‘Positive change evident in PM’s model village’
When Dutchman Harmen Leijnse, an Indophile, left the Indian shores on February 4, the thought uppermost in his mind was ‘Swachh is life’ – a headline he would have liked to describe his toilet tour of the country.
When he reached Rotterdam in The Netherlands, he was looked at as an Indian toilet expert. There was news coverage in the national press and he realised that this one trip had brought back the zing in his life.
Harmen had embarked on a unique 12-day tour of India planned by the Finish Society. It aimed at helping him understand the hygiene and sanitation needs and practices of the people living in north India.
His thoughtfully planned ‘toilet itinerary’ included field visits to cities where Finish Society is actively engaged in promoting good sanitation habits. Some of these places were Udaipur and Dungarpar in Rajasthan, Agra, Varanasi and Lucknow in UP, and Darbhanga in Bihar.
Following Harmen’s impressions, which he submitted as a rough draft, it is clear that the Swacch Bharat Mission has got people talking toilets and sanitation needs.
For instance, change is evident in Jayapur (PM’s model village) in Varanasi that has over 600 toilets. While women are totally in support of using toilets, some of the men who still defecate in the open due to past habits are being urged to change their habits. It is their ‘soch’ that needs to be changed to ‘swachh’, feels Harmen.
With regard to how his family responded, he shares that his sister, a city tour operator, is now seriously toying with the idea of promoting tours to a more ‘Swachh’ India.
The Finish Society has decided to identify more such toilet celebrities or personalities, to keep the toilet conversation going. Since sanitation in India is a huge challenge, they feel the Harmen’s approach has fired people’s imagination and this issue needs to be handled in a light-hearted manner, so that people continue engaging with people who have India’s toilet interests uppermost in their minds.
They are thinking of contacting Jack Sims, founder, World Toilet Organisation (WTO) to embark on a toilet tour to engage with India.
Finish wants the conversation to get louder, in the public space. To start with, it has decided to get university students’ responses. Finish Society director, Abhijit Bannerjee, is clear they need active support and help of media to give a boost to this novel form of social engagement.
“Students’ responses will be captured on video and shared on FB, twitter and on the Finish Website page. “We feel that humour can be a great way to initiate behaviour change,” said Banerjee.