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Doctor couple’s ‘namaste’ crusade wins AP village open defecation-free tag

The couple used “namashkar”, a gesture Indians used with folded hands to greet people as a weapon and it did miracles on the folks used to defecation in public places.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2018 14:47 IST
Gali Nagaraja
Gali Nagaraja
Hindustan Times, Vijayawada
open defecation-free,Swachh Bharat
A man walks carrying water in a plastic bottle to defecate in the open in the morning in Bisrak village near Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh on December 9.(AP Photo/Representative image)

A doctor couple—Dasari Ramakrishna Prasad and Tarigopula Padmavati—has freed Challapalli, a gram panchayat tucked away close to the sea coast in AP’s Krishna district from the menace of open defecation with a unique campaign style.

They used “namashkar”, a gesture Indians used with folded hands to greet people as a weapon and it did miracles on the folks used to defecation in public places. In effect, the village surprisingly got the open defecation free (ODF) tag along with AP in June, 2018.

“In the beginning, we woke up early in the morning to guard the public places for more than a couple of hours on a daily basis with headlights focusing on the defecators and our hand mikes delivering the message”, they recalled. Soon, the number grew as fellow doctors, lawyers and volunteers of service organisations like Rotary Club, walkers club and Satya Sai Seva Mandir joined the mission.

It was a silent movement, without using any force. Initially, people using the public places for defecation did not take our gestures seriously.

But our constant presence had a deterring effect on them and our persuasions changed their mindsets too, said the couple running a private nursing home in an area which was once notorious for open defecation.

“In fact, open defecation was completely stopped within three months after the launch of our campaign. But there is a much bigger agenda—ODF+ referring to total sanitation in terms of solid waste management, improved sewerage and storm water systems—ahead of us”, Dr Prasad said.

“Upset with spotting an old man defecating on the road margins close to our hospital one day, I accosted him with folded hands pleading to change his habit. When he refused to oblige my request, I went to his house with a cash of ~ 22,000 for constructing a toilet and got it done.

My gesture brought the expected change in the person who later turned into our ambassador”, Padmavati recounted. With funds raised by philanthropists and contributions from the government, 55 toilets were built in the colonies harbouring open defecation. The doctor couple picked up a woman volunteer from the same area to ensure their use properly.

Besides ISLs in the households, public toilets were built at three public places, ensuring they are literally spick and span. Overwhelmed by cleanliness at a public toilet at NTR park, Krishna Collector Lakshmikantham recently took a selfie there.

When the village achieved zero-tolerance to open defecation, the campaign shifted its focus on improving sanitation, drainage conditions and greenery.

“We have crossed the ODF milestone and aimed to add the tag of sundar, meaning beautification, to Swachch Challapalli”, adds Dr Padmavati.
Like anywhere, burial ground was a last place to visit for anyone in the village in the past. With greenery and clean environs around, the premises began drawing women folks into even social gatherings. NRIs, professionals and philanthropists formed into a trust called “Manakosam-Mana Trust—for procurement of vehicles for collection and disposal of wastes from households to a vermicompost plant set up on the premises of burial ground. “Clean soldiers” were appointed covering all the 17 wards for waste collection.

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 14:47 IST