How Hygiene Began with One Woman & A Video
Columnist, blogger Vidyut Kale on a videoactivist’s successful campaign for sanitation in her town
Karauli is a small town in Rajasthan, an arid desert state of India. Karauli market serves a population of about one million. It did not have proper toilet facilities and this was resulting in a major health hazard. In India as a whole, about 75% of the surface water is contaminated because of open defecation and defective toilets releasing waste into open ditches. In Karauli, the sensory filth was also creating an embarrassment in a town with substantial religious tourism. Video Volunteers’ correspondent Sunita Kasera
‘s reporting of the problem two years ago laid the foundation for the issue to be taken up by municipal authorities on an urgent basis. Today, 128 unhygienic private constructions have been demolished proper flush toilets and about 4-5 public facilities serve the town. Here is the story of one woman’s crusade against public defecation.
Two years ago, this was also a smelly health hazard. Lack of toilet facilities meant that men and women urinated and defecated in the open. The private toilet facilities that people had built for their own use were ill planned and added to the crisis with excrement being released into open drains, because there was no sewerage system. In a country where 1000 kids die every day from diarrohea related diseases, this was like any of our many monuments to civic health apathy.
What was different here was a Video Volunteers activist and IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Sunita Kasera. Armed with her video camera she went out and shot the state of toilets and the health hazard they presented. Boldly shooting the filth in public places, meticulously documenting interviews of how people’s applications and requests for hygienic toilets went unheard. She interviewed then Chairperson of the Nagar Parishad, as the Municipal Council is locally known, Mr Bharat Lal, who denies on camera knowing of toilets in disrepair. He said that there was no space to build more toilets.
Wherever she went to make her video documentary, people cooperated with her, but called her foolish for going through so much effort to persuade authorities who didn’t care. They had already filed application after application, and they had gone ignored. They appreciated her effort, but were convinced it was a waste of time. Her video was released on Video Volunteers on 21st June 2010. [earlier action video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71uGLgLEJJs
But her quest didn’t stop there. She started meeting people, speaking with them about the problem. She researched information to arm herself with a compelling case. Then she started bringing up the subject with various authorities. She spoke of the risks to health, the difficulties women faced in urinating in the open, she described the impact of the lack of hygiene and filth on tourism in a town like Karauli, where a large number of tourists arrive to visit temples. Some cooperative authorities she spoke with included Mr. Mukesh Jain of Ward 18, Mr Hari Om of Ward 14 and Mr. Gopal Sharma, Secretary of Karauli’s Nagar Palika as the municipality is called.
Her efforts hit pay dirt when some survey in Jaipur studying “kaccha latrines” (makeshift latrines) found her video documentary, and it was forwarded to Mrs. Kalpana Agarwal in Kota’s Nagar Parishad. WHAT IS KOTA? Kalpana visited Karauli herself and things started moving. It was after this visit that the members of the Municipal Council congratulated Sunita on her efforts to raise awareness and told her what was happening and how it was because of her video. To date, Sunita does not know the name of the survey and she is still trying to find Mrs Kalpana Agarwal’s contact information, so that she may thank her for her role in making her town better. Her video was an idea that took a life of its own, and reached minds that were receptive.
128 private toilets with outlets in public ditches and open drains were demolished by the Nagar Palika, for being unhygienic and a health hazard. Once the toilets were demolished, people had to rebuild them for their own needs, and built hygienic toilets with proper disposal of the waste. Sewerage systems were developed. Arrangements for water were made with some people even sinking borewells to supply water to their toilets. Public toilets were built. Where Karauli once had no public toilets, today there are at least four to five of them in the town. Today, two years later, there is no need for people to attend to calls of nature in the open and there is no excrement in public places.
Astonishingly, unlike other problems she took on when she had once even been harassed on phone by a public servant while trying tosecure promised funds for rehabilitated bootlegger women
, Sunita says there were no real roadblocks on this one. There were no specific problems. All she really did was to make the problem very clearly documented so that it could be easily referred to for action to be taken.
Sunita is of the opinion that what she did is nothing remarkable in itself. She says there was no problem for the government to do it when they saw that it needed to be done. She thinks people are too pessimistic. The same people who told her nothing would happen of her efforts now applaud and thank her for them. But they can do it too, “The government exists to serve people. We have many laws that support our needs. We have rights. If they see something wrong, the law will help. If we can make the problems known correctly to the correct people, change will happen”
- Vidyut Kale
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of social and national interest at aamjanata.com
and sometimes writes for other sites too. A self declared people watcher, her passion lies in understanding how social narratives lead to functional and dysfunctional constructs and through her writing, she wages a war on what doesn’t work, one idea at a time. She can usually be found raising a storm on Twitter – @Vidyut or on Facebook
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