New Delhi: 15-year old Ronak Verma religiously wakes up at 4.45 am thrice in a week. Armed with a torch and whistle he walks through the lush green bushes of Bagulya village of Madhya Pradesh. In the battle against open defecation, he often spots his fellow villagers defecating in open. His next immediate step is to continuously blow his whistle until the villager feels ashamed for his act. In the last one year, Ronak has used his whistles several times, however, the chances of blowing the whistle has considerably come down. He proudly associates himself with the ‘Ziddi Gang’.
From Dibba gang to Gulab gang, there are many Swachh warriors who are taking up the challenge to put an end to open defecation. The latest gang on this mission is Ziddi or stubborn Gang of Madhya Pradesh. It is a group of children who have come together, to chalk out a foolproof plan to discourage people from defecating in the open and convince them to construct toilets at home. After looking at the success of a Roko-Toko initiative in another part of the state, the district education department and district administration of Ashoknagar formed these gangs in every school of the district. Students studying from grade 5 to 10 are part of this gang.
The Roko-Toko gangs were first formed in the cleanest city of India, Indore, which primarily consisted of school going children. These gangs would go on rounds in wee hours of the morning and would whistle loudly if anyone was spotted defecating in the open. This exercise certainly helped the city in reducing the number of cases of open defecation. This technique was later adopted by other cities of Madhya Pradesh like Bhopal and Jabalpur as well.
Going one step ahead of the Roko-Toko movement, the Ziddi gangs, which were formed in 2016, not only blow whistles or make noise if anyone is found defecating in the open but the gang members also urge family members, relative and neighbours of the errant citizen to build a toilet at home. Ashoknagar has 1100 schools and from every school 5-10 children form these gangs.
Before forming the Ziddi gangs, the district had lowest number of toilets in the whole of Madhya Pradesh.
When we reviewed and compared the sanitation statistics with other regions of the state in 2016, we found that almost 80 per cent of our villages practice open defecation. There was a dire need to bring a behavioral change and involving children was one successful ingredient, says Babu Singh Jamod, District Magistrate, Ashoknagar District Corporation.
In last one year, 54,000 latrines have been built and more than 50 villages of the district have been declared open defecation free (ODF). At present of the total 815 villages, 247 have turned ODF and more than 500 are under the verification process. Mr Jamod dedicated this fast pace of toilet construction in Ashoknagar to the Ziddi gang.
I was surprised to see the degree of change these young students are bringing in our district. We are calling several experts who train Ziddi gangs from time to time. Involving children and making them an integral part of state’s sanitation scenario will certainly go a long way in raising the nationwide cleanliness quotient, says Mr Jamod.
He further adds, “Due to public shaming, residents of Ashoknagar are now scared to openly defecate. Villagers are slowly breaking away from this traditional old practice and considering toilet construction at home.”