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Cleaning up minds

The efforts to make Rajasthan’s Nagaur district ODF began in October 2015, when District Collector (DC) Rajan Vishal launched a campaign named Niralo Nagaur under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). The idea was to achieve ODF targets for the district through behavioural changes in people, and to achieve it by August 31, 2017. The campaign met with early successes during 2016. However, towards the middle of 2017, it began to lose steam. Around this time, Alok Arunam, 28, came to know about the Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak (ZSBP) programme. After a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering design from IIT Madras, he was completing a one-year liberal arts and leadership course as a Young India Fellow with Ashoka University, which stoked his interest in development, governance and public policy. “It occurred to me that grassroot challenges are far messier than the neat problems articulated at the GE Research Center. It felt as if I was meant to be here,” he says. Alok was excited at the prospect of working on ground-level issues with IAS officers, and contributing towards something more meaningful. He signed up as a prerak and was deployed in Nagaur in March 2017. It helped that Mr Vishal was still serving as the Nagaur DC, and was committed to renewing the programme’s successful streak.

Regaining momentum

With his help, Alok drew up a plan. Processes at the back-end and operating levels were streamlined. Targets were set, and a detailed activity calendar was drawn up. There was a hitch, though. Field-level workers were wary of approaching villagers, based on their experiences in the past. “People threw stones at us and abused us when we confronted them and tried to convince them to build and use toilets,” says Priyanka Rani, a member of the District Resource Group (DRG). Alok re-trained and motivated the field workers and DRG team members to work closely with the Block Coordinators, Gram Sewaks and Sarpanchs in educating villagers about open defecation. The MIS (management information system) was overhauled for efficient data management. The number of toilets being built was monitored daily. Alok ensured that the protsahan rashi (subsidy for building toilets) reached beneficiaries on time. This was key to motivate villagers to build toilets in their homes. Distribution of the monthly Swacchata newsletter of the Niralo Nagaur campaign was also monitored to ensure that the momentum of the programme stayed high. The campaign’s messaging earlier stressed on sanitation and cleanliness. This was strengthened by including a message about protecting the dignity of women and children through safe spaces for defecation. Emphasis was also placed on the allied objectives of the Mission such as menstrual hygiene through the Chuppi Todo, Sayani Bano campaign, and personal hygiene through hand wash techniques under the Saaf Swacch Haath-Swasthya Rahe Saath campaign. 

Signs of change

All of this helped the Niralo Nagaur campaign regain momentum. While 272 Gram Panchayats had been declared ODF till March 2017, the new campaign ensured that all the 467 Gram Panchayats in Nagaur became ODF by August 2017, and the district was officially declared ODF. More than the numbers, what was impressive was the change in the mindsets of villagers. “We don’t even think about defecating in the open now. We are happy that our village is now far cleaner and incidences of diarrhoea have reduced,” says Bannaram, a villager in Oladhan in Merta block. The women especially acknowledge the work done by the SBM team. “We no longer need to hold on or wake up early in the morning for our ablutions. We also don’t fear that someone may be watching us,” says Sushila Devi, a resident of Oladhan. Women in Mundiyad village, where people have built toilets with their own funds, now insist that they will marry their daughters to grooms whose households have toilets. Meanwhile, Alok’s stint as a prerak has strengthened his resolve to join the Indian Administrative Service. Having seen the district administration’s workings from close quarters, he is convinced that this unique experience will come in handy when that happens.