When Nirav Bariya, a Class 7 student of Kevadaiya Colony Primary School at Kevadiya in Gujarat’s Narmada district, came home after attending his classes, he had some questions for his parents.
He asked them why their home does not have a toilet and why do his family members go to the fields to answer nature’s call.
“I suddenly popped this question because today at school, in front of the whole class, I had to declare that there is no toilet at my home,” Nirav said.
The new school attendance system implemented in government primary schools in Narmada is a part of the awareness campaign initiated by the local administration under its open defecation free (ODF) drive as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet campaign Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Under the new system, instead of a simple “present” students can mark their attendance by saying “We have a toilet at home”, “Do not have a toilet at home” or “It is under construction”.
A circular regarding changes in the roll call has been issued for all the 690 schools in the tribal district.
According to the authorities, the idea behind the month-long rigorous exercise is to catch them young and ensure that every home in the district has a toilet.
“The objective is to initiate debates in homes by the young ones. When every day these children have to declare the status of toilet facility at their homes, they will also pressurise the parents to have at least one toilet,” district primary education officer BB Bariya said.
The families will also be made aware about the subsidy under the Swachch Bharat Mission.
“In the second phase, the students will be visiting homes of their those classmates who do not have the facility and talk to the family about it,” district education officer (DEO) Ranjit Kumar said.
Officials say being a tribal district, building sanitation infrastructure calls for extra effort in Narmada.
“A lot of open space is available in the tribal areas and for the same locals are more willing to continue the old habit of going out in the field instead of a unit. The district needs intense awareness campaign compared to developing rural areas,” Bariya said.
India’s ambitious toilet-construction programme – part of the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission to make India open defecation free by 2019 is slipping, according to government data submitted to the Lok Sabha.
However, Gujarat constructed 327,880 individual toilets until December 2015, more than any other state. Some 5,000 of the total 13,000 villages in the state now boast of 100% houses with toilet.
The state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still has a long way to go.
According to a recent data by the state government, more than 4,500 ‘anganwadis’ – government sponsored child and mother care centres – out of the nearly 53,000 such centres in Gujarat do not have drinking water facility while over 5,600 of them are running without toilets.