ‘open defecation free’ nation within a decade has received support from Bollywood actress Vidya Balan, who has joined the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan as the Sanitation Ambassador. Ramesh Studies conducted by World Health Organisation and UNICEF have found that with 626 million people defecating in the open, India has largest population without access to toilets.

After all, 626 million people in this fast-modernising country still defecate in the open, exposing themselves to disease, snakebite and other dangers outdoors. The most vulnerable are the elderly, women and girls, who not only have to wait till dark to go to the fields but also face the threat of sexual assault. What’s more, the despicable practice of manual scavenging persists even today. Even as the Government intensifies its Total Sanitation Campaign, launched in 1999, to end open defecation by 2020, innovative ideas are pouring in. One such idea is to reinvent ‘toilet talk’ in India, with actor Vidya Balan as a brand ambassador for the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. At the launch of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra in Delhi recently, Vidya said, “We are so far removed from the reality in rural India. We feel if something doesn’t affect our lives, why should we do something about it. But I strongly felt I should be associated with this issue.”

The actor features in three ad spots filmed for the Total Sanitation Campaign. One of them shows a village bride, covered under a waistlength veil, fussed over by the women at her marital home. Amid the giggles, she whispers to her educated friend (played by Vidya) that she wants to relieve herself. Vidya unabashedly asks the mother-in-law where the toilet is. To her shock, she is told that there is none! “You want the bride to be veiled all the time, but have no problems about her relieving herself in the open?” says Vidya. The ad spot ends with a call for a change in mindset to ensure that every house has a toilet. When the Minister suggested that someone like Shyam Benegal should make a film similar to Manthan (on the Gujarat milk cooperative movement) on the issue of sanitation, Vidya said she was open to acting in any such film. “Around 60 per cent of all open defecation in the world is taking place in India… Approximately 400,000-500,000 children below five years die due to diarrhoea annually in India,” Ramesh said, painting a grim picture.

Most importantly, the yatra is taking special care to broach a topic that is taboo in most Indian households — menstrual hygiene, which is closely related to availability of toilets and water.

In India, over 300 million women and girls use unsanitary material such as old rags, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspaper during menstruation. “Such unhygienic material exposes them to health hazards such as urinary tract infections,” says Archana Patkar of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

Speaking to the press on the occasion, Jairam Ramesh said, “We are godliness surplus, but cleanliness deficit country. We have to change this and the Yatra tries to make sanitation a national obsession.” Exuding confidence that India would become open defecation free in next 10 years, he also declared that Kerala would become open defecation free by the end of this year, while Himachal will achieve the target by April 2013. Haryana and Tamil Nadu will follow next. The Yatra, which would resemble a carnival, will have a crew of 500 people traveling in 40 buses who would engage the locals through various activities and performances.

The aim would be to make people aware about the benefits of using a toilet, washing hands after using the toilet and menstrual hygiene management. Around 60 percent of all open defecation in the world takes place in India and nearly five lakh kids under the age of five die every year because of diarrhea. To address the adverse affects caused due to open defecation by promoting toilets, the government of India launched a program called Total Sanitation Campaign in year 1999. After only partial success of the programme till recently, it has now been launched afresh as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan with increased central government’s assistance for construction of toilets.

Aman Srivastava