Hetal Jadav, a 20-year-old college student from Rajkot, lives in a tenement with two attached toilets. She, however, does not mind using the mobile toilet vans parked kilometres away at the Laxminagar slums.
Ask her why, and she replies: “I try to set an example for slum dwellers to stop open defecation.”
Hetal is not alone in doing this. About 50 young volunteers, all students of a sanitation course at the All India Institute of Local Self-Government, fan out across various parts of the city every day on an important quest — spotting people heading to the railway tracks or neighbourhood fields for answering nature’s call. But before they can reach their destination, these volunteers approach them and gently attempt convincing them to use the nearest public toilet.
“We know that’s usually not the right time for a chat. Some of them get angry and abuse us. At times, they even physically assault us. But, in the end, they agree,” says Nipurn Siraya, another volunteer.
On many occasions, the volunteers — accompanied by supportive religious and community leaders – hold overnight meetings with slum dwellers to sell the idea of using toilets. The area’s civic body, for its part, pays a stipend of Rs 2,500 to the students for their trouble.
As it turns out, their work doesn’t seem to be going in vain. “We started using a public toilet after these young students made us swear on our deity to do so,” says Radha Rapcha, a 55-year-old slum dweller. “Till now, answering nature’s call meant sitting next to the railway tracks, with friends and relatives forming a circular human chain to provide cover. Using the toilet was uncomfortable in the beginning, but we are getting used to it. Of course, we also understand that it’s more hygienic.”
The result: Rajkot, the fourth-largest city in Gujarat with over 100 slums, is 99.7% open defecation-free. It ranked seventh in a recent survey on clean cities conducted by the ministry of urban development — a jump of nearly 25 positions from the last study.
Here, defecating in the open, especially in an area with toilets, could even attract a penalty of Rs 50. “The penalty will be strictly implemented once toilets are constructed at all the sites, and the awareness campaign is thoroughly conducted,” says Rajkot municipal commissioner Vijay Nehra.
As many as 11,716 individual and 30 community toilet units were constructed with funds made available under the Swachh Bharat Mission. At sites where construction work was not feasible, 30 mobile toilets with 130 seats and 95 portable toilets were installed. These included 20 western toilets that could be used by senior and physically-challenged citizens.
“Effective implementation and public awareness coupled with interpersonal communication are the key factors for our success,” says Nehra.