- The district had a sanitation coverage of 43 percent till December 2016
- Tushar's actions have brought positive changes in the villagers
- The entire district will become open defecation free by June 2017
Kumhari village in Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat district is an epitome of rural India in every possible way. The village is adorned with thatched huts, belonging to the village population dependent mostly on farming and occasional labour work. 85.61 per cent of the district’s 17,01,698 population fall under the rural category and till December 2016, no gram panchayat in the district could attain the open defecation free status. The rampant practice of defecating in the open had been transferred from one generation to the other, before an 8-year-old decided to brave several odds and begin a campaign to end it.
Since childhood, Tushar has not been in favour of open defecation, but saw the practice widespread among his neighbours and other household members of the village. Tushar, who suffers from speech and hearing impairment since birth did not let his physical condition deter him from taking up a bold step against open defecation. Tushar started getting up at 5 AM every morning and before going to school, went from door-to-door and via hand gestures, asked people not to defecate in the open. Tushar covered 30 to 40 houses daily from early morning and after doing that, went around the village with a whistle. On spotting someone defecating in the open, Tushar continuously blew his whistle till they stopped defecating.
We conduct occasional special classes on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ever since the campaign began. Tushar has always shown eagerness to learn more about the campaign in these classes. But we never thought that he would take such an active initiative in spreading the campaign’s message in his village, said Ratnesh Tripathi, one of Tushar’s teachers at Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir School, Balaghat.
Tushar’s actions have brought a positive change in the outlook of the villagers, and even the district officials began to take notice of this young boy and his unique campaign against open defecation. The locally appointed Swachh Bharat Preraks started meeting Tushar regularly and updated him about the objectives of the mission. They also started accompanying Tushar and visited the villagers’ homes. Many of Kumhari’s residents were oblivious of the whole process of building toilets and were taken into confidence by this joint convincing operation conducted by Tushar and Swachh preraks.
Initially, we faced difficulty in convincing the people about both the necessity of building toilets as well as the process. Villagers used to think that toilet building is a difficult process and that they would rather defecate in the open. When Tushar started going from door-to-door to ask people not to defecate in the open, it became easier for us to convince them to build toilets, said Bharat Yadav, Collector and District Magistrate, Balaghat.
The rural areas in Balaghat are tribal dominated and the district had woeful sanitation coverage of only 43 per cent till December 2016. Tushar’s village Kumhari was the first village from where the wagon of change blew its whistle. The village has 869 households of which only 110 had household toilets till October 2016, a number which increased to 350 by the end of December 2016. Tushar’s campaign and eagerness on behalf of the district administration saw the village being declared open defecation free on January 26, 2017 as toilets were installed in all households.
The district administration has taken cue from Tushar’s determination to take forward the Swachh Bharat message. Swachh preraks and self-help groups have helped the district administration to conduct campaigns across the district which focuses on eradicating open defecation and building of toilets. Balaghat has 690 gram panchayats of which 170 have been declared as open defecation free. The district officials plan to declare the entire district ODF by June 30, 2017. Given Madhya Pradesh’s overall sanitation coverage of 58.09 per cent in rural areas, Balaghat could be an inspiring example for the state.
The administration is very thankful to Tushar because his interaction with the locals made it easier for us to approach them and explain how easy toilet building was. The Swachh preraks and self-help groups in the district also inspired them to use the newly built toilets. Due to Tushar’s efforts, the district is moving rapidly towards getting ODF status, said Mr. Yadav.