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Dawn of a clean era

Sanitation is the name of the game in Yadgir in Karnataka, where the Tata Water Mission has played facilitator for the Swachh Bharat Mission

Yadgir in Karnataka is one of the most backward regions in India. The river Bhima flows through the area but Yadgir suffers from frequent droughts and water scarcity. Whether it is health, education, sanitation or livelihoods, Yadgir has been a poor performer. In April 2018, the district was ranked as the 40th most backward district in India and was included in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘transformation of aspirational districts’ initiative, which covers the 100 most backward districts in the country.

At first sight, Yadgir is an unlikely candidate for achieving any sort of developmental milestone. And yet this laggard is being transformed into a sanitation showcase as a result of the Tata Water Mission’s work in facilitating the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) over the last couple of years.

The Tata Trusts have been active in Yadgir for a number of years, having set up an associate organisation called Kalike Samruddhi Upakram in 2009. The aim was to pilot and scale up innovative solutions to local problems, through integrated programmes relating to livelihood enhancement, health and nutrition, and skill development.

About three years ago, Kalike initiated its ‘Mission 2020’ venture to transform Yadgir. “The seeds of this initiative are based on the human development report that we created for the government, where we looked at health, education and livelihood parameters,” explains D Shivakumar, the executive director of Kalike.

Kalike’s study showed that the district had little or no access to drinking water and sanitation facilities, hence one of its key initiatives is water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH). In 2015, less than 11% of Yadgir’s houses had toilets. Things started looking up when the Indian government launched SBM.

The power of unity

Today Yadgir is witnessing a dramatic transformation. The district has already achieved 80% coverage and is looking to be declared open defecation free (ODF) very soon. “We are confident that all 466 villages in the district will soon be covered,” says Prashanth HL, the SBM manager in Yadgir. “The Tata Trusts and their representatives have helped us a lot with implementation.”

The role played by the Trusts and Kalike has been to make sanitary practices sustainable by bringing about changes in living habits. “SBM provides for the leveraging of resources to construct toilets, with the government bearing almost the full cost,” explains Mr Shivakumar, “but we realised that it is very important to bring about behavioural changes among the people in the villages.”

Kalike drove the community-led total sanitation programme, which helped Yadgir achieve a greater coverage of toilets. Here’s an example of the community interactions. Early morning before the sun rose, and armed with torches, Kalike volunteers (both women and men), along with a few members of the local village panchayat, would accost villagers heading out to the fields, offer them roses and urge them to use toilets. “We would tell them to build toilets near their homes,” says Rohini Kalashetti, senior programme coordinator with the WaSH initiative. Another aspect of SBM is hygienic menstrual practices and Kalike works to improve that parameter as well.

The Trusts also sent trained people to the villages, where they coordinated with the gram panchayats, encouraged the villagers to apply for government incentives, and helped them with the documentation for building toilets under SBM. Mr Prashanth acknowledges the huge role played by the Trusts in convincing villagers to stop using open spaces as toilets and build units attached to their homes.

Toilets for all

Today there are more than 100,000 toilets constructed and being used in Yadgir. Mr Shivakumar points out that the WaSH initiative has been a success at schools and within the rural community. While the facilities — functional toilets, water filters, basins for handwashing, etc. — are in place, the softer aspects (which includes educating children and villagers on how to use and maintain the toilets) are also progressing rapidly.

The sanitation movement does not work without water. Though located in a rain-deficient region, Yadgir has more than 250 tanks built over time, but most of them are dry. For the Trusts and Kalike, water conservation is a major issue. Their workers interact with the villagers and farmers in finding ways to conserve and use ground water.

Kalike’s objective is the holistic development of Yadgir. To that end, it also focuses on livelihoods — making agriculture sustainable by encouraging farmers to diversify into different crops, helping youth through skill development, and opening up new areas in horticulture, solar energy, and more. Kalike has about 120 people working in Yadgir’s villages.

With dramatic changes occurring in their daily lives, on WaSH, healthcare and livelihoods, Yadgir’s residents are hoping to see their district drop out of the backward list and, instead, be recognised for what it is — an uplifting story in India’s social development journey.

Coming of age

For adolescent girls in Yadgir district, life can be tough, especially since their mothers migrate to cities along with their fathers looking for temporary work. The girls are often left in the care of their grandparents and other relatives. And they are desperately in need of advice and guidance.

Kalike, a part of the Tata Trusts, along with technical support from the NGO Sukhibhava, has started organising awareness programmes in about 70 villages in Yadgir.

“We started work in June and plan to cover five schools and about 250 adolescent girl students every month,” says Pragna Shekhar, who is closely associated with the initiative. “We target adolescent students in the 12-18 age group.”

The stigma associated with the sensitive topic of menstruation, Ms Shekhar says, makes it difficult to get the students involved. “They are very shy and do not open up.”

The menstrual hygiene management programme focuses on four aspects: awareness, accessibility, affordability and disposability. For two hours every week, the girls are made aware about these aspects and are encouraged to ask questions. “We empower them through awareness and also ensure improved access to healthy menstrual practices,” adds Ms Shekhar.

The state government provides free sanitary napkins to the girls. “We have to teach them how to safely dispose the napkin and not throw it into the gutter or burn it,” says Ms Shekhar.

A supply chain has been established and the students can buy products — including cloth padding that are washable and reusable and can be dried at home — through their teacher-coordinators who access it from suppliers selling it at subsidised prices.

In some ways, the Kalike team acts as life coaches. The Kalike coordinators encourage the girls to at least complete their high school education and think of marriage only after they turn 18.

Educating adolescent girls in Yadgir about healthier menstrual practices has been part of the transformation agenda

Yadgir’s happy voices

Yadgir will soon become ODF as the volunteers have done very well in all the villages.” — Mahesh Kumar, prerak, Swachh Bharat Mission, Yadgir

“Going out in the morning was always a problem for women. With the toilets having been built, we find it a huge relief. And we clean the toilets every day.” Anuradha, villager

“Most women in our village are now using toilets. In fact, my daughter refuses to go out into the fields now. All the schools have toilets and provide drinking water for the students.” Mallikarjun Patil, a member of the gram panchayat in Nandepalli village

“I am ageing and find it difficult to go out into the fields for defecation. There are eight people in our home and all of us now use the toilet. It is very good that the government is encouraging us to use toilets; we would never have done it on our own.” Manikappa, villager

“We ensure that all students wash their hands before having lunch. We also teach the younger ones on cleanliness, cutting their nails and using toilets.” — Ashwini, eighth standard student and part of a team that monitors other students

Besides the use of toilets, Yadgir’s villagers were also educated about proper hygiene and cleanliness practices