47-year-old Ateeq Ahmad dedicated a little over two years of his life in bringing a mass behavioral change in his district of Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh. From naming toilets as 'Ijjat Ghar', making children an integral part in the cleanliness movement to composing songs, poems and short films to spread awareness, Mr Ahmad brought about a revolution and helped 15 villages end the practice of open defecation
After being in the teaching profession for 15 years, Ateeq Ahmad decided to put to his experience to use by associating himself with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. He cleared the Swachh Bharat Mission interviews and examinations and got appointed as the Swachh Bharat Zilla Parishad Prerak in Bijnor district
Swachh Bharat Zilla Parishad Prerak meant being the link between the people and the government. Ahmad's knowledge of sanitation and cleanliness came in handy in educating people about sanitation. He came up with unique initiatives to appeal to every section of the society.
As the Bijnor district administration was engaged in constructing toilets to become open defecation free, Ahmad came up with the idea of referring to toilets as 'Ijjat Ghar'. The aim was to associate women's safety and dignity with toilets. 'Ijjat Ghar' was written on the door of every newly constructed toilet in the district since 2016. This initiative was even hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly radio show Mann Ki Baat.
Involving children in the cleanliness movement was an extremely important step believes Ahmad. Having taught children in school and college, students came forward and enthusiastically participated in the movement. From regularly inspecting open defecation prone spots, holding debates in class on sanitation, carrying out awareness on safe hygienic practices to urging their parents to construct toilets at home, students of Bijnor helped Ahmad in every possible way.
To make the ODF process more engaging, Ahmad composed songs, directed short films, made poems and even wrote an entire book on sanitation, which will soon be published by the Uttar Pradesh government. The creative material was circulated via WhatsApp, telecasted on local radio station and shown in educational institutes.
The journey of changing people's mindset and convincing them to break away from the traditional practice of open defecation was not easy for Ahmad. But he did not give up and continued his work in a slow but steady pace. He undertook separate campaigns for women, children, elderly and men.
All Ahmad's efforts did have an impact. The villagers dedicated to build toilet with their own money and returned the toilet subsidy given under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Over Rs. 4 crores were returned to the state government by the families residing in the villages where Ahmad spearheaded the campaign.
For his outstanding contribution to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Ahmad was felicitated in the national capital by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an event titled 'Satyaghraha se Swachhagraha' on April 10 this year.
"My journey of cleanliness has been challenging, exciting and most importantly fruitful. I feel extremely honoured to receive a token of appreciation from India's prime minister. I have vowed to work in the field of health and sanitation till I die," signs off Ateeq Ahmad.