For residents of Dulami block in Ramagarh district of Jharkhand, March 31 ushered in a new dawn.
At a much-touted function, local authorities declared the semi-urban block headquarters as the state’s first open defecation-free block — a huge achievement in a state where more than 32% urban households still relieve themselves in the open.
The joy and pride, however, barely lasted a month and the locals have taken to the fields again. Reason: Water shortage.
Large swathes of the state are reeling under acute water scarcity with majority of the sources drying up, making it extremely difficult to arrange for even potable drinking water.
Hence, the villagers who stood against open defecation a month ago are justifying the exact opposite.
Block development officer Md Aslam conceded that water crisis has affected the open defecation-free status.
“Most of the people are still using toilets but if the crisis persists, you cannot stop them either,” he said.
Dulami has a total of 12,400 houses and since May 2015, 10,567
toilets have been constructed there with the help of Unicef and NGO Vikas Bharti.
In no time, the sanitation campaign reached a feverish pitch, taking the shape of a movement.
Locals carried out awareness drives, village committees were formed to fine offenders and young women resolved to marry only in families that had toilets at home.
Sadly, all this now appears to be a memory of a distant past.
“We are helpless. There is no other way out for us,” said a village head, Parwati Devi, who was one of the women to give the clarion call of ‘padho vidyalay mein aur shauch karo shauchalay mein’ (study in school and relieve in toilets) last month.