‘Never knew girls and boys could be treated differently’ | lucknow | Hindustan Times
  • Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
  •   °C  
Today in New Delhi, India
Jun 21, 2018-Thursday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

‘Never knew girls and boys could be treated differently’

The 41-year-old Agra-born feisty Monika Singh, a SEWA volunteer for close to six years now, has taken up a mission that is close to the heart of the current regime in the country – the Swachh Bharat Mission.

lucknow Updated: May 09, 2018 11:23 IST
Sanchita Dwivedi
Sanchita Dwivedi
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Monika Singh with her family.
Monika Singh with her family.(HT Photo)

The 41-year-old Agra-born feisty Monika Singh, a SEWA volunteer for close to six years now, has taken up a mission that is close to the heart of the current regime in the country – the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Monika, who has got 22 high quality steel toilets built at government schools in far-flung rural areas and Lucknow city, bagged this year’s HT Woman Judges’ Choice Award.

“While presenting the award, when chief minister Yogi Adityanath told me that I should take my good work to villages, I was elated. It made me feel that due attention was being paid to my work,” says Monika.

“It also made me hopeful that now with this new-found recognition there will be fewer hurdles in my way. I am grateful to Hindustan Times for this honour. As this was the first time I sent my nomination anywhere, winning the award was a delightful surprise. I used to think that such honours came one’s way only after putting in many more years of work,” she adds.

Treading in an area that has a large overlap with the Indian government’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission, Monika has a few suggestion for the authorities.

“As someone who has been working in this field, I feel that the amount currently being provided to build toilets – Rs 12,000 – may not be enough. We have been getting high quality bio-toilets installed in Barabanki, and the cost of one such toilet is Rs 18,000. Then, there are installation expenses. We need to understand that having a pit with the toilet is a must. Also, the quality has to be good, so that it is functional for a long time. Else, the purpose will be defeated,” says Monika.

“It is my humble suggestion to the government that they should tie up with NGOs like SEWA in this noble mission. That will expand their reach and also add quality to the work being done,” she says.

Grateful to HT“I am grateful to Hindustan Times for this honour. As this was the first time I sent my nomination anywhere, winning the award was a delightful surprise. I used to think that such honours came one’s way only after putting in many more years of work!”

CHALLENGES ENCOUNTERED

The road to getting 22 toilets installed in government schools has not been easy for Monika. She admits that hardly any of the installations was a smooth sail. Most required multiple rounds of follow-ups and persuasion with different government officials and schools authorities.

“We have gone to remote places where schools up to Class 8 didn’t even have a single toilet! Imagine the plight of girl students, especially adolescent girls,” she says.

“There are different problems. Sometimes, people are not supportive. For instance, after hearing my presentation, a school in-charge told me to call him up in two days. But when I did, he never answered any of my calls,” says Monika.

“At other times, lack of basic infrastructure poses problems. For instance there are schools that don’t have proper sewer lines,” she adds.

Monika says while they invite voluntary contributions from locals, not everyone is generous.

“There have been rare cases where locals have come forward to meet a good part of the expenses, but mostly the contributions are meagre, may be a few hundred rupees, and sometimes none at all. Then there’s the question of repairs. We visit the schools a few months after the installation to check if the facilities are working fine,” says Monika.

There is also the important task of creating hygiene awareness among kids.

“Many children have never used toilets before. So, before getting any new installation done, we first conduct a session where we teach students how to use toilets and the benefits of the practice,” she says.

Speaking of the next phase of her project, Monika says that as a SEWA volunteer she will be getting 50 non-functional toilets repaired in government schools.

CM’S ENCOURAGEMENT
  • “While presenting the award, when chief minister Yogi Adityanath told me that I should take my good work to villages, I was elated. It made me feel that due attention was being paid to my work.”

“Through our experience, we have realised that you don’t always need to go for new installations. A lot of times, high quality facilities can be provided by investing in repairs of the current infrastructure,” she says.

INSPIRED BY ‘ANTI-CORRUPTION MOVEMENT’

Monika spent a few years in the US before moving back to India in 2012.

It was the ‘anti-corruption movement’ that inspired her family to return and serve the country, she says. “My husband and I wanted to do something for our people. As both of us are from UP, we decided to settle down in Lucknow,” she shares.

Monika Singh with liitle girls of primary school Cheda ka Purwa in Chinhat block where she got a toilet installed.

To begin with, she got involved with a government school in her neighbourhood.

“I started conducting activities for children. Slowly, we got to know of the many problems the kids were facing. While the quality of education and infrastructure left much to be desired, the talent of these children amazed us. We wanted to do more and when SEWA contacted us, I enthusiastically joined them,” says the social worker who holds a master’s degree in IT & management.

She expresses gratitude towards SEWA for giving her the opportunity to do something for the society, and also her husband Alok for being her strength.

“He himself is involved in a lot of social work and keeps writing suggestions to people in authority. While he has his own IT start-up, he is passionate about social causes,” says Monika.

SUGGESTION FOR SWACHH BHARAT
  • “I feel that the current amount being provided to build toilets – Rs 12,000 – may not be enough. We have been getting high quality bio-toilets installed in Barabanki, and the cost of one such toilet is Rs 18,000. Then, there are installation expenses. We need to understand that having a pit with the toilet is a must. Also, the quality has to be good, so that it is functional for a long time. Else, the purpose will be defeated.”

ON ENSURING PARITY FOR GIRLS

Monika says she and her siblings were brought up in an environment where they weren’t even aware that girls and boys could be treated differently.

“We were three sisters and a brother. Growing up, we didn’t even know that there was a societal concept wherein the two genders were brought up differently,” says Monika, mother to an 11-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

“My request to authorities is to ensure good schools with quality education and infrastructure for our kids, especially girls. The attitude while admitting students to government schools should not be just about increasing enrolments (‘bheed bhaad badhana’, as she puts it), but to make sure that we make the students confident and self-reliant,” says Monika.