Ottobre 11, 2015

Village Sanitation: a Practitioner’s Diary

Village Sanitation: a Practitioner’s Diary

Though most people in the villages of India understand the significance of good health, they often overlook its vitality to a good life. Many think that health is something invisible. Some even consider good health as something that ordinary people cannot afford. Largely, this is a misconception, since good health can be easily accessible with an extra little bit of awareness. Proper sanitation is one of the essential components of maintaining good health, but it is replete with misconceptions and misinformation at the same time.


Kotumachagi is a village of 2200 families (nearly 10,000 people) in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Situated 22 km away from the town of Gadag, this pristine village boasts of its magnificent temples built during the times of the ancient Chalukya dynasty. The most imposing of them all, the Someshwara temple, watches over the village in panache. For a village, Kotumachagi is densely populated with closely built houses.


I first came to Kotumachagi as a field officer for a water and sanitation project. I had a vague idea of the challenges I would face while building awareness on a topic that most people took casually. Nevertheless, I soon realized that the challenges were more difficult than what I had expected. Open defecation was very common in the village. The villagers had a quick explanation for the practice – the households lacked enough space to construct a toilet, owing to the density of population in the village. This situation demanded a potent methodology that would bring the villagers together on a common platform to discuss the significance of proper sanitation. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) provided one such tool. An important part of this method was the use of professional, scientific knowledge to spread awareness and educate the community. Tools such as transect walks, face-to-face conversations and focus group discussions in the Kannada language were used to convince the community about the benefits of sanitation facilities and the usage of the same. Often, this involved challenging people’s thinking patterns.


The engagement brought out many insights about people’s perceptions about toilets. People in Kotumachagi were used to and comfortable with open defecation. Simply put, toilet was seen as a dirty concept. Some women pointed out that going out for relieving themselves was a way of socialization for them as they could share their happiness and sorrows with other women. Many considered having toilets inside the house as a sin, thus avoiding proper sanitation in the name of spirituality. Added to these, people sometimes also feared that even if they constructed a toilet, they would not be able to use it for a long time as the pits might get filled.


Further engagement also brought out that unhealthy and unhygienic practices were common in the village. First, people did not wash their hands with soap after defecation. This transmitted various types of infections and diseases. Second, people defecated in the common water tanks and ponds, the main water sources of the village. Third, the village did not have a proper drainage system. During rains, grey water and garbage floated in water bodies that people used for drawing drinking water. In addition, before drinking water, people did not consider to treat water as necessary. The water was in many cases drawn from sources that were two-to-three kilometers away and were mostly unclean. Instances of water-borne diseases were common, eventually.


Meanwhile, villagers faced many constraints that resulted in an aversion towards toilets. Firstly, they did not have enough information regarding government schemes on water and sanitation. This should be seen in the backdrop of the widespread publicity that the central government’s Clean India Campaign is being given currently in the country. Secondly, water scarcity was a real problem in the village and often gave households a reason not to construct a toilet. Thirdly, there were people who did not have enough resources to build a toilet. Women often bore the brunt of not having a toilet at home, as they were compelled to go out to defecate after dark or early in the morning.


Some of the constraints, however, are political. The Panchayat (local government) does not respond to the community. It does not release funds immediately for the construction of toilets after an application is made. The authorities also show little interest in cooperating with the community. Corruption, of course, is as rampant in this village as elsewhere. There have been instances of applicants pocketing funds made available from the Panchayat and not constructing toilets. The Panchayat officials retained some money in such deals. One of the least recognized, but significant, political issue is that villagers do not trust NGOs’ work, as these organizations leave halfway into the project, with no sustainability factors incorporated into their work.


While the challenges are many, there are some signs of change. Responding to the awareness efforts, many people have now started building and using toilets. At least, people’s old thinking patterns have been shaken and many have now started to appreciate the value of sanitation. The lesson to bring home is that those efforts need to be contextualized in the community. They cannot be imposed through a government policy or via an NGO project.

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About Jyothi Gowda

Jyothi Gowda

Jyothi Gowda was a young professional and a trainer with the Society for Community Participation and Empowerment (SCOPE), a non-profit based in Dharwad, Karnataka, India. Her work on changing people’s mindsets towards sanitation has been rewarded and covered in Kannada newspaper. She has a Master in Development Management from the Vivekananda Institute of Development Management, Mysore, India.

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