‘Swachh Bharat sentinels’ fight open defecation
At the break of dawn, a group of ‘Swachh Bharat sentinels’ gather themselves in villages here to vociferously rebuke those defecating in the open.
73-year-old villager Pramila Mondol is one such member of the ‘Para Nazardari (Neighbourhood Monitoring) Committee, formed by the Nadia district administration to keep a tab on anyone attending nature’s call in the open.
stretch along the river Ganges flowing near her house in Belgoria village had turned into an open toilet with a group of 40 to 50 people using it daily.
Things changed after the widow started walking along that zone along with other volunteers and began reprimanding offenders.
“She is like a motherly figure in the locality and so people listened to her. Now that area is no more polluted. With these committees we are trying to change the behaviour of people when it comes to relieving themselves. We have been successful so far,” Nadia district magistrate P B Salim told.
It has been noticed that even after having access to toilets, many villagers still prefer to defecate in the open as they have been doing it for generations. Blowing whistles as they walk along, volunteers monitor sites of open defecation regularly. Some of them even carry short sticks only to scare away defecators.
The district has already been declared open defecation free under the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and the initiative has recently won the United Nations Public Service Award 2015.
To maintain this ODF (open defecation free) status, the administration has formed around 3000 such committees having 10 to 15 members of self-help groups and local volunteers.
“Mere construction of toilets cannot eradicate the menace of open defecation. Social governance and community monitoring is needed for ODF,” says Salim.
Bijon Kumar Roy, co-ordinator of the monitoring committee in Ghospara area, says people are not willing to change their habits easily.
nother volunteer Sushmita Biswas says they sometimes use threats like withdrawal of government benefits for those who do not start using toilets at home.
Besides farmlands, brick fields and waterbodies are also used as open toilets.
Out of 5.2 million people in the district, around 35 per cent used to defecate in the open till October 2013 before the project started.
ccording to an assessment by UNICEF in the district, around 99.8 people now have toilets and use them.