A community-run campaign in the gram panchayats of Bhopal is not just cleaning up villages, but also ushering in gender equity.
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: Wielding a long broom to sweep the road, Sunita Bai of Acharpura says, “It is our responsibility to keep public spaces as clean as our homes. The garbage and filth in our main market is disturbing. As women, it is our duty to teach men and children to be tidy. Our men visit the tea shops and litter the place. When our children and men see us women clean up the streets and drains, they will be shamed into using bins.”
Sunita Bai and several other women from Acharpura, Gunga and numerous villages are part of the Swacchhata Maha Abhiyaan (Grand Cleanliness Campaign) initiated by the District Panchayat in all 187 gram panchayats. Two days each month will be set aside for cleaning up drains, markets and public spaces in villages by the entire community. The aim is to make people more mindful of littering these public spaces.
While the campaign needed women to lead it from the front and centre, it wasn't easy initially to get them to come forward. Smita Devi, an Acharpura local, admits, “I was sceptical when I first heard of this campaign. But I later decided to become a part of it. At home too, our husbands never care to be tidy. It is the same habit manifesting itself outside. I have become a part of this campaign to discipline our men, and teach them to be responsible.”
It went beyond persuading a single individual. As Sadhana Lodhi, President of the Mahila Swayam Sahayata Samuha of Gunga village, says, “It was no small challenge to get the women working in our Swayam Sahayata Samuha (Self Help Group) involved; it is one thing to clean up your own home, and another to clean the village. Initially, they all declined. It took a lot of persuasion to get them to agree to be a part of it. Even after they had agreed, husbands and in-laws told them that cleaning up drains and roads was the job of bhangis, or sweepers. The women were too scared to defy their families. It was then that I took up the matter with District Panchayat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rituraj Singh.
CEO Singh, determined to get the community involved, first spoke to the women, and then their families. Devli Devi in Gunga remembers how she was excited about the campaign when she first heard of it but her husband had opposed the idea. Then the matter was placed before the panchayat and CEO Singh had personally spoken to a few family members, including her husband. When they objected to allowing their women to clean the village, he said that if cleanliness was maintained in the public spaces in the first place, we wouldn't be in this situation. "If we don't correct ourselves now, our children will do the same thing in the future. I can get the whole village cleaned by myself, but if you want to do something good for the village and pass on these habits to your children, you will support the campaign," Singh had said.
While the campaign needed women to lead it from the front and centre, it wasn't easy initially to get them to come forward, primarily due to objections from their families (Photos: Sanavver Shafi)
The primary problem
Recalling the challenge she faced to engage her community in the cleanliness campaign, the newly-elected Sarpanch of Adampur Camp Gram Panchayat Krishna Rawat told 101Reporters, “Garbage dumps and filth are the greatest problems here. Despite this, people were reluctant to be part of the campaign since they felt cleaning up was the responsibility of the village panchayat, and conservancy workers ought to be deployed for the same.
"When nothing worked, we called for a chaupal (meeting) of the panchayat, to put our point of view across, while inviting villagers to voice their opinions. Just like our panchayat was elected unopposed in a chaupal, we thought the campaign could also be debated and adopted in such a setting only. We discussed the importance of cleanliness and unitedly resolved that we as a community will regularly and together take care of the cleanliness of the village."
Explaining the community-spearheaded move, Farmer Puranlal Singh of Karondiya village told 101Reporters, “There are several problems faced by us in the village, including the shortage of water, but cleanliness is a huge challenge. It is common to see piles of garbage in public spaces. This can spread disease. The district panchayat is, hence, making efforts to tackle it; garbage is also being collected door to door.” Farmers Hemant Kushwaha and Ram Singh agreed. “Water shortage and hygiene are the major problems plaguing this village. To rid ourselves of this, we are willing to pitch in.”
“Of course, we have managed to stop open defecation for now through our combined efforts. Now we hope to clean up our village too,” labourer Deepak Jadhav of Binapur village said.
Speaking to 101Reporters, District Panchayat CEO Rituraj Singh admitted to his resolve to elevate all 187 panchayats of the district to ODF plus ranking. This, he felt, could not be possible unless communities got involved. “We kicked off the campaign with a trial, and it proved quite successful. From now on, the campaign will be run on the first and third Sundays every month, wherein cleaning up will be done with the help of panchayat officials and staff, members of the community, village functionaries, social activists, and representatives of NGOs, among others.”
Saying that the roadmap for this campaign had been in the works for a long time, he stressed the voluntary nature of the campaign and said that no pressure will be created on anyone to participate, especially at the cost of lost wages.
The campaign hopes to target men and change their attitudes towards cleanliness in public spaces. Pictured here, from left to right, are Puranlal Singh, Hemant Kushwaha and Ram Singh (Photo: Sanavver Shafi)
More than anything else, the campaign has effected a transformation in people’s attitudes to the gender roles associated with cleanliness and hygiene.
Take the case of farmer Nilesh. “Forget sweeping the home, I had never even served myself a glass of water. But now, I am part of the cleanliness campaign.” The change, he admits, was wrought by the District Panchayat CEO’s visit to his neighbourhood, wherein the importance of cleanliness was put across. “When I heard my wife and child talk of keeping the village clean, I resolved to become a part of this campaign. Now I have pledged to clean up my village.”
Gunga Gram Panchayat Secretary Sumer Singh Rajput sums up the transformation brought about, thus, “Farmers and labourers in the village would not have liked losing a full day in cleaning up the village; hence, it posed a challenge. Besides, you can understand the attitude of those who never raise a finger to pour themselves a glass of water in their homes, to cleaning up drains and roads. But the trouble taken by the CEO to reach out to individual families by visiting homes door to door, worked wonders. This accounts for our success in the trial run.”
As for the challenges that are bound to crop up while trying to run the campaign in a sustained manner, they will be dealt it as and when they arise, CEO Singh says. "If you worry about long-term challenges at the beginning itself, nothing will get done," he says. "Right now we have entrusted this responsibility to the gram panchayats and everything is being monitored. Panchayats that do good work will be honoured and action will be taken against those that are negligent in the campaign."
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