Several individuals and groups have donned the leadership hat to make the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a success in their respective areas.
In Bihar, jeevika didis like Poonam Devi and Nageena Devi came forward to make their respective villages free from open defecation.
Poonam comes from the Kalanaur village whereas Nageena belongs to the Dharnai village in the Makhdumpur block of Jehanabad district. Both are the heads of different self-help groups (SHGs) also called jeevika didis.
The Jeevika programme was launched by the Bihar government in 2006 with World Bank’s assistance. Jeevika promotes rural livelihoods and works towards the social and economic empowerment of the poor, particularly the women. The SHGs in which Poonam Devi and Nageena Devi belong have been formed under this programme. Rural livelihood and rural hygiene are important aspects of this programme to promote a holistic development of the community.
Challenges Begin at Home
The families of Poonam and Nageena were against the idea of building toilets within the house premises by taking a loan. However, they managed to convince their families and built toilets using their own resources.
The Next Milestone
The Barabar Saway Siddha Mahila Vikas Sawalambi Sahkari Samiti Limited Federation (BSSMVSS) is a voluntary organisation in Makhdumpur. They asked Poonam and Nageena to lead the toilet-building campaign by forming teams with other jeevika didis. Many other jeevika didis had built toilets with borrowed money.
Hurdles On The Way
The jeevika didis had to persevere to bring about behavioural changes in men. Some of the problems they faced were:
- Non-operational toilets which were used as dumping sites or go-downs
- Idea of toilet construction with borrowed money
- Open defecation being considered healthy
- Wilful destruction of under-construction of toilets by some men
Like the force of the river, the power of women swept through all the obstacles to bring in a change in the Bihar villages. The jeevika didis of Dharnai and Jehanabad, worked to spread awareness of the negative consequences of open defecation. The Jeevika district project manager of Jehanabad confirmed that no women defecate in the open.
Jeevika Didis inspired the mahadalits and the people in the Maoist stronghold to build toilets and embrace cleanliness. BSSMVSS made available good quality material for the construction. Jeevika didis pooled in their own money in the SHG accounts and gave it as a loan to women for building toilets. The Nigrani samiti or vigilance committee burnt down the plastic bottles that were carried for open defecation.
Miles To Go
In Bihar, 18 blocks, 717-gram panchayats, and 4000 villages have been declared ODF. While 18 lakh toilets have been constructed in the state, around an addition of 1.5 crore toilets need to be constructed. The 5,80,000 SHGs would be increased to about 1 million by 2018-19.
Kalanaur and Dharnai have been declared ODF by the state government. The strategy will be replicated in Sugaon and Sumera panchayats and then in the rest of the state.
The Bihar Rural Development Minister, Shrawan Kumar, is hopeful that the jeevika didis will help the state become ODF by 2019. These women play a pivotal role in spreading awareness, mobilising the community, and inspiring behavioural change.
Source: The Quint