I went on a field visit to Bhojpura and Lasoodia village of Ichaawar District in Madhya Pradesh along with my colleague. The objective was to observe the pattern prevalent in the village in terms of the sanitation awareness and infrastructure. Under Swachh Bharat Mission, both the villages had achieved Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. ODF, here means that village people are using toilets in their houses instead of going out in the open. However, my observations for the both villages were very different from each other.
Bhojpura village had around 55 households where almost every household had toilets in their house. 90% people were well aware about the importance of using toilets and its impact on sanitation and hygiene. Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) model was also very well known by them as they understood the impact of community-led and women-led focus on collective behavioural change. However, the problem was in the monitoring and sustainability of the model where the continuous supervision from community and Gram Panchayat was lacking.
The Blame game was seen as the escape where villagers blamed the Panchayat for not listening to their demands of repairing the toilets and implementing a proper supervision model, while the Panchayat Committee felt its responsibility is over once the toilets are constructed and the villagers have received the monetary support for the same from the government.
When I visited the primary school in the village, I saw children from Std. I-V studying in the same classroom. While at the same time, the boys’ toilet was locked and the girls’ toilet was in the filthiest condition where it was full of mud and dirt; completely not in a condition to be used. After interacting with the School teacher, I came to know that the toilets have been in this condition since last 3 months. On asking him about the reason, he blamed the Panchayat Committee for not paying proper attention to the implementation of sanitation model while the parents whose children study in the same school responded that it is the responsibility of the school teacher to look after such things.
Therefore, the question arises: Whose health is at stake? Who is responsible for all this- Community or Panchayat or both? Can such a blame game resolve the current situation?
In the evening, I visited Lasoodia village whose picture was completely different from the village I visited in the morning. This was an ideal village where everyone had toilets in their house, which were in the suitable condition. Schools had good toilets as well. Roads and the side pathways were clean as well as properly maintained. I noticed a sense of ownership within the people for cleanliness and hygiene, which are considered as the important subsets of sanitation. There was no blame game that I observed in this village.
Now, the bigger question is how to locate these two completely opposite stories on a balancing scale. That is difficult; also I don’t intend to do it either. What I intend to derive from the two stories is the difference in the utilization of resources, sensitized information, aware mindsets and above all social exposure and democratic decision making which I observed were starkly different in both villages. Bhojpura with 80% of Dalit population had less social exposure than the Lasoodia village where the people not only had better exposure but the Panchayat Committee of the village was open to all kind of suggestions from the village people.
Out of all, what I observed, Bhojpura people were very fragmented amongst themselves and very less amount of collective decision making that had happened in the village, until now, because of the issues pertaining to inactive Panchayat committee of the village which is apprehensive towards any sort of social group being formed in the village. To add to this, the location of the village which is flood-prone adds up to their worries where they believe that in such a situation its best to keep up to their own lives in whatever condition the village is in, rather than adding up to their worries of getting threatening notices from the higher authorities for raising their voices against them.
Therefore, in this case the higher point of discussion is not the current situation, but the social context in which the village is situated and functions, which unravels the hidden picture.