Arunima Tyagi, sarpach from Basantpur Sainthli village in Ghaziabad, had to resort to ‘arm twisting’ tactics in a bid to implement the open defecation free (ODF) project under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Flanked by members of her group, she would blow on a whistle outside houses where the residents refused to comply with the ODF programme and even ‘suspended’ ration supplies to landlords who locked their toilets and did not allow tenants to use them.
“Though harsh, such measures were needed to force the people to shun the age-old practice of relieving themselves in the open. We stepped up pressure on locals who were averse to change. Often, women from my group blew on whistles outside houses where the residents avoided construction of toilets. Sometimes, they were even greeted with garlands in a mock gesture. We even asked ration dealers to stop supply to their houses till such time they built toilets,” Arunima, a postgraduate in biotechnology, said.
She realised the need to push the ODF project and even championed the cause of protecting girl child in her village. She made it a point to visit households where a girl child was born and greet the residents.
“We play Dhol, offer box of sweets and even gift some money to the mother of new born girl. A set of five utensils is also gifted to the family. ASHA and Anganwadi workers also go with us and educate mothers about vaccination and further education of the girl,” she adds.
Similarly, Sucheta Singh, the other woman sarpanch from Lateefpur Tibra village near Modi Nagar, achieved the target of making her village, which is home to nearly 5,000 people, open defecation free. She also holds celebrations whenever a girl child is born in the village.
“The mother is gifted with a pair of clothes and box of sweets whenever a girl child is born. I had to work hard for ODF as people don’t easily shun the traditional practices. Women, on the other hand, welcomed the idea of ODF as it was critical to ensuring their security. However, I observed that the elderly residents were not open to change and were unwilling to give up on the age-old practice,” Singh said.
“So I roped in youngsters and formed four Nigrani Samitis (monitoring committees). The Samiti members work separately to educate men, women, senior citizens and youngsters. Our persistence worked as even the elderly finally gave in and conformed to the ODF norms,” Singh said.
A postgraduate in education, she regularly visits three government schools in her village to create awareness among students about the latest happenings in the country and the world.
“The first Sunday in our village is dedicated to educating the masses on ways to ensure clean surroundings,” she said.
The woman pradhan is now concentrating on self-defence training for young girls and students. She has also solicited the help of a martial-arts instructor in this endeavour.